Jewish World Review July 2, 2002 / 22 Tamuz, 5762
This debate has been around for decades and the latest research is hardly about to settle it, despite glaring headlines in this week's newspapers. Elizabeth Gershoff is a psychologist and a researcher with a well-known liberal advocacy group, Columbia University's National Center for Children in Poverty. But in fact she did not do a study. She assessed dozens of old ones on spanking children, and, she says, she found that while spanking often produced "immediate compliance" it could also lead to negative effects on many other behaviors like aggression and delinquency.
Her findings are reported in the latest edition of the American Psychological Association Journal alongside critiques by other psychologists who don't necessarily advocate spanking, but who argue that Gershoff failed to find any evidence that spanking causes behavioral problems. They say it could just as well be it's the behavioral problems which lead to the spankings.
But it didn't take the other psychologists to point that out. Gershoff herself does.
As the Washington Post put it, "Gershoff said her research had not provided data that showed causative links between spanking and bad behaviors, but said everything she had studied indicated that the effects of spanking were mostly harmful."
Back up. Where's the science? How could Gerhsoff be so sure that the effects of spanking are "mostly harmful" if she admits finding no causative evidence that they are?
Gershoff's own writing gives us a clue:
``Americans need to re-evaluate why we believe it is reasonable to hit young, vulnerable children, when it is against the law to hit other adults, prisoners, and even animals,'' she wrote in the journal.
This is the emotional and value-laden language of advocacy, not science.
Even putting aside for a moment her over-wrought misperception of what a spanking is, the truth remains that if I put my children in the car to go visit grandma in Vermont, it's called a family vacation. If I put my neighbor's children in my car to go visit grandma in Vermont, it's called kidnapping. Nor do I tell the neighbor children's parents to do their homework, to "share," or when to go to bed at night.
My husband and I have a unique responsibility to and an authority over our children which we have with no one else. To essentially argue, as Gershoff does, that the same "rules" which adhere to our relationships with adults and other children adhere to our relationships with our kids is silly at best, anarchy at worst.
But where Gershoff shows her true colors is when she told the Post she could not think of a single situation when a spanking would ever be appropriate. Really? What if her child were drawn to running into streets with speeding cars? Sure, she might try to keep him away from busy streets. But in the meantime would her politics really keep her from administering a controlled, open-handed swat on the bottom or fatty thigh (the proper definition of "spanking" ) which even Gershoff admits is good at ensuring "immediate compliance?" There are times when "immediate compliance" might mean life or death.
For that matter, if spanking is never an option, how does a parent keep a child in "time-out" if he doesn't want to stay in one? Tie him up? (The psychologists who critiqued Gershoff's study said spanking may sometimes be necessary to enforce milder disciplines.) Too many times, I've seen frustrated parents who were reluctant to spank resort to what are really crueler forms of "discipline." "Fine, if you won't come I'm leaving you here alone" to a little 5-year-old in a crowded mall, or what amounts to banishment from Mom or Dad as in "go to your room/go to time-out."
And abuse? It's a good bet that it often comes at the hands of such parents, afraid to check bad behavior early on with an appropriate spanking, who later lash out in frustration and anger instead.
We often hear that actions speak louder than words. If I told my
kids all day long that I loved them like crazy, but never touched
them, never hugged, kissed or held them, would they believe me?
Of course not. So then something as important as "no" and "right
and wrong" sometimes need a physical touch too - a controlled,
appropriately administered spanking - in order to mean something.
Delivered with love, it's part of the same package that tells kids
how precious, cared for, and protected they really are.
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