Many times when I have to address an audience, I prepare my remarks in the form of an acronym. I also use acronyms in lengthy lectures and classes. I find them to be very helpful in keeping on track and staying focused. It also aids the listener or learner by allowing for easy review.
Recently I addressed the topic of parenting. I used the word PARENT as the acronym, sharing six pointers to help the participants successfully meet their goals. The 'N' in the word parent stood for the word NEVER.
I shared some "techniques" that I feel parents must NEVER engage in. The two main behaviors were embarrassing and hitting. In this article, I would like to focus on the message of NEVER hitting children. Before some of you object to my message and call to protest, please just give me the courtesy of hearing me out; listen to the other side of the argument.
I believe that I have heard just about every conceivable reason why people say that corporal punishment is an effective teaching technique. But I stand strong with my belief that a parent should NEVER hit a child. It goes without saying, the same is true in schools.
When I use the word HIT, I include all forms of physical hurt from the parent to the child, including the slap on the hand.
Before we proceed, to answer the inevitable, yes, I am quite familiar with the advice of King Solomon in Proverbs (13:24) that the one who spares the rod, hates his son. I think that there are many ways of reconciling that message with my belief, however.
As a dean, I meet with and hear from many children and parents. I have yet to meet a child who claimed that he would have been better off if he had been hit more. And I have never met a parent who regretted not hitting his children more. No one has convinced me that anything bad happens if we do not hit children. Nor has anyone proven to me that children become less well behaved if we do not hit them.
What I have heard, are the horrors involved with hitting. This, both from children and their parents.
While I anticipate that some reading this article will respond well, I will be careful to hit my child in the right way and my child will benefit from it, I have witnessed far too many casualties. There are more effective means to alter bad behavior.
One often hears of the self-destruction of a lottery winner who managed to squander his jackpot in short order. The typical response is If I should be so lucky, I would do it differently. Facts document that it just doesn't work that way. I believe that the same risk applies with the potential damage from hitting children.
By now you are probably asking how I can say NEVER when we have all been raised with the understanding that even those who don't approve of hitting children agree that if the child runs into the street or does something else dangerous, then hitting should be the appropriate response. If you can explain the rationale for that senseless exception for hitting, please contact me immediately because for the life of me, I don't get it. I suspect that it is one of those things that we just pass along from one person to the next, assuming that it is sound, while it really has no sensible explanation.
You may ask if hitting a child is wrong, why, then, have there never been any laws enacted to prevent corporal punishment against one's child. You are so right and I wish that the lawmakers would have the guts to finally do it.
There is a point that we need to consider as we examine the pros and cons of parents hitting their child. Have you ever wondered why young children, while playing with their peers, often resort to physical means to get their way when they don't like something? Is it possible that the two-year old thinks that it is acceptable to hit because he sees that as something that his mother or father does? Please don't respond that the child understands the difference between the parent hitting and the child hitting, as that is the furthest from the truth. Just for the goal of modeling how to deal with things that are wrong, it is a great idea to not model hitting. I think that just for this reason in itself, it makes sense to rule out hitting.
I recently shared this message with a group of parents. One said that she remembers the four times during her childhood that she was hit by her father. She claimed she knew and felt that it was with and from a point of love. While I truly doubt that she is being honest with her feelings, such exceptions should not be the cause or the green light for all parents to hit.
I once heard in the name of Rabbi Moshe Shapiro about a great Rebbetzin who related how her father hit her on two occasions. She, too, claimed it was instructive and was certain that her father was hitting her only for her benefit and not out of anger. However, Rabbi Shapiro said outright that in our day and age, hitting is not the proper approach.
The only real challenge to the position of NEVER hitting a child is the verse in Proverbs cited above. The great Mussar master, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, explained that the original Hebrew word in the verse many translate as ROD can have many alternate meanings. While it can mean "stick", it can also mean, for example, a "stern look".
I heard the same interpretation from Rabbi Michal Yehudah Lefkowitz, who expounded on the famous Talmud passage (Sotah 7a) that instructs us to draw a student to us with the right and push him away with the left two steps that must be done simultaneously. He explained that due to the times we live in, the main focus must be on drawing the student close with the right hand. In the elderly sage's Hebrew-language work, Sefer Darchei HaChaim, he actually writes about the time he learned of a father hitting his son. If he would have only had the strength, he said, he would have personally gone and stopped the father. That's how adamant he was.
I am not aware of any incident in which it would make sense to have an exception to the rule of NEVER hitting a child. I can comfortably state that hitting a child is wrong and a child never, ever, under any circumstances should be hit. Let us use our intelligence to discover more sensible approaches to discipline. You will be amazed at what methods you will find and how much more effective they are!
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JWR contributor Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg is dean of Torah Academy in Minneapolis and a columnist for Yated Neeman.