One of the recurring discussions that pops up on my social media feeds and blog rolls is one that people have strong opinions about: is it ok to hit or spank kids to punish them? One of the most common exchanges/memes I see in regards to spanking goes like this:
“I got hit and I turned out fine.”
“Do you think it’s ok to hit kids? Then you’re not fine.”
I have problems with both elements of this exchange. While I agree that thinking it’s ok to hit children means you probably aren’t a paragon of ethics, I don’t think the response really gets to the heart of the matter, which is this: hitting someone is a Bad Thing. It hurts them. You do not need to show any additional harm beyond the actual hitting. You don’t need to show that it causes psychological damage later in life. Hitting another person all on its own is inappropriate.
I don’t see why we need to argue over that, but apparently some people need to be reminded. It doesn’t matter if the person is small or a child. Hitting is bad.
The ONLY way that spanking advocates could show that they are correct is by a. showing that the benefits outweigh the negatives or b. showing that hitting their child does not actually harm the child at all. B seems fairly impossible since you are physically striking the kid. Maybe there’s some level of spanking that doesn’t actually hurt the kid at all, but then why are you doing it if the point is to punish?
Because once again, hitting someone else is IN AND OF ITSELF a harm. It is actually the most basic definition of harm most people can come up with. It causes physical pain and/or suffering. I do not know how else to explain that hitting someone is not a good thing, and that the age of the person is not relevant.
So we move on to a. The ONLY way that spanking would be justified is if it turns out it is actually a super effective disciplinary method that works SO MUCH better than any other way of raising your kid that it outweighs the immediate harm you’re doing the child.
It’s pretty easy to look around and see tons of amazing, awesome people who didn’t get hit as children. It’s easy to find studies that show negative outcomes of spanking in terms of its use in discipline. It doesn’t make kids better behaved: it makes them more likely to lie, more aggressive, and more reliant on external forms of punishment than internal morality. Really the only benefit you’re getting is kids whose immediate compliance is faster. It definitely doesn’t appear that there’s good evidence that spanking is more effective than not spanking in a major way.
So yeah, it’s possible there are long term consequences to spanking that damage someone’s mental health, and that does suck and is an additional harm. But to argue against spanking we don’t even need to go that far. Because you’re hitting someone. You’re hitting someone who’s defenseless and trusts you. That’s bad. And we don’t have evidence that hitting someone is a miracle cure for bad behavior.
So no matter how many awesome people did get hit, it doesn’t matter. Because the only thing that could ever justify hitting a kid is if there is literally no other way to discipline them. And that is just very clearly not the case. So next time someone brings up “well I turned out fine,” point out to them that it’s completely irrelevant! Lots of people turn out just fine with all kinds of disciplinary styles! The fact that your defense of your parents’ child rearing style is “it didn’t fuck me up,” says that you know it’s bad and are looking for an excuse.
No more excuses. There is no evidence that spanking turns out people who are better. And all other things being just about equal, not hitting people is better than hitting people.