There is no path to peace. Peace is the path. – Gandhi
We have seen the human species progress beyond what most people could have ever imagined. The internet, airplanes, advances made in medicine, the abolition of slavery, to womens rights, the list goes on. Humans have been consistently advancing and learning new and more effective techinques in almost every area imaginable. When it comes to parenting, however, many people will aggressively and unquestionably defend techniques thousands of years old. Why do so many people respond to doubts about parenting as if it is blatantly obvious that ancient techniques should not be questioned?
To suggest that there are more moral and effective ways to raise children than spanking is to almost inevitably incite an onslaught of furious and ferocious opposition. Why, how dare you question this conventional wisdom! After all, I was spanked, and I turned out fine (while saying this they are often angry and either close or have already lost their temper, which would indiciate that in fact they did not turn out “just fine”)!
This post makes the assumption that the reader shares the view that initiating aggressive violence unnecessarily and for non-defensive purposes is wrong. I am not interested in the present work in defending that position per se. Rather, this is directed at the people who I believe the vast majority is composed of. That is, people who maintain the belief that using aggressive violence is only justified when reserved for extreme, necessary, and defensive purposes. If consistent, this belief will lead to the logical conclusion that violence against innocent children is abuse.
If, for whatever reason, you believe people should be able to assault others willy-nilly for no reason, then you can quit reading now.
- What is assault? Is spanking assault?
Webster: 1. a violent physical or verbal attack 2. a threat or attempt to inflict offensive physical contact or bodily harm on a person (as by lifting a fist in a threatening manner) that puts the person in immediate danger of or in apprehension of such harm or contact (compare- battery: an offensive touching or use of force on a person without the person’s consent )
Dictionary.com: a sudden, violent attack; onslaught (an onset, assault, or attack, especially a vigorous one.)
By any meaningful definition of the word, spanking is clearly assault. Spanking is a violent offensive physical attack. It is impossible to define spanking in any logical way that does not include offensive physical violence. There should be no serious objection at all to this claim.
- Is spanking children justified?
Spanking is undoubtedly assault, as demonstrated above. The question then becomes, is it justified? Based on the almost universally agreed upon criteria explained earlier, violence is only morally acceptable in extreme, necessary, and defensive circumstances. By this standard, spanking is unjustified assault. Unjustified physical violence is abuse.
One would be hard pressed to imagine a realistic scenario where a child is a physical threat to an adult. Let’s say a 10 year old Andre The Giant looks angry and is for whatever reason charging at you with a knife. Is using physical force to defend yourself justified? In accordance to our standards, yes.
The problem with using this scenario to justify spanking is that it makes the mistake of equating offense and defense. The critique is specifically directed at spanking as offensive violence (as in, punishment). To use an example of defensive violence to argue for offensive violence is to ignore the fact that defense and offensive are complete opposites.
In short, spanking is abuse because it is an offensive and unnecessary act of violence. Below I will respond to common criticisms that attempt to justify spanking based on the grounds that “it is necessary”, etc.
- I was spanked and turned out fine.
This provides no actual justification for the spanking. All this shows is that you were mistreated as a child, but you made it through in spite of it. It does not follow that violent action X is justified from the fact that you turned out relatively ok. There are all sorts of unjustified and horrible things that could happen to someone as a child. None of them could be justified on the grounds “X happened to me and I turned out fine”. It says nothing about the justifiation of the act itself.
The “I turned out fine” argument also assumes the validity of the very act in question . If being spanked as a child is unjust, then hitting children on this basis must also be unjust. The legitimacy of the violence cannot just be assumed and then used to justify further violence. The violence itself is in question, it cannot be used as it’s own evidence for justification.
It also brings into question whether or not someone who advocates hitting children really “turned out fine”. For if hitting children is unjust, then someone who commits the act cannot be considered to have completely “turned out fine”.
- Kids need discipline!
This is a common, but fallacious objection raised when speaking out against hitting children. The advocates of peaceful parenting do not dispute that kids need structure, order, guidance, etc. However, it is a non sequitur to leap from the necessity of discipline, to the necessity of violence.
Violence is only one out of many methods of discipline. Not only is there no reason to assume it is justified, there is also no reason to assume it is the most effective.
- You don’t know what you are talking about because you don’t have kids. Wait until you have kids, then you will see!
This is another fallacious argument (ad hominem). Pointing out that someone does not have kids does not invalidate their argument. It is a personal attack that avoids the actual argument and diverts attention to an irrelevant fact. Rather than attacking the argument, the advocate of violence against children attacks the person making the claim. The only reason to resort to ad hominems is if you lack any argument with actual substance.
Whether or not hitting kids is wrong is completely ignored. On these grounds alone it fails to establish justification for violence against children. Let’s look at the logical implications of this reponse anyways.
It is 1862, and you had a bad day at work. You are also very hungry. You come home to find your wife busy working on her stamp collection rather than cooking dinner. Since you view this as completely unacceptable, you decide it is a good idea to teach her a lesson. You don’t want your wife to be undisciplined, after all. After roughing her up a bit, you notice your neighbor saw everything through the window. Now that you have fulfilled your duty as a responsible husband, you decide to enjoy some leisure and go outside to have a chat with the neighbor. Looking a bit uneasy, your neighbor says: “Don’t you think it is unnecessary to treat your wife like that? How would you feel if someone bigger and stronger than you decided to hit you just because they didn’t like what you were doing?”. In response you say: “Well, if I don’t discipline her and show her right from wrong, she will never learn her lesson. I don’t want a disorderly and disobedient wife”. The neighbor then says: “Don’t you think there might be a less violent and more civilized way to work out your problems?”. You then say: “Well she just won’t learn any other way!”. Your neighbor replies: “Do you think it might be hard to learn in an environment where you are physically harmed for making mistakes?”. You then look at your neighbor, feeling sympathetic towards him for holding obviously ignorant and simplistic views, and say: “You have a lot to learn, my friend. Wait until you have a wife, then you’ll understand.”
As we can see, using this type of reasoning could justify virtually any act of random violence on the basis of saying “Once you are in my position, then you will understand”. It avoids any and all attempts at addressing the issue.
- If spanking is wrong, does that mean it is wrong to stop your kid from wandering into traffic?
I don’t know how these relate to eachother, but since people like to bring it up, I will respond to it. Hitting is not in any way necessary to stop your kid from wandering into traffic. If a child is wandering into traffic, simply picking them up would be more effective in stopping them.
Even as a punishment to discourage your child from running into traffic, hitting is not justified or necessary. Hitting a child for being in a dangerous environment is to punish them for the parent’s mistake. This applies to the “what if my kid is going to touch a hot stove?!” objection as well. First of all, hitting is not in any way necessary to prevent this. There is no reason why you can’t simply stop your child without assaulting them. The more important and neglected question is, why is the child being physically harmed for the parent’s error? It is surely not the child’s fault that the parent has chosen to put them into dangerous environments such as busy streets, kitchens with knives and hot stoves, lion’s dens, etc.
We apply the principle that people should not be physically assaulted for other people’s mistakes to everywhere else in our daily lives. I see no reason why this basic moral principle should all of the sudden disappear when it comes to the most vulnerable and helpless people in society.
Kids need to learn respect!
This is similar to the response about discipline. It is an error to leap from the necessity of respect to the necessity of physical violence.
Aside from this, it is important to determine if your goal is to teach your child respect, or if it is to teach them to fear. There is an important distinction to be made between the two. To respect someone is to consider them worthy of high regard (webster.com). This is in sharp contrast with being afraid of someone.
Hitting only teaches them fear. It teaches them to be afraid and scared. Children will listen to commands because they fear physical aggression, but if the goal is to get them to cooperate with you out of respect, then to resort to violence demonstrates failure. It is not respect when a child cooperates with you because of a threat, it is fear. If you are worthy of respect, violence is not needed. If violence is used, you risk losing the respect of not only your child, but also the respect of other adults.
- A personal message
This is directed at anyone who is reading this and happens to know me personally.
The intention of writing this in this format is not to avoid talking to people in person about it. There have been many instances when I have wanted to confront people about abusing their children or supporting it by others, but the nature of the subject makes it near impossible to have a rational and calm discussion about it. If anyone wants to have a rational and calm discussion about it, I am more than willing to participate.
To anyone who might be wondering if I think they are bad people for hitting their children,
I do not necessarily think you are a bad person. A bad parent, definitely, but not neccessarily a bad person. Everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect.
If you are convinced that hitting children is assault but knowingly choose to still do it, then do so knowing that you lose respect from me. I hope I have convinced you that by your own standards, hitting children is unjustified assault (i.e. abuse).
Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary. – Gandhi
- Non-violent parenting resources: