Here's the thing, spanking can feel like an effective way to stop a behavior in its tracks, right away. It can seem like you are getting your child to listen or obey quicker than before. It can also seem like they are fine after. My siblings and I were spanked as children, most of my friends were spanked, and I know many families who still spank. In fact, growing up I remember it being weird if I met someone who wasn't spanked. "What? Do you live on a hippie commune or something?" Still, I wonder do children really need a spank?
Will It Stop The Behavior?
Looking back at my childhood and being spanked I remember being terrified of getting spanked and it would stop me in my tracks. Usually, the threat of a spank would be enough to get me to shape up, right then, in front of my parents, at that moment. However, the rest of the time my siblings and I were still engaged in yelling, jumping, running, fighting, back talk, non-compliance. The truth is, it did not decrease or stop unwanted behavior. We still behaved in ways that would warrant a spank all the time.
I have to ask myself, "If spanking is effective, why would they still need to yell and threaten? Why were we still engaged in the "wrong" behavior?" It's not because they did not spank hard or frequent enough, because they did. It's also not because my parents "didn't mean business", because they did. In fact, in public, and around family they would get complemented with "Wow! Your children are so well behaved!" every time we went out. I know many families with very similar dynamics.
This tells me that spanking was effective enough to stop us publicly (most of the time) but it was not effective enough to control us at home, nor on a regular basis.
So if spanking was not effective at consistent, long-term behavior change what did it effectively do? Effectively, my parents, along with their parents, and the culture surrounding them sent the message: "Your needs, feelings, impulses, and desires are less important than the needs, feelings, impulses, and desires of the other people around you. They are so unimportant that you should experience physical pain if you wish to act on any of them. In fact, I will hurt you for having needs, feelings, impulses, and desires."
No wonder spanking is associated with such terrible outcomes like, "increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury, and mental health problems" "The Case Against Spanking" -American Psychological Association
Wondering why spanking does not work long-term and consistently? Because human beings will never be without needs, feelings, impulses, and desires. Also, children get spanked for "childish" stuff. You cannot will them into adult behavior just because they got spanked. They are still children and children are going to act "childish". Who decided that being a child should be a punishable offense anyway?
Is Obedience All That Great?
Do we really want obedient children? For me, the idea that obedience is a virtue is bologna. How can you expect a child to "obey", "listen", "behave", and then expect that same child to grow into an adult who is independent, courageous, and creative? You cannot have both. If you want your child to be independent, courageous, and creative you need to let them practice in childhood.
Also, on a very serious point; teaching obedience can be dangerous. There are some adults who prey on children. You don’t know which teacher, coach, or family member could be trying to groom and abuse your child. If they are taught to “listen” and “obey” their elders, they are less likely to say, "No, I don't like that." when an adult is abusing them. Teach your child to have boundaries and voice when they are uncomfortable instead!
Are They Fine After?
There is so much evidence that supports the notion that children are NOT fine after being spanked. In fact, they are hurt, ashamed, scared, confused, and angry. "Research On Spanking: It's Bad For All Kids"- Psychology Today
The weird thing about our spankings (and I have a sneaky suspicion that many people experienced this) we almost always got an apology after. My parents would come to us ashamed and regretful of how they treated us and say something like, "I'm so sorry I lost my temper. I love you." or "I'm sorry I had to spank you." or "I just want you to know I love you."
This is the cycle of abuse people! When adult friends experience this with their partners we tell them to "dump that person", or "call the police!" Imagine a husband saying, "Don't tell me how to husband! I can hit my wife if I want, she needs to learn how to respect me." If we wouldn't put up with this done to an adult why do we put up with it done to children?
So in the end I have realized spanking does not decrease unwanted behavior, in fact, it is one way to encourage aggression. Also, I do not like the idea of an "obedient" child because children are humans and free humans should not be obedient. There is very little good that comes from spanking our children. Any compliance or behavior modification is often superficial and short-lived. It causes pain, disconnection, mistrust, and a lack of respect between parent and child.
Here is a flow chart to answer the question "Does my child need a spank?":