One of the recurring discussions that pops up on my social media feeds and blog rolls is one that people have strong opinions about: hitting or spanking kids to punish them. One of the most common exchanges/memes I see in regards to spanking goes like this:
“I got hit and I turned out fine.”
“Do you think it’s ok to hit kids? Then you’re not fine.”
I have problems with both elements of this exchange. While I agree that thinking it’s ok to hit children means you probably aren’t a paragon of ethics, I don’t think the response really gets to the heart of the matter. It focuses on the long term effects of spanking rather than recognizing the most important fact: hitting someone is a Bad Thing. It hurts them. You do not need to show any additional harm beyond the actual hitting. You don’t need to show that it causes psychological damage later in life. Hitting another person all on its own is inappropriate.
The ONLY way that spanking advocates could show that they are correct is by a. showing that the benefits outweigh the negatives or b. showing that hitting their child does not actually harm the child at all. B seems fairly impossible since you are physically striking the kid. Maybe there’s some level of spanking that doesn’t actually hurt the kid at all, but then why are you doing it if the point is to punish? Obviously you have to cause some physical pain or no one would say that it’s a consequence or a punishment. The point of the action is that the pain or discomfort will deter the child from the behavior in the future.
This is where I start to get confused because some people don’t see that as a bad thing. In ethics, when we talk about harm, the most basic one that people can think of is physical pain. So while we could argue about whether or not there are things that outweigh the harm of getting hit, I truly do not know how else to argue that causing your kid some physical pain isn’t harmful in the here and now. Hitting someone hurts them and that is bad. Ok? Ok.
So we move on to a. The ONLY way that spanking would be justified is if it turns out it is actually a super effective disciplinary method that works SO MUCH better than any other way of raising your kid that it outweighs the immediate harm you’re doing the child.
It’s pretty easy to look around and see tons of amazing, awesome people who didn’t get hit as children. It’s easy to find studies that show negative outcomes of spanking in terms of its use in discipline. It doesn’t make kids better behaved: it makes them more likely to lie, more aggressive, and more reliant on external forms of punishment than internal morality. There appear to be some benefits, like children who comply very quickly to requests, but overall there is no evidence that spanking is more effective than other methods of discipline.
So yeah, it’s possible there are long term consequences to spanking that damage someone’s mental health. But it also doesn’t matter. Because you’re hitting someone. You’re hitting someone who’s defenseless and trusts you. That’s bad. And we don’t have evidence that hitting someone is a miracle cure for bad behavior.
So no matter how many awesome people did get hit, it doesn’t matter. Because the only thing that could ever justify hitting a kid is if there is literally no other way to discipline them without letting them grow up into murderers or rapists or just plain old assholes. And that is just very clearly not the case. So next time someone brings up “well I turned out fine,” point out to them that it’s completely irrelevant! Lots of people turn out just fine with all kinds of disciplinary styles! The fact that your defense of your parents’ child rearing style is “it didn’t fuck me up,” says that you know it’s bad and are looking for an excuse.
No more excuses. There is no evidence that spanking turns out people who are better. And all other things being just about equal, not hitting people is better than hitting people.
Cross posted from We Got So Far To Go.