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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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To spank, or not to spank?

Mark Hayter

Do you want to know why so many of us are messed up? Do you? Me neither. But, some really smart people out of Columbia University spent serious bucks to find out.

What they found was that disciplining children by spanking does a number on their brains. It not only makes them more aggressive it also makes them dumber than non-spanked children. Makes them do poorly on vocabulary tests.

There is little doubt that the survey was well founded, uh, well researched – whatever. Questions were asked of 1,500 parents of children born between 1998 and 2000. I assume the years were inclusive or else they would've just written 'Children born in 1999'. My vocabulary may stink, but I've got logic out the wazoo.

The parents were selected from 20 different cities. That was so the researchers could rule out any possibility of choosing a city that was a safe haven for parents who spanked a lot. Just a guess.

The findings from questionnaires revealed that 57 percent of all moms are spankers, and only 40 percent of all dads. We can only take their word for it, 'cause none of the homes had hidden cameras installed. The questions asked went something like this:

If a classmate grabbed a packet of fruit juice from your child, which reaction would mostly be that of your child?

a) He would say, 'Not to worry, you need the nourishment acquired from fruit products more than I.'
b) He would bop the kid in the mouth and scream, 'That boy take my sip-sip! Mess boy up!'

I was born a generation or three before 1998, so one might question my qualifications as a test subject in spanking research. Regardless, I was spanked a lot. Almost exclusively by Mom. Dad took care of less than one percent of all spankings. Had it been a full percent, my vocabulary would be much worse than it is.

When Dad was home, we were the best behaved seven kids on the planet. When he was at work we were spankings waiting to happen. I loved my Mom dearly, but I put that woman in situations where she just had to spank me. And, the woman never argued or tried to weigh the fairness of the hand-or-belt-to-bottom course of action. She never once hurt herself more than me. 'A parent should never spank a child when angry.' Who comes up with that kind of stuff?

We made Mom spank us 'cause it was the only way we could tell when she had reached her limit. We didn't want to push her to the brink of I'm going to tell your daddy. Nobody wanted that. Mom didn't even want that.

If spanking were an adequate method of discipline, I doubt we would've gotten so many. If you're getting a spanking a day, the practice is apparently not working. Schools caught on long before most moms did. I cannot tell you the year that corporal punishment was outlawed, but I do remember the time I gave it up as a teacher.

I remember giving only one kid 'swats'. I taught junior high during my first year of teaching, and had one kid who would never bring his book to class. I couldn't threaten him with more work, 'cause he wouldn't complete what he had. After the ninth warning about his book, I summoned the principal and took the kid into the hall. The principal had to witness.

On three occasions I gave that kid swats. I didn't hit him very hard, 'cause my heart wasn't in it. After the third episode, the student tried to make me feel better about what I was doing. He said, "It's okay, Mr. Hayter. I don't blame you. I don't know why I don't bring my book."

Teachers are not supposed to make exceptions when it comes to discipline. If you cut one kid some slack, all of 'em will expect equal treatment. There is only one rule that supersedes the equal treatment rule – "Pick your battles."

I could not win the battle of the book, so I ended up keeping a book in the side cabinet for Mike (not his name) to borrow during class. I told him to keep his other book at home for when he had homework. I also asked him not to make a spectacle of getting the book out of the cabinet.

I never gave swats to another kid. I can say in all honesty that swatting hurt me more than it did Mike. Fortunately, the following year, I started teaching high school-aged kids. I was better able to reason with most of 'em. It's so much easier to reason with kids once you realize you were one of 'em once. Weird how that works.

Truth is, I doubt there is a definitive answer as to whether or not it helps to spank children. I do know that it was unnecessary for Daddy to ever spank me. All he had to do was look at me and I'd start crying. But, Mom? I don't know what to say about that. I loved that woman to pieces, but I drove her to spank. All of us did – Hayter kids. What are you gonna do? We didn't have a good enough vocabulary to understand reason.

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