Reformed Articles

The ethics of spanking

This post was originally published on this site
This is the final installment. The first two were:



I’m going to quote and comment on some representative arguments against spanking in this article: A Grogan-Kaylor, J Ma, & SA Graham-Bermann, “The Case Against Physical Punishment,” Current Opinion in Psychology 19 (2018).

In general, it suffers from the same methodological flaws and oversights I noted in another study (second link). Moving along:

Attachment theory highlights the beneficial role of a secure attachment in the parent-child relationship [12]. A plethora of research has found that parental empathy and sensitivity towards children’s needs foster trust, safety, and emotional security in children [13]. However, when parents respond to their child’s need for attention, comfort, and care with physical punishment, the child easily feels rejected and degraded and the much-needed secure attachment in the parent-child relationship is likely to be eroded [14]. Thus, children who were physically punished are at risk of developing a sense of unworthiness and maladaptive developmental pathways such as anxiety and depression.

i) Parents have more than one role to play in child-rearing. It’s true that there’s an element of emotional/psychological tension between their role as disciplinarians and other roles. Spanking provokes temporary alienation. But a child’s mood can change within a few minutes. 

ii) Children need boundaries. They need to know there are consequences for crossing boundaries. It’s because the prospect of spanking is unpleasant that it has deterrent value. The parent/child bond is part of what makes that effective. 

Social learning theory underlines observation and reinforcement as mechanisms through which physical punishment affects externalizing problems such as aggression [16]. When parents physically punish their children for unacceptable behaviors, children observe their parents endorsing the use of violence, and unintentionally, are modeled and taught the legitimacy of violent behaviors to correct the misconduct of others. In addition, by observing that parental physical punishment resulted in successfully stopping their own misbehaviors in the short term, children are reinforced in the idea of the effectiveness of violence in controlling and resolving social and interpersonal conflicts.

That’s not a scientific claim. It reflects the utopian outlook of the writers. They act like any kind of “violence” is intrinsically wrong. Do they think a propensity for violence or aggression is conditioned rather than hardwired? 

But there are situations where violence is required to combat violence. It takes a gun to stop a sniper or house-burglar. Violence has a legitimate and indispensable role in social dynamics. That’s a necessity evil in a fallen world. 

A recent longitudinal study examined the relationships of parental spanking of 1-year-old children, and subsequent involvement of that family with Child Protective Services between child’s age 1 and age 5 [37]. This study found that reports of spanking of a child when child was one year old were associated with a 33% increase in the chances that a family would become involved with Child Protective Services.

i) That’s just circular. If you outlaw spanking, that puts neighbors in a position to rat out parents who spank their misbehaving kids. But that’s hardly a justification for outlawing the practice. You can’t appeal to a law to justify the law. 

ii) Because the writers oppose spanking in principle, they don’t bother to explore the appropriate age-range for spanking. How old should the child be before spanking is constructive? What’s the cutoff when the child is too old for that to be constructive?