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.