Note to my readers: Just over an hour after posting this article, Senator Ted Cruz announced his withdrawal from the Presidential Race. Cruz could handle the slings and arrows from Trump, but apparently my middle cinnamon roll blog was the straw that broke the camel’s back. 😉
I almost always steer clear of the political scene, because most people firmly believe what they believe and we are either slamming our heads against walls with our arguments, or we are preaching to the choir. But a very politically charged subject came up last Sunday in a Ted Cruz rally and I just can’t let it sit there.
Ted Cruz thinks we should all be spanking our children.
After a young protester yelled, “you suck,” from last Sunday evening’s audience, Cruz addressed the young man by saying, “I appreciate you sharing your views. Y’know, one of the things that hopefully someone has told you is that children should actually speak with respect.” That line was followed by thunderous applause and cheering from the crowd as he stood on-stage looking smug. Then he said, “Y’know, in my household, when a child behaves that way, they get a spanking.” (More applause and cheers.) “And, y’know, that really comes down to who we are as a people.” The 12-year-old child was then removed from the rally by two police officers.
Let me say that again. “…when a child behaves that way, they get a spanking…that really comes down to who we are as a people.”
So hitting our children defines our country? Judging by the sickeningly gleeful audience’s response, perhaps it does. And that is horrifying.
I agree that teaching our children to speak with respect is extremely important. It is an integral part of the infrastructure we should be building as parents. We may teach them to show us the appearance of respect by hitting them, because they will not want to get hit again, but that “respect” may be disingenuous. We do not teach them to show us genuine respect by hitting them.
On April 7, 2016, the Journal of Family Psychology published a research study by Elizabeth Gershoff and co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor which compiled, evaluated and discussed 50 years of data.
Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor began with a comprehensive literature review of articles listed in four academic abstracting databases that were searched using six terms for physical punishment (spank; corporal punishment; physical punishment; physical discipline; harsh punishment; and harsh discipline). That search yielded 1,574 articles. From those 1,574 articles, they extracted 558 potential studies through a screening process that excluded literature reviews, opinions about spanking and articles that were not available in English. Of those 558 studies, they included only those that met several specific criteria: (a) the study had to have been published in a peer-review journal; (b) the study included a measure of parents’ use of customary, non-injurious spanking that was intended to be a correction of a child’s misbehavior; (c) studies that reported an association between parents’ spanking and the child outcome of interest; and (d) studies that included appropriate statistics for calculating effect sizes. They narrowed down their research to the 75 studies that met those criteria and over those 50 years, covered the research of more than 160,000 children.
What is groundbreaking about this study is the fact that it is very specific to the common definition of the word “spanking” which is “hitting a child on their buttocks or extremities using an open hand” or “non-injurious, open-handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior.”
This is the definition most commonly defended by parents as a non-abusive and sometimes necessary disciplinary act. Elizabeth Gershoff stated, “Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors. We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”
Unfortunately, a large percentage of our population shares Cruz’ perspective, but not hitting them is not equivalent to a lack of discipline. The definition of discipline is “to teach.” It is true that kids who were spanked (or even hit with a belt) can develop into fully functioning, thoughtful compassionate adults. With the scientific evidence now before us, we have the choice, if not the obligation, to break that cycle. It is possible to raise kids in communicative homes where all of the important skills for living responsible, thoughtful, successful and compassionate lives are taught. For those who believe children who are not spanked turn out to be entitled, disrespectful, dishonest or incarcerated, to name a few possibilities, it can be argued that there are other forms of abuse, and one of those is neglect. Gershoff’s new report is one of multiple scientific studies (including other studies by Gershoff) showing the damaging effects of spanking our kids. There isn’t one scientific study that proves that it works. Kids who are spanked may persevere and overcome, and may not even be aware of the damage that was caused, but they thrive in spite of getting hit. Not because of it.
A child’s brain is 80% developed by the time they are three years old. If all of their physical and emotional needs are met during those formative early years, the possibility of behavioral issues decreases. Some kids are naturally more of a challenge than others and raising them brings different challenges with each child. Some parents use a sort of template for raising all of their children and that does not work, because different children have different needs. For the more challenging children, there may be easily frustrated parents who resort to spanking, which only heightens behavioral problems. Many parents have said that they use spanking as a “last resort” when they feel they have tried everything else, but unfortunately, when parents are using this method as a last resort, they are at their wits’ end and tend to hit those children out of anger and frustration. It is a recipe for disaster.
There are plenty of natural life consequences when children make mistakes and it is our job to discuss options with them and help them make the right choices for themselves. We must teach them the differences between right and wrong, but forbidding them from undesirable temptations only makes them more curious. Discussing possible outcomes and age appropriately guiding them in their choices creates intelligently thinking individuals. Positive parenting practices can result in relationships with our kids where they will turn to us for advice on everything. If we never judge them, they will never feel the need to keep secrets. They will respect our thoughts and opinions and when they are unsure about a choice, they will look to us for guidance.
Children sometimes “misbehave” simply because they are inexperienced and truly do not understand how their behaviors are affecting others. Often, they do not understand, because we, as parents, have not done our jobs properly. When those undesired behaviors do happen, we can find ways to lovingly talk it through with them so they understand what is appropriate. If we just judge their behaviors and punish them for those behaviors, they wind up feeling resentful, which is a negative outcome and often not a real understanding of why or how their behaviors are not okay. When feelings of resentment start factoring in, the acting out continues.
Our children are the most vulnerable humans on our planet. It does not make sense that to teach them means to hit them. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently linked spanking to mental illness and advises against it. Just because a practice has been in place for hundreds of years does not make it healthy or right. We are an intelligent and evolving species. We are smart enough to not resort to any type of violence with our children. There are those who believe that “good” children from non-spanking households are in the minority, but the reason they are a minority is because there is a small percentage of parents in this country (approximately 10%) who do not spank their children.
Ted Cruz chastised a young man for being disrespectful, but does not see that hitting a child is the epitome of a disrespectful act. He also chooses to turn his back on science while vowing to bring spanking back to the White House.
Hitting our children does not have to define us as a people. Reform begins with the foundations we lay for them at the most impressionable time in their lives: the beginning.