In a poll taken on ChristiNet.com, the largest Christian portal, 85% of those believed it was in their rights to spank their children. Most quoted the “spare the rod, spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24) verse as support for their stance. Many of those also said that spanking is okay “as long as it is done in moderation and without anger.” Others stated that they formed their opinions based on how they were disciplined as a child. Ten percent said they were against spanking. A lot of people in this group thought that spanking was not so much a form of discipline as it was physical harm. Their reasons were that it would encourage violence. One person commented that a timeout or other form of discipline made more sense. Five percent in the poll were unsure on the subject. Many of the unsure group were spanked as kids. There were mixed feelings about it. Sometimes those spanked felt they didn’t deserve it. Other comments made by this group were, “only as a last resort” or “it depends on what they did.”
What does the Bible say about discipline?
One of the most cited examples from the Bible regarding spanking is Proverbs 13:24. It reads, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (NIV)
In Parenting By The Book by John K. Rosemond. M.S., he says that there is a misunderstanding when it comes to the passages in the Bible about discipline. He quotes two specific passages that mention “the rod of discipline.”
Proverbs 22:15 — “Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”
Proverbs 23:13 — “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.”
Rosemond says that we must pay particular attention to the article (a or the) used in scripture. Also the context it is used is very important. The difference is literal versus metaphorical. According to Rosemond, usually when the phrase “a rod” is used, it is referring to an actual instrument such as a measuring stick, scepter, or shepherd’s staff. For example, Exodus 21:20 it says, “ If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result he must be punished…” In this case, “a rod” is referring to an actual rod. However, usually when the Bible says “the rod” it actually means God’s righteousness. In Proverbs 23:13 it reads, “Do not withhold discipline from a child, if you punish him with the rod he will not die.” So in this case, the rod is more of a correction done verbally because God gives us authority as in Exodus 20:12 (Honor your father and mother). However, the problem comes when people get these two types of rods mixed up. Even then the issue is not black and white. As far as what the Bible says about actual examples of discipline, it really doesn’t give specific examples disciplining children. So how are we as Christian parents to decide a discipline strategy?
Chip Ingram (from Focus On The Family and one who believes it is okay to spank) gives some ideas in his seven-step process.:
Clear warning – the first interaction in discipline should always be verbal
Establish responsibility – Don’t ask why your child did something. Ask what he or she did wrong.
Avoid embarrassment – No yanking out of a restaurant booth or yelling at them in front of friends. Instead go to a private place.
Communicate grief – Show your child that you are sad that he or she disobeyed you.
Flick your wrist – The spanking should be to sting; not to injure.
Sincere repentence – Give your child some time to think about what he or she did wrong and then ask if your child wants to talk about it. Then ask with whom he or she need to make things right.
Unconditional love – After the spanking, hug your child and let him/her know that you forgive him/her.
Seeing both sides
We cannot look past other verses in the Bible that instruct us in how to act towards our children. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is patient. Love is kind….”
Grace to You at gty.org points out that we should not exasperate our children (Colossians 3:22) or they may lose heart. One of the ways we exasperate our children is by discipling them in ways that are abusing them physically, mentally, or verbally. For example being sarcastic, cruel, or resentful.
Not so black and white
Why are there differing opinions on spanking in the Christian community? I believe that part of it is how we were raised. I did not grow up in a Christian home, but my mom definitely spanked us. Because of this, I have no problem doing it to my child. She did so with more than her hand too. Other people like my friend Cesar did not grow up being spanked so that may have affected his earlier attitudes toward it. Some Christian parents use a “Three Strikes Rule.” That means that there are two warnings and then a swat on the behind comes.
I believe if there is a plan such as the “Three Strikes Rule” it is a good idea. Also, spanking in anger is not a proper approach to take because it sends the wrong message to children.
Spanking vs. other discipline
I had a further discussion with a couple at church, Cesar and Shelly, about their experiences and views on spanking.
Cesar said that he believes it is useful. He said that sometimes the timeout isn’t enough.
Cesar did not grow up being spanked as a child.
Shelly said that she believes that spanking works but only as a last resort. She would always spank on the butt. When I asked her if she believed spanking was Biblical, she said she wouldn’t say that.
Also she would always use her hand and not another instrument such as a ruler, yardstick, or wooden spoon. Shelly also thinks that spanking should be used more today because kids often disrespect their parents with little regard to timeouts or other forms of discipline.
My friends Linda and Evan have differing opinions on the subject. Linda does not believe In spanking. She did say that her dad would hit her and her brother with a Chinese feather duster on their legs. Her mom would slap her in the face. Linda thinks there are better ways to discipline besides physical discipline. She prefers giving and taking away privileges from her older son and using time outs for her younger one. Her husband Evan does believe in spanking. He experienced physical discipline as a child as well.
Another friend of mine Winston, an expectant father, recalls his discipline as a child.
“I am not in favor of spanking. I was ‘spanked’ with those bamboo back scratchers as a kid. They hurt like hell, and I suppose it worked on me. But I can say I would not do that to my own children. When I got hit, I knew it was because I caused trouble or did something wrong, but it was never explained to me. I think discipline is more about communication and showing grace, especially to children. To me, disciplining with the ‘reed’ so-to-speak, or using pain, is like bullying. Plus it seems more like a convenient thing to spank vs. spend the time to talk it out and try to help the child reason it out, and help them integrate the cognitive and emotional aspect of what they did wrong. Of course, firmness in tone and minimal anger are important, but the use of some kind of physical force strays further from teaching a child the true nature of discipline, and just mirrors the violence we all end up seeing on tv, video games, etc. I believe parents have full right to discipline as they see fit, as long as it is not abusive. In my household, there will be no spanking.”
My friend Karen, a mother of three, is also against spanking. She takes a more scientific approach on it. She said, “Cortisol is released when you spank a kid according to UCLA study. Cortisol also kills brain cells, based on new book interview on NPR last year. I think the book is called The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. I also believe in time outs, positive enforcements, take away rewards for older children.”
There are also hundreds of peer reviewed journals that show that spanking has negative effects for children such as antisocial behavior, mental illness like depression, acting more aggressively, having a less close relationship with parents, and abuse.
Another friend of mine, Wendy, says, “I do spank my kids at the same time I explain to them why I spank them. I also do time out and take away privileges. None of the three really prevent them from repeating their wrongdoing. So depending of the situation and the personality of my kids, I use all or one of the disciplinary methods on them.”
Jennifer, a mother of three, had this to say, “Against popular belief, I believe there is strong biblical evidence supporting the truth that there are times where correction should be accompanied by the rod, and that it should be applied. God’s Word instructs us to apply and not withhold physical discipline from a child. Not in the form of abuse of course, but a light spank on the butt or hand will drive foolishness away and teach wisdom to your child, says Proverbs (the book of wisdom) over and over again. One specific example is Proverbs 23:13 “Do not withhold disipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.”
I find myself really re-thinking my original position on this topic. My first thoughts are to follow the example of my parents: to spank. However, as I read the positions of my friends, I am reminded there needs to be some reasoning and explanation that goes along with any form of discipline. For example, when you give a time out to a child, he or she needs to know what they did wrong. In the case of spanking, warnings need to be given. There also needs to be some forgiveness and understanding when our children do something we don’t deem appropriate. After a time out, I always hug my son Elijah and tell him that I love him. I also agree that as a parent, I need to catch myself when I’m about to do or say something in the heat of the moment. A lot of it is letting the little things go and letting my son do things that aren’t necessarily really bad. Some examples are things like playing with ropes in line at Disneyland, touching things in the store, or running back and forth around the house. I need to pick my battles so to speak. For me, it just all comes down to having a game plan and being consistent with it. In closing, I realize that children are different and some things work with one that don’t necessarily work with another. Ultimately, the discipline style is up to each of us as parents.