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Parent Spanking - The golden rule of child discipline?

By Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, Ph.D


At birth we intuitively know our bodies are sacred. This provides a built-in protection system. When a baby is startled by an uncomfortable noise or touch, this protective system kicks in. When a child squirms or throws both arms across the chest, the child is using this protective mechanism. Observers of child development refer to this self-protective mechanism as the 'startle response.' Within a few hours of birth this startle response is apparent.

Adults need to respect children's sacred physical boundaries and inherent likes and dislikes beginning at birth. Lack of respect for a child can disturb a child's protection responses, rendering their intuitive perception of unwanted or uncomfortable touch to be either inoperative or very weak.

Parents can avoid thwarting this protection system by minimizing any touch or maneuvering that the child dislikes. When your child protests, you need to stop immediately and find an alternative approach. Yes, fostering and developing this protective system takes effort. However, remember the goal is to reinforce your child's right to protest uncomfortable or unwanted touch for any reason, rather than simply getting done what needs to be done—such as: bathing, dressing, undressing.

The worst type of sacred body boundary violation is the use of spanking as a form of discipline. Spanking, defined as slapping of the buttocks, is a form of hitting and is physical violence. This fact alone is reason enough to make the spanking of children unacceptable by the same standards that protect adults, who are not as vulnerable. However, there is more to spanking than simple hitting. Spanking also trespasses on one of the body's most private and sexual areas—the genitals. Furthermore, violent socialization of infants, children and youth by means of 'spanking,' 'bopping,' 'switching,' 'licking,' 'whipping,' 'paddling,' 'popping,' 'whacking,' 'thumping,' etc. conditions children to accept and tolerate aggression and violence. This leaves the child prey to sexual abuse and incest. To address the inappropriateness of spanking children completely, we need to consider not only the issue of physical violence, but also the issue of sexual trespass.

It is a known fact that sex offenders target children who appear to have been victims before (quiet, withdrawn, compliant.) A previous victim of body boundary violations tend to be quiet, easy to manipulate and more likely to comply with a sex offender's demands.

The harm of spanking to reinforce appropriate behavior has been thoroughly explained and demonstrated over the past century in a vast body of academic literature, scientific research, legal treatises, and recently in the popular media. We know that spanking is still considered the preferential form of child discipline as 22 states allow paddling with a wood end paddle in schools and in a random telephone survey done by Harvard Medical Center in 1997, 67% of parents surveyed stated they hit their child(ren) an average of once a week for discipline.

In my discussions with people who use spanking to promote compliance with instructions, the most frequent rationalization is that a two-year-old child cannot be reasoned with—so spanking is the best alternative. When I then ask the adult if I can hit them because they cannot be reasoned with regarding hitting or spanking children, they are chagrined by the obvious analogy.

Another classic rationalization is the need to spank in emergency situations—when there is no time for explanations. An example of the rationalization that is frequently given is "What if my child walks into the street with oncoming traffic. In this situation, one has to impress on the child that walking into the street is dangerous," they reason, "and spanking the child is the most effective alternative." This reasoning is faulty because spanking creates shock, whereby the mind is unable to focus or retain logic rather than enhancing comprehension. Furthermore, hitting engenders rage rather than respect. Thus, instead of creating learning and compliance to avoid stepping into the street, the child has learned to distrust adults. In order to maintain the relationship, the child pushes the rage deep into the psyche; the accompanying response to body boundary violations is to act out in other ways that may include rebellion, violence, self-destructive behavior, etc.

Our laws and our cultural values are unambiguous concerning adults who physically attack or verbally threaten other adults. Such behavior is recognized as criminal, and we hold the offenders accountable. Why then, when so much is at stake for society, do we accept the excuses of those who hit children? Why do we become interested in the needs of children only after they have been terribly victimized, or have become delinquents victimizing others?

The answer is not complicated. We cannot believe that hitting children is abuse until we can honestly acknowledge the mistreatment from our own childhood experiences and examine the shortcomings of our own parents. To the extent we feel compelled to defend our parents and guard their secrets, we will do the same for others. We will look the other way. By continually insisting that we 'turned out okay,' we are reassuring ourselves and diverting our attention from deeply hidden unpleasant memories.

This is why, when someone says, 'spanking is abuse,' many people react as though a door barricaded since infancy has been smashed open. This barricaded, unconscious door has prevented us from committing the most dangerous most unpardonable act of disloyalty imaginable, disloyalty to our parents. We are afraid that by opening the door to the truth we might fall through into an abyss - abandoned and cut off from any possibility of reconciliation with the parents we love. The fear is irrational. Denial - about what was done to us and, now, what we are doing and allowing to be done to the next generation - is the real danger and the real sin. Hitting is a sacred body boundary violation and is violence toward another human being. In the case of hitting children for discipline, it is an act of violence by the person, who the child trusts implicitly and on whom the child is the most vulnerable and dependent.

Reconciliation and healing can only begin with an acknowledgment of the truth. It is futile to hope that lies, evasions and excuses can somehow erase the memory and pain of past injuries.



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Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, author, If I'd Only Known...Sexual Abuse in or out of the Family: A Guide to Prevention, specializes in: Emotional healing and Physical/Sexual Abuse Recovery. As an inspirational leader, Dr. Neddermeyer empowers people to view life's challenges as an opportunity for Personal/Professional Growth and Spiritual Awakening. http://www.drdorothy.net



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