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The Ethics of Spanking

An essay on whether or not it is okay to spank a child.

In today’s world of parenting, parents are faced with Child Protective

Services (CPS) looking over their shoulder.  There are different opinions on

whether or not it is okay to spank a child when it comes to disciplining a child.

  Some people find it abusive, where others think it is okay to spank, as long as

one does not beat a child.  But if a parent does spank their child, how does

someone differentiate between spanking as discipline or spanking as abuse? 

Some view one or two hits as okay, while others may still see that as abuse.  

How should parents discipline their children?  Is spanking wrong, or is it allowed 

within limits?   

     Spanking is defined as any kind of physical contact that involves striking

a child for the purpose of stopping a behavior or action or getting their attention

(McClure).  Some would say that spanking a child can cause life-long emotional

damage or sometimes physical damage as well (McClure).  Others say that

spanking is not appropriate and that other forms of alternative discipline should

be used for children who are acting inappropriately (McClure).  Yet there are still

some who say that, if spanking is used appropriately, it can create a better sense

of discipline and make children do the right thing (McClure). 

    Other people think that other alternatives should be used instead of

spanking.  According to Hal Ritter, Jr., Ph. D., “children learn by example, and

when spanking is used as an option for problem solving, then children learns to

use that violence as a way to solve problems” (Ritter).  “Although many parents

do not consider the use of spanking as violence, many still believe that spanking

is a modeling form of setting limits” (Ritter).

    Ritter also quotes the Bible as a source for the necessity for spanking: 

Proverbs 22:15 (RSV) says “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod

of discipline drives it far from him [her].”  He also quotes Proverbs 23:13-14

(RSV):  “Do not withhold discipline from a child, if you beat him [her] with a rod,

he [she] will not die.  If you beat him [her] with a rod, you will save his [her] live

from Sheol” (Ritter).  He makes the comment “that the verses feel awkward

because when the female pronoun is added to them, it seems more appropriate

to “beat” a boy than a girl” (Ritter).  Ritter substitues the word “child” in verse 13

to make it clear that both male and female are intended (Ritter).

    Ritter asks the question of whether or not spanking teaches the lesson

that hitting is an acceptable form of problem-solving.  He goes on to say that “most

parents think that spanking and hitting are not the same thing” (Ritter).  “Hitting is

 an aggressive action meant to inflict hurt or pain on another person, whereas

spanking is a disciplinary action meant to teach appropriate behavior” (Ritter). 

Ritter asks parents whether “honor and respect are being taught, or, is

obedience being taught?” (Ritter).  He also asks the parent if “the child

understands the parental motive of instruction, or, if the child is experiencing his

or her own powerlessness in the presence of parental anger or rage?”  (Ritter). 

    Ritter gives the Biblical quote Galatians 5:22 as a way to teach parents

who wish to teach their children self-discipline, self-regulation, and self-control

(Ritter).  Ritter also says that when children see their parents act irrationally to

situations in life, children can fail to see how to understand what is appropriate

behavior and what is to be expected of them (Ritter).  He calls this the “sacred

parental responsibility of helping to shape the character and behavior of children

entrusted to parents by God” (Ritter).

    Jocelyn Bell gives some alternatives to spanking:  (1)  Anticipate and

redirect–this allows the parents to look for the trouble before it starts.  (2)  Be

consistent, explain, and let your feelings be known–this allows children to hear

parents’ words inside their own heads, and allows parents to model an

appropriate way for expressing negative emotions.  (3)   Time out for you and

your child–allows a cooling-out period to stop a situation from getting out of

control.  (4)  Let the child experience the consequences–lets children experience

natural consequences for their behavior, or logical consequences that make

sense to them.  (5)  Review behavior–allows the child to be aware of what he or

she did (Bell). 

    In an age where it is hard to know if it is right or wrong to spank children,

one thing is clear:  disciplinary action is needed to correct inappropriate behavior

and teach children consequences to their actions.  When is spanking discipline

or abuse?  Will it ever be ethical to spank a child, or will this remain a question

for years to come?


                        WORKS CITED

The Ethics of Spanking:  A Continuing Debate.  R. Hal Ritter, Jr., Ph. D.      Licensed Professional Counselor, Waco TX.

Spanking:  Why a Good Smack Isn’t.  The United Church Observer.  Jocelyn     Bell.

Child Discipline – Is Spanking a Child Ever Okay?  Robin McClure.  former Guide.

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