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Attack on Traditional Child Training

February 13, 2015
Attack on Traditional Child Training

Taken from a new chapter in the upcoming  21st Anniversary Edition of To Train Up a Child


In 1946, Dr. Benjamin Spock published his book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. At the time of his passing in 1998, it had sold more than 50 million copies and was translated into 39 languages. According to the New York Times, Baby and Child Care was, throughout its first 52 years, the second-best-selling book, next to the Bible. In 1989 Dr. Spock, concerned over “the sky-high and ever-rising figures for murders within the family, wife abuse, and child abuse in America,” concluded that, “[Physical punishment] certainly plays a role in our acceptance of violence. If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” In the 1998 edition of Baby and Child Care, he said, “The American tradition of spanking may be one reason there is much more violence in our country than in any other comparable nation.”

Some will say that Dr. Spock became a household word, the go-to authority on child rearing. He is arguably the father of modern, progressive child rearing. He influenced an entire generation of academics, his views quoted in textbooks and periodicals. When Dr. Spock said, “The American tradition of spanking may be one reason there is much more violence in our country . . .” he was inviting a horde of academics to prove his supposition. And they emerged in force, quoting one another and asserting as fact their anecdotal experiences. But most parents in America, though they had heard the name Spock, knew nothing of his views and went on rearing their children in the traditional manner, as had their parents before them.

Twenty-two years ago when we wrote the book To Train Up a Child, the growing movement among leftists to denigrate corporal chastisement, which they called “corporal punishment,” had little influence on the parents of America. Most were unaware of the academic and professional assault on traditional parenting. Two decades have seen a significant shift. The universities and professional journals along with a complicit media have flooded parents with the undocumented assertion that “studies confirm that hitting children causes them to grow up to be violent, maladjusted, and emotionally ill,” all the negative traits we see multiplying in public-school kids today.

If they were using the word hitting in its normal connotation, we could well agree with them, but when they say hitting they mean any and all forms of corporal discipline down to a mother slapping the hand of her child. Opponents make no distinction between measured, compassionate spanking and tyrannical, whaling, fist-pounding psychos.

In the quest for hearts and minds, the crusaders have seized the language: we say spank, they say hit. We say paddle, they say beat. We say discipline, they say punish. They choose inflammatory language designed to project violence onto classical parenting and shut down any who would speak up in its defense. They cause parents to hide their time-honored parenting as if it is something to be ashamed of. In the end, our silence will surrender long-established biblical parenting to the whining voices of left-leaning ideologues. In our age, it is understandable that parents hide in their holes like gophers under the telescopic sights of varmint hunters ready to trigger the metal-jacketed round to the head of any who would dare pop up. The lethal corporal-chastisement hunters now dominate the field, and they have seen to it that their voices alone are being heard.

It seems all that is needed is a title before one’s name and a firm assertion that “studies confirm” for one to be believed. The “studies” are usually not named, and the public dare not question the opinion of a professional. So the trend in the United States for the past several decades has been to abandon “corporal punishment” (spanking) in favor of increased use of alternate discipline methods—e.g., consequences, time outs, or withdrawal of privileges.

As the agents of permissive parenting see the tide of public opinion turning in their favor, they have gone into a feeding frenzy, devouring tradition and common sense, and they are pooping out drugged children who are cutting themselves, killing one another, and committing suicide. As discipline collapses, the schools have become battlegrounds with one in five teachers suffering physical assault in their classrooms each year. That is 666,000 teachers assaulted by students who do not believe they are constrained by boundaries. And amazingly, after creating the problem, the professionals now point to the results as evidence that they need to further strip parents of the tools that once produced generations of young adults who by and large acted responsibly and exercised

According to HealthDay News “Seven percent of American schoolchildren are taking at least one medication for emotional or behavioral difficulties.” That is, over 3.5 million children are being drugged into acceptable behavior because today’s parents and school teachers have given up hope of instilling discipline. How could they without the tools?

When I was in school in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, all students quietly complied without the use of drugs. Drugging a child was unheard of. Every teacher had a “board of education”—a wooden paddle lying prominently on the desk, and the principal patrolled the halls with a two-foot-long oak paddle. I was on the receiving end only twice during my 12-year durance, and it kept me fully compliant. They were serious about the rules, so I was as well. Today teachers have no more power over their students than do street signs. John Dewey and Dr. Spock never imagined where their progressive philosophies would lead. I am sure they thought their ideas would produce a better world. They were sadly wrong.

Though at least 80% of parents admit to using some form of “physical punishment” on their children, most parents have been so influenced by the anti-spanking propaganda that the majority have ceased preemptive and consistent use of physical discipline and only do so when provoked by their anger, which is far worse than not spanking at all. For when parents spank based on a well-thought-out philosophy they don’t reach a dangerous level of frustration and explode into physical discipline as do parents who are trying not to spank. So the campaign has taken a larger toll than the 80% number suggests. If the families of America are a study group, sixty years have proven that as parents depart from traditional parenting and schools give way to free expression and non-coercive discipline, we reap an increasingly ugly harvest in America’s youth.

Even with their failed experiment, the political move to outlaw spanking is gaining momentum. There will come a time in the United States of America when it will be a crime to use any physical discipline on your children. It is not a question of if but of when. A recent writer asked, “What spanking debate? There is only one side. Where are the advocates for spanking? There are none, nor can there be in the face of overwhelming evidence.” They are overwhelmed with their own egos and their progressive agenda emanating from a leftist ideology: mother earth, abortion on demand, sexual license, evolution, global warming, re-distribution of wealth, suppression of the Christian religion, and Big Brother who takes over the responsibility of raising all children. The studies done with real scientific controls do not confirm the anti-spanking agenda; quite the opposite, as we will see.


Anti-Spanking Studies

Naysayers are wrong in their assertion that “all studies confirm . . . .” When they do reference a study it is taken from a select group of troubled, violent, or emotionally disturbed youth who have ended up incarcerated or as part of a treatment program. Since most children are spanked, the majority of troubled youth will have been spanked, and a number of them will have been physically abused—hit, beaten, or punished severely. We would be in full agreement with the professionals that the children who were genuinely physically abused are more likely to become delinquent or emotionally troubled. So with certainty, counselors will discover that a large number of anti-social youth were physically abused. But their “studies” fail to distinguish between measured spanking by nurturing parents and violent physical abuse. If they were to do a study of 1,000 Christian, homeschooled children who are spanked, they would grow weary searching for cases of abuse, and they would be shocked and—since it doesn’t fit their philosophy—disappointed at the consistently beautiful fruit.

Ralph S. Welsh, PhD candidate and lecturer in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Clemson University, offers the perfect example of the methodology employed to support the anti-spanking agenda in his article “Delinquency, Corporal Punishment, and the Schools” ([1978] Crime & Delinquency 24 (3): 336 – 354). Take note of the composition of his “study group”:

“Early in my clinical career, I was alarmed to discover the inordinate number of juvenile delinquents who had been exposed to harsh parental treatment during their developmental years. I took the time to question my delinquent patients and their parents carefully and to tabulate the information regarding parental punishment practices.” In the same article he says, “One extensive study helped to convince me that corporal punishment could not easily be viewed as a harmless American tradition, to be tolerated and supported. This study involved seventy-seven consecutive juvenile court referrals, fifty-eight boys and nineteen girls.”

You will notice that the “studies” are taken from “juvenile delinquents” and “juvenile court referrals.” Symptom-based sampling, where you start with a selected group associated with given behavioral problems and work backward to determine a cause, is totally unscientific. They know better, but they are desperate to “prove” a causative link to something they are philosophically opposed to.

Jason Fuller says in his article “Corporal Punishment and Child Development ([2010] Akron Law Review 44 [1]) “[P]rofessional methodologists have found that anti-spanking studies are often structured to support the researcher’s personal philosophy, instead of being structured to fairly analyze the results of physical discipline.”

I can understand the frustration of counselors who must deal with broken children every day. Anyone would be desperate to place blame, but the leftist predisposition and the misdirected influence of their academic training leaves them with tunnel vision. Their conclusions are not scientifically justified. Their opinions are emotionally driven. Understandable as it is, it is nonetheless inexcusable for the damage it does to children who will not receive traditional training in self-control, accountability, and responsible action.


Survey in a State Prison

In a state prison chapel with 36 prisoners in attendance, I conducted an informal survey. I asked, “How many of you experienced some sort of physical discipline as children?” All but one responded in the affirmative. At this point, one who was so inclined could say that the survey proves that “hitting children” will result in criminal activity—35 out of 36 were spanked. But I went on to ask how many felt their spankings were justly administered. Twenty-eight felt the spankings they received were just and appropriately administered. Six said they were “beaten” as well. But thirteen said they were not spanked enough. When I asked how many felt that the “spankings or beatings” they received played some part in their crimes, none raised a hand. Since more than 80% of parents spank, one can expect that 80% of all juvenile offenders will have been spanked. However, correlation is not causation or even association.


Scientific Studies

Marjorie Gunnoe, a developmental psychologist at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who is not a spanking advocate but is an open-minded researcher, questioned 2,600 people about being smacked. One-quarter of them had never been physically disciplined. The participants’ answers were compared with such behaviors as academic success, optimism about the future, antisocial behavior, violence, and bouts of depression. According to the research, children spanked up to the age of 6 were likely as teenagers to perform better at school and were more likely to carry out volunteer work and to want to go to college than their peers who had never been physically disciplined. “The claims made for not spanking children fail to hold up. They are not consistent with the data,” said Gunnoe. “I think of spanking as a dangerous tool, but there are times when there is a job big enough for a dangerous tool. You just don’t use it for all your jobs.”

Child psychologist Elizabeth Owens, scientist at the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a study. She concluded, “If you look at the causally relevant evidence, it’s not scientifically defensible to say that spanking is always a horrible thing. I don’t think mild, occasional spankings in an otherwise supportive, loving family will do any long-term harm.”

Akron Law Review published a study that examined criminal records and found that children raised where a legal ban on parental corporal punishment is in effect are much more likely to be involved in crime.

Psychologist Aric Sigman states, “The idea that smacking and violence are on a continuum is a bizarre and fetished view of what punishment is for most parents. If it’s done judiciously by a parent who is normally affectionate and sensitive to their child, our society should not be up in arms about that. Parents should be taught to distinguish this from a punch in the face.”

Jason M. Fuller of the University of Akron Law School says that Sweden is “. . . an ideal laboratory to study spanking bans,” for a generation ago it became the first nation to impose a complete ban on physical discipline. According to Fuller, police reports indicate that since the spanking ban, child-abuse rates in Sweden have exploded over 500 percent. Even just one year after the ban took effect, and after a massive government-run public education campaign, Fuller found that “not only were Swedish parents resorting to pushing, grabbing, and shoving more than U.S. parents, but they were also beating their children twice as often.” After a decade of the ban, “rates of physical child abuse in Sweden had risen to three times the U.S. rate,” and “from 1979 to 1994, Swedish children under seven endured an almost six-fold increase in physical abuse,” Fuller’s analysis revealed. More than half of Swedish schoolchildren are undergoing some sort of therapy in an effort to solve learning problems.

Kenneth Dodge, a professor at Duke University, conducted a long-term study of corporal punishment’s effect on 453 kids, both black and white, tracking them from kindergarten through eleventh grade. Now that is a scientific study. When Dodge’s team presented its findings at a conference, the data did not make people happy. They found that the more a child was spanked, the less aggressive the child was over time. The spanked black kid was overall less likely to be in trouble. Scholars publicly castigated Dodge’s team, but Dodge and Lansford—both of whom remain adamantly against the use of physical discipline—were so horrified by such questions that they enlisted a team of fourteen scholars to study the use of corporal punishment around the world. The researchers failed to find evidence that spanking had negative effects.

Dr. Diana Baumrind of the University of California, Berkeley, aided by teams of professional researchers, conducted what many consider to be the most extensive and methodologically thorough child development study ever done. They examined 164 families for over a decade, tracking their children from age four to fourteen. Baumrind found that “spanking can be helpful in certain contexts” and discovered “no evidence for unique detrimental effects of normative physical punishment.” The study also revealed that children who were never spanked tended to have behavioral problems, and were not more competent than their peers as other professionals had suggested.

If we were to adopt the methods of the professionals, reasoning backward from a select group, we could reference “studies” proving our point. For example, USA Today interviewed 29 CEOs of very successful businesses regarding the cause of their success, and in the process discovered that all 29 were spanked as children. Following their methodology we could conclude that spanking will lead to becoming a very successful CEO. Of course that is not a scientific study, and the correlation proves nothing except that spanking does not prevent one from becoming a successful CEO.

So actual scientific studies lend weight to what the Bible says: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15).

All presidents of the United States, including Obama, were spanked as children, as were nearly all senators, congressmen, and military commanders. In a 2011 USA Weekend interview, First Lady Michelle Obama admitted to spanking her daughter Malia once or twice when she was little. Laura Bush told Dr. Phil she did the same to her twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, when they were young.

In a three-way discussion on Fox News, Arthur Aidala says he was “spanked with a belt” and thinks it was a “good idea.” Gretchen Carlson said she “was spanked, but things have changed.” Host Arthur Aidala and Jonna Spilbor, both prosecutors and defense attorneys, said they spank their children as well.


New York “Study”

On a flight to New York City to appear on TV, the woman I sat next to on the plane said she had spanked her children. The taxi driver said he had “whollopped” the kids when it was needed, and they were all in college now or successful in business. The director of the show said she was spanked and spanked her kids as needed. The make-up ladies and the back-stage hands were all sympathetic with my position. Only the host of the show and his selected audience thought “all studies confirm that hitting children will cause them to be violent . . . .” He had no children, thank God. His husband could not conceive, for obvious reasons. And his star witness, a child psychologist, said that parents “cannot be trusted to exercise corporal punishment” because they are so angry and out of control, indicating that was the reason she could not trust herself to spank.


To Be Fair

If you draw a line through history at the point where spanking was abandoned, you will find that it coincides with significant increases in juvenile misbehavior, suicides, low self-esteem, self-loathing, and a general degeneration of society. You will also discover that where parents give up corporal chastisement, they resort to emotionally abusive methods such as screaming, insulting, and humiliating in order to control aberrant behavior.

However, we are not suggesting that the cessation of spanking is responsible for the increase in juvenile misbehavior and crime. There are many factors, and this is not the place to discuss them. But just as we cannot say that lack of spanking causes delinquency, the progressive cannot say, based on the statistics, that spanking causes delinquency. There are a number of factors contributing to the decline in civilization and to juvenile rebellion and indifference. However, in answer to the progressive claim that spanking is responsible for youth misbehavior, if the statics do speak in regard to delinquency, they would say that the cessation of spanking has increased misbehavior in youth, not diminished it as they suggested would occur with its elimination.



Ralph Welsh of Clemson University said, “. . . some experts speculate that many families—apparently taking to heart research that indicates spanking can make kids more aggressive, angry, and lead to problems later in life—are instead turning to yelling as a way to control their children.”

Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, says, “Yelling is the new spanking. It’s sort of the go-to strategy for parents . . . I think (this) definitely is a generation of yellers.”

The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 4, 2013) published an article by Andrea Petersen with the attention-grabbing headline, “Study Says Yelling Is as Hurtful as Hitting.” Petersen, referencing University of Pittsburg researchers, says, “Parents who yell at their adolescent children for misbehaving can cause some of the same problems as hitting them would, including increased risk of depression and aggressive behavior . . . .”


The Conclusion of the Matter

It is easy to see where things went wrong. For thousands of years, mothers and fathers followed biblical teaching on parenting. When the God-given, time-honored instruction manual was thrown out the window, society began its downward spiral. There is only one remedy: back to biblical basics.

This is half of a new chapter in the 21-year edition of To Train Up a Child. The rest of this chapter will be published in the May-June issue of No Greater Joy.

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4 comments on “Attack on Traditional Child Training”

  1. I commend you for much of what you are doing and saying. It has blessed me immensely. However, some of what you say has done tremendous harm to my boys. When someone who has a tendency toward strong discipline reads the chapter on spanking until they submit, that person gets carried away and no longer disciplines correctly. It may be that you have modified that chapter when you revised Train Up, but it seems that there are whole groups who have used your books to turn some parents into “monsters.” While the chapter on training which compares training a child to training a horse offends some, the part of it that is good is the thought of not pounding it into submission. Those two chapters seem like oxymorons. You also talk about “tying strings,” but you give little tools for doing that. We were at a loss. In the last book where you told the story of the woman who had lost her children for abuse, and then had them returned, gave some clues, but you still insisted that on some things, they had to obey. I read that over and over trying to find the balance, but I never could. I even emailed you, but it wasn’t you; it was someone who worked for you and they did not understand.
    You must face the fact that many have gone too far, admit your responsibility for not emphasizing harder the warning to never discipline in anger or excess and to teach better tools for keeping calm. If you do that, many Christians who are against you will be less negative.
    I don’t want the good you do to be destroyed by these failures. I finally, but almost too late, discovered the key in Susan Kemmerer’s Homeschool Super Mom Not!