“I Was Spanked, and I Turned Out Okay”: Some Reflections

baby with  flower

If you’ve ever been a part of a conversation regarding corporal punishment, you’ve doubtless come across this argument in favour of spanking. Maybe you’ve used it yourself. I know I have, back when I was a pro-spanking advocate. (I’ll have to tell you someday about my and Ben’s participation in a spanking debate in a first-year psychology class we took together. It was epic. Ben got applause and everything.)

Not too long ago, I was talking about Unconditional Parenting with a friend, discussing the reasons I was starting to think I wouldn’t use punishment and reward to raise my kids. She asked me if I had been spanked, and whether I thought it had negatively affected me. In essence, she was asking me if I turned out all right.

I struggled to answer her then, but I’ve given it some thought since then.

Firstly, I did get spanked as a kid. Not very often or severely, but occasionally, I did get spanked. Even though studies indicate that kids who are spanked experience post-traumatic stress symptoms, I don’t remember feeling especially traumatized by these experiences.

However, I’m probably the least objective person and therefore the least ideal person to assess how well I turned out. Whether I turned out all right is entirely up for debate.

I was a very obedient and well-behaved child and teenager. I listened to my teachers,  used my manners, did my homework on time, and came home for curfew. But I think that stemmed more from my natural personality than anything. My parents were exceptional, and I hope to emulate them in almost every way. Any good qualities that I have, however, I suspect I developed in spite of rewards and punishments, not because of them. Getting spanked or otherwise punished didn’t teach me to be a good person; it just taught me how bad it was to get caught.

Any good qualities I developed, I think were the consequence of my parents’ excellent modeling, their warmth and encouragement, my teachers’ instruction, and the reading of some wonderful books.

All that being said, I’ve grown up to be not a very obedient adult.

I don’t do most of the things my pastor tells me to do. The same goes for my doctor and dentist.

When the preacher tells me I ought to bring my Bible to church every Sunday, I become more resolved to leave it at home every week. When I see a poster on the hospital wall enumerating the imagined dangers of co-sleeping, I resolve to get rid of that extra crib for good.

I question authority mercilessly. Politically, I have anarchist leanings, and I love to break social mores by doing things like going barefoot in public.

Whether these are good or bad things are up for debate.

Maybe my parents should have spanked me more. Maybe I’d be a more obedient citizen and congregant if they had. (Probably not.) Maybe that would be a good thing. I personally don’t think so, but like I said, I don’t exactly have an objective perspective on the matter.

The other thing is, how a person turns out isn’t necessarily a good indicator of how effective their parents’ disciplinary strategies were.

I know of people who were horribly abused as children who turned out to be incredible adults, full of compassion and integrity and ingenuity. (My favourite theologian, Greg Boyd, immediately comes to mind.) That doesn’t make the abuse good or even okay. In my opinion, that’s just an example of God taking something bad and redeeming it for good.

Conversely, I know of people who were raised by wonderful, loving parents, who never laid a hand on them, who nevertheless grew up to be self-centered, irresponsible, and mean-spirited adults. That doesn’t mean their parents should have hit them.

Parents definitely have a very powerful influence on how their children develop — hence the reason I give the subject so much attention — but just because a person turns out a certain way, doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of their upbringing.

You might have turned out all right despite terrible parenting.

So maybe I did or maybe I didn’t turn out all right. And maybe being spanked had something to do with it, or maybe not. My point is that I’m no judge. This is me we’re talking about. I’m hardly impartial.

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  1. To me the compelling argument against spanking is that there are many alternative punishment or discipline methods, which work about equally well (note that all disciplinary techniques are not that effective in the short term for very small children, just as a function of their lack of impulse control and general level of civilization).

    The jury is still out on how harmful spanking is. But since there is evidence it may in fact be harmful, why would you spank when you could get the same result, but without the possible negative effects? It really doesn’t make logical sense. I suppose the real reason is because people are unwilling to acknowledge that their parents made mistakes, because it feels disloyal (and would require acknowledging their own feelings of anger/hurt towards their parents).
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  2. PepperReed says

    “Getting spanked or otherwise punished didn’t teach me to be a good person; it just taught me how bad it was to get caught.” THIS.

    I was spanked as a child. My mom is mentally ill and abusive; smacking, shoving, yelling, name calling… it went in one ear and out the other. All her physicality taught me, was to be physical with others (which is an unacceptable way to interact with people and it was a difficult lesson to learn and a difficult habit to unlearn).

    I can count on 2 fingers how many times my Dad ‘spanked’ me; once when I was about 5 and the other close to a decade later. Both came with a lesson on what was expected behavior and was lovingly given (I don’t even know if I’d count it as ‘spanking’ when a five year old, but I remember that I HOWLED, I was so sad that he was upset with me!). The majority of the time, Dad sat me down and talked to me, sometimes angrily, but the intention was about guidance and relating to me as a loved human being, despite my indiscretions — a great model on the Heavenly Father :^).

    I turned out okay; my Mom taught me some very important lessons on how to deal with mistakes and bad behavior and my Dad offered Love and Grace, both shape me for the better.

  3. I too used to speak in favor of spanking. I think one of your commenters above nailed it. I did it because I couldn’t conceive of my parents doing something wrong or making a mistake. I myself was rarely spanked (I don’t remember it ever happening) as I was the oldest, a girl, a perfectionist, and super compliant because I wanted to know that my parents were proud of me.

    My brothers, on the other hand, were spanked often. As boys they got rowdy, loud, and broke things while often hurting each other. They didn’t listen very well either. Seeing my brothers get spanked often sparked a deep anger in me. It is an anger that I struggle with today. My dad, to his credit, stopped spanking when they were young because he felt like he could no longer control his anger when he spanked and didn’t want it to turn to abuse. However, his yelling was just as bad. I’m not the only one with the anger issue, my brothers both struggle with anger issues too.

    I pray that in the heat of the moment, I NEVER resort to spanking or yelling because I do believe that it is damaging. I didn’t ten years ago, but I’ve had a decade of reflection and time to work on better understanding myself.
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  4. I am definitely evolving in my thinking regarding punishment and spanking especially. I was spanked as a kid and I am fine, but I also want to clarify I feel better than ‘just fine’ and I’ve never had any bad feelings towards my parents for spanking me. I know spanking didn’t really work with my sister (who as the baby didn’t get punished as much anyway) and my brother really has problems with it and seems to be very resentful of the way my parents raised us. But I’ve always felt it did me a world of good and not any bad.
    I don’t come from a family that talks things out and my husband does so that’s been a major change and eye-opener for me. I find myself having a hard time wanting to parent more that way and less spanking but naturally wanting to revert to what I was brought up with. And not having any problems myself with how I was brought up makes it even harder to change. But I feel changing my former views on punishment and such would for sure be a change for the better. It will also mean trusting in God more to lead me and be a witness to my kids which lets face it, is always tough. Especially for me, I like to do things my way.
    Bekah recently posted..A note to my mom.My Profile

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