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“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”  This Christian saying (and, yes, it is just a saying and not actual biblical text) has been used for years to justify using spanking or other physical forms of discipline to keep ill-mannered children in line. But how effective is this method of punishment? Does it do more harm than good?

Recently, rapper Azealia Banks told the magazine Dazed and Confused about the horrible abuse she endured at the hands of her mother growing up.

“After my dad died, my mom became really abusive – physically and verbally. Like, she would hit me and my sisters with baseball bats, bang our heads up against walls, and she would always tell me I was ugly. I remember once she threw out all the food in the fridge, just so we wouldn’t have anything to eat. It was like growing up a feral child, being raised by this person who was always yelling and screaming, hitting you, and dragging you around, and sh-t. Granted, she never had any drug or drinking problems – her house was clean, her hair was always done, and we had stuff – but she still f***ed me up real bad.”

What Banks went through was abuse, not simply spanking, but the ramifications are still the same: resentment, hurt, and anger . I grew up in a Caribbean home where getting beatings when I did something that was not pleasing to my parents was just as second nature as saying good morning when you woke up. It was the way my parents were raised, the way their parents were raised, and so forth. The positive outcome of these spankings, whippings, beatings, or whatever you want to call them is that I did my best never to step out of line. My mother always received praise from other adults about how well mannered I was and how respectful I was when I spoke to adults. The idea of throwing tantrums, having an attitude, or allowing my disdain to show for something an adult said to me was never an option because I knew what I would get. I did all of my chores, didn’t talk back, and got good grades in school.

The down side is that a lot of these things were done more so out of fear than an understanding that being well mannered, focusing on my studies, and cooking/cleaning around the house were all things I needed in order to mold me into the best person I could be. No questions were allowed. Anytime I asked, “Why?” the answer was always, “Because I said so.” Having children do things simply out of fear and nothing else can cause them to harbor extremely negative feelings toward their parents and can lead to the detriment of a close bond between the parent and child later in life.

The expression “spare the rod, spoil the child” was extracted from verses that are in the book of Proverbs in the Christian bible. Religious conservatives believe that when King Solomon spoke about spanking children in order to put them in line, he was reflecting on his own parenting beliefs in respect to his son, according to religioustolerance.org. The scriptures used to justify this saying are as follows:

Prov 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently).”

Prov 19:18: “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”

Prov 22:15: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

Prov 23:13: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.”

Prov 23:14: “Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Shoel).”

Prov 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

If you interpret the scriptures literally, you may believe you are doing an injustice to your child by not spanking her. However, many scholars have roundly accepted that the book of Proverbs is a work of poetry and contains lessons–not literal instructions. Moreover, “rod” is used throughout the bible in several ways, often times used to shelter and comfort people (i.e. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me”) and protect sheep from harm (not cause them harm).

Many clinicians who deal with children tend to disagree with how most interpret the rod scriptures in the bible. Time magazine published an article that discussed a Tulane University study which showed children who had been spanked were more likely than the nonspanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums, and lash out physically against other people or animals.

The article also states that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse spanking at all. They say it’s a form of punishment that becomes less effective with repeated use. As children get older, you will not be able to use the belt to get them to do what you want. They will rebel and may actually respect you less because you always turned to hitting rather than talking to them.

I am a mother and I understand that no parent likes to be told how to raise their child, but there are alternatives to spanking. You can do the time-out method, where you make your child sit in a corner and think about what he has done. You can also take away privileges or ground your child. This can be done for children of any age. It can range from not letting them watch television or play video games to not allowing them to hang out with their friends or go to a party. Another option is scolding them for what they have done, explaining to them why what they did was wrong, and why it upset you so much. This opens up the lines of communication with your child and shows that you respect him enough to talk to him about what he did wrong instead of just punishing him.

I believe a combination of all of these methods is appropriate. Occasional spankings (not abuse), scolding, grounding, and, most importantly, explaining to your child why she is being punished is a good mix that can give you the results you want. From personal experience and from what others have told me, the “because I said so” or “I’m the parent and you’re the child” explanations don’t quite cut it.

I remember when I was in high school a bunch of us sat in the lunch room and exchanged war stories about all of the crazy beatings we used to get, and sometimes still did. We would crack jokes and laugh, but in the end a lot of us didn’t understand why we got some of the licks we received. Some of the stories were also just sad and the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

Sparing the rod doesn’t always spoil the child.

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  • Rebecca

    My Dad was the sweetest, most gentle man on the planet! there wasnt a soul, including us 6 kids in our family that didnt love and respect him. he was gentle and kind. he didnt have to say a lot if words to get his point across. he would say he was disappointed in us and that was enough to make us want to be good most times.
    But on the occasions when we were just plain degiant, My dad spanked us with the leather end if his belt if we were really bad and his hand if we were bad.
    I thank him for it!!! He raised 6 children and we all grew up with respect for him and for our elders and those in authority.
    My Dad has passed now and I am grown with grown children and grand-children. I spanked my kids when they were old enough to understand. You don’t spank a baby and when they 12 it is too late. The time has passed. They are who they are going to be.
    But I praise and thank my Dad for putting in the time and caring enough to spank me so my brothers and sisters and I grew up to be living caring humans.
    Not like those who grow up showing no respect for anyone or anything.
    And you are talking about abuse, not simply a sore red behind!
    Show some love to your child abscteach them respect. Put in the time and effort tempered with TONS OF LOVE!!!

    • haley

      Children can be raised to be respectful and kind without being hit. Thats all spanking is. It lowers IQ up to five points, increases chances for depression, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse. It actually changes the way the brain develops. Humans like to think that they are so much more civilized than animals but then we go and hit our children. Fact is, we are animals. We all have basic prima l instincts and those instincts include anger and retaliation when in pain. Did you know that in some places it’s illegal to hit your dog but legal to hit your child. This is because dogs will become mean when you hit them. Kids are the same way. It all boils down to those basic animal instincts.
      Spanking also presents a modeling behavior to the child that it is ok to hit when you become frustrated or dissatisfied with something. Children often dont understand why its ok for you to hit but not ok for them. They learn only that might makes right. Its injustice. Yes, sometimes it is necessary to use our “might” to remove our children from a harmful or otherwise deleterious situation, but take into consideration a police officer. Sometimes they have to use restraint on a person which can be painful but once the subject is subdued the officer is not allowed to use undue force or its called police brutality.
      Practice Positive Parenting. Learn to communicate with your child. I’m not saying its easy. It’s not. In fact, its one of the hardest things ive ever done in my life but its one of the most beautiful. Watching my son grow into an amazing human being is well worth it. Thats what parenting is about, its constant research, constantly growing and changing to better yourself so that you can better your child. and sometimes its admitting you were wrong, or that your beloved parents were wrong.

  • Peter

    Proverbs 13:24 “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” This is the biblical scripture that is paraphrased as “spare the rod, spoil the child”. The very first law in America was much the same, also paraphrased from the Bible: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat”…

  • au napptural

    My mother always said spanking is PART of raising your children, not the whole process. The problem is some people let their children run wild and then beat them when the teacher calls. They never take time to raise the child, to instill lessons, morals, and values. They think the beatings are a cure-all. When you beat as the sole method of communication, that’s abuse.

    My parents surely beat all five of us. But that was in tandem with talking and teaching. Spankings were the last resort. And they also took into account our temperaments. Some kids cry if you yell at them, others you can beat all day and all night with no results. They tailored their approach to each child.

    Right now I’m 23 and I wouldn’t disobey my parents’ direct requests or disrespect them. And that’s not because of the spanking alone. The way they lived and raise me with love and care demands respect. But at the same time, I wouldn’t discount the role of spanking.

    I just saw that movie “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and the whole 2 hrs. I was thinking to myself,” his parents need to beat him.” But really that was only part of it. That boy was willful, the kind of boy who needs strong parents to lay down the law. His mother thought she was doing a good thing by staying out of his way and giving him everything he wanted but in reality he needed to be controlled. Some kids come into this world like that and they need the extra attention.