Spanking is Cowardly

A lot of the anti-spanking comments I’ve seen revolve around scientific and psychological arguments, such as “Spanking is ineffective” or “Spanking causes brain damage”.

This is all true, as countless studies over the past few decades have shown.

But to me, this is just not enough. The amount of anger I experience when I read pro-spanking comments online is impossible to really put into words. It’s like an intense rage.

I see people try to approach spankers with compassion and understanding. I see them try and reason with them. As far as I’m concerned, someone who is capable of actually violently attacking a small child is so completely far-gone when it comes to their capacity for empathy and compassion that they’re past a point of no return. I’ve heard of a few abusive parents recanting, apologizing, and changing, but as Molyneux says from his personal experience (and he’s had millions of views), he can count them on the fingers of one hand.

This is a multi-generational ideological battle.

There is no rapid solution here, no quick fix. No politician to swoop in and solve our problems. Changing the culture of child abuse prevalent around the entire world is something that will take generations, because once a parent has continued the cycle of abuse, joined the dark side, and abused their own flesh and blood children, admitting they are wrong is simply too much for most anyone to bear.

The way this changes is by affecting their kids, by telling them that their parents were abusive, barbaric, and absolutely, unequivocally, wrong. By helping them get angry at their abusers, and thus ensuring they never repeat those abuses themselves.

I see too much reference to scientific studies with people who have never read a study in their life.

Appeals to compassion with people who are incapable of empathy.

It’s like bringing up science in an argument with a religious person. You’re just putting your eye to a cheese-grater and hoping something good will come of it. It won’t.

Not enough people point out the simple fact that anybody who defends an adult hitting a child much smaller than them is a vile and abusive coward. These people should be shamed for their barbaric violence, not reasoned or empathized with.

How exactly is a compassionate person supposed to empathize with a child-hitting monster? I can’t do it, and I don’t really know anyone who can.

Remember, at the end of the day, you’re not just “agreeing to disagree”. At the end of the day, that abusive parent goes home and hits their kids.

Not only are these bullies picking on someone much, much smaller and lighter than them, but they’re also deliberately choosing the person in their lives who is utterly dependent on them, can’t leave, and didn’t even choose them as parents in the first place. What, exactly, is the great big difference between an abusive parent and an abusive kidnapper?

Attempting to reason with people who are emotionally at the developmental stage of a ranting and raving 1 year-old (and I’m being kind of unfair to 1 year-olds here) is futile beyond measure. Focus on their kids, whether they’re old enough to leave or simply as a way of de-normalizing an abusive situation that they’re still in.

99.9% of the time, there’s no hope for the parents, but some of the time – a lot of the time, their kids will become better and break the cycle of abuse.

In the mean time, seeing people advocate for violent crimes against children in comments to videos and articles around the internet, while police are busy chasing down pedophiles, is just another window into the moral insanity of this so-called “civilized” society.

8 thoughts on “Spanking is Cowardly”

  1. First off: I don’t have kids yet(and I’m not even married yet, either!),so no need to get terribly unhappy with me. I’m trying to make certain of my positions ahead of time, since that’s usually the best way to deal with things.

    Anyway, I just want a little clarification for personal enlightenment and all that. When I was younger–pretty much from six until tenish–I occasionally was spanked. Now, I’m not talking the, “I’m gonna tan yer hide fer that!” kind of spanking that was for any sort of disobedience. That’s abuse, since it’s more to vent anger and ‘teach that brat a lesson’ than it is to really teach the child anything.

    My father never spanked me in such a way as to even leave red marks, and we always talked(often at length) beforehand about what had been done wrong and such. I was old enough to reason out such things, so it was always something I’d been told not to do previously, and had knowingly disobeyed. Naturally, I didn’t like it at the time. Now, I see that there simply hadn’t been anything else in my life that could have been taken away. I was the sort of kid who could quite happily sit in a corner, more entertained by the things in my head than by any sort of toys.

    I hesitate to compare, but people are a bit like animals in that they respond to stimulus. All of us, both adult and child. It’s why we punish crimes with jail time or fines or community service. If you want a child to do something, he or she needs a good reason to do it. There has to be a stimulus. Grounding and such can only go so far, after all. I still distinctly remember never being afraid of my father, even when I knew I was going to be spanked. I knew I’d never be really hurt, and that it was an extremely temporary sort of thing.

    Honestly, I doubt I’d have turned out half so thoughtful as I am, had he not taught me using the methods he did. I, unlike other children, had the singularly useful skill of thinking things through. I could understand what would and wouldn’t fly with the authorities, and was always frustrated when almost no one else seemed to have that consciousness. Other children I knew were routinely spanked in the abusive sense, yelled at, or any number of other things. They didn’t seem quite as good at critical thinking, at least not until years later when all our minds had developed to a fairly similar level. As I grew older, I found that most of the others with similar inclinations had been given similar discipline.

    Why was this, do you suppose? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’m honestly curious as to why it is. I’ve got ideas of my own, but I really do want other viewpoints. I said all of that to give you a view of my own situation and observations. I think it was possibly one of the best things my father could have done for me. Do you suppose it was abuse? What are your thoughts on the matter? Beyond what you’ve already said, of course. I likely won’t be actively watching this blog, so maybe you could email me at my address and let me know that you replied? Thanks!

    1. Hi there,

      First of all, I’m sorry you were hit as a child. To me, that’s unequivocally abusive, regardless of the intensity or frequency of the hitting. How many times were you hit? Once a week? Once a month? Every day?

      Try this: re-read what you posted above, but this time imagine that it’s been written by a woman who was hit by her husband. In fact, I’ll copy-paste part of your comment and edit it to suit it to the role-play:

      “My husband never spanked me in such a way as to even leave red marks, and we always talked (often at length) beforehand about what had been done wrong and such. I was old enough to reason out such things, so it was always something I’d been told not to do previously, and had knowingly disobeyed.”

      How does that make you feel? Do you think it’s acceptable to use physical violence against disobedient wives?

      It sounds like the reason you grew up not doing certain things is out of a fear of consequences and punishment. Unfortunately, this is a horrible way to teach morality. In fact, it’s the abnegation of morality for consequentialism. Rather than truly understanding why something is wrong and connecting with the person you hurt on an empathetic level, instead you grew up only thinking about what would happen to *you* if you did something bad. This is very bad parenting, and I’m sorry you went through that horrible experience.

      I’m sorry you feared your father. I know that if I am ever a father, the last thing I want my children to feel is fear around me. I want them to feel safe and to know that they can always come to me and not be attacked – emotionally or physically.

      You start talking about animals when justifying your father’s abuses. Do you think this is because you were essentially treated as an animal? Be careful not to confuse your personal experiences with “human nature”. Most people take the limits of their own dysfunctional childhood and assume that’s how the whole world works. Again, I wonder if reading an abused wife’s story in which she starts comparing herself to a primitive animal would disturb you as much as it disturbs me reading your comment.

      As far as your viewpoint, justification, and minimization of the abuse your father inflicted upon you, this is an unfortunate but very common example of Stockholm Syndrome, and comes out of the dependence of a child on his or her parents. You have grown to empathize with and defend your abuser because you were dependent on them for your very survival.

      The last thing I’d like to say is that using physical violence against a child old enough to reason with is a complete failure of parenting. It was your father’s job to communicate to you and help you develop the importance of morality and empathy, and resorting to violence is a sign of incompetence and abuse. Indeed, he never did teach you to think about the person you’re hurting, only about the consequences from an authority to you.

      I hope this helps in some way. I’ll send you an email to notify you of my response.

      1. First, LP we all have deep respect for you. We read your articles and know you are thoughtful and intelligent so all I ask is that you thoughtfully absorb what I’m saying.

        Okay, so my experience was nearly identical to C.V.F. and I have not and will not ask my parents to apologize. I was spanked on 5 occasions growing up and it was also accompanied by massive amounts of positive reinforcement allowing for plenty of moral internalization. I am a huge fan of Stefan Molyneux and I am now a parent and do not utilize spanking, I work from home and my wife doesn’t work so our children get plenty of time with us and a need to spank has never arisen and may never arise.

        Going from 5 occasions (my experience) to zero (likely my children’s ultimate experience) is frankly not a huge jump for me. So please understand this is coming from a non-abusive parent even from your standards LP. What I have a problem with is Stefan’s universalizing this idea into saying that non-initiation of force means you can only use force to defend your life if you feel you are in danger of being killed and that therefore since a 9 year old is not likely to be able to kill you (at least not while you are awake) then you can never physically punish a child. But don’t you also have a right to protect your property? I mean yes children are in a special category because they can’t leave – I get that. But I think Molynuex’s universalizing this robs children of their own moral agency (similar to feminism). I would love to get your thoughts on this so let me explain:

        I think his view assumes that your children are going to be 100% the result of your parenting. Of course he uses the style of prioritizing the childs preferences which I think is great so that the child develops into who they are. What I mean is that if there is some abhorrent behavior it is because you haven’t “reasoned” with the child enough. In all 5 instances for me I knew full well what I was doing was wrong but I just felt like doing it anyway. Since my parents had done everything they could to internalize at some point they have the right to say that certain things will simply not occur on their property. If my 12 year old child starts defecating on the living room floor I will first assume that there is a serious problem, attempt reasoning with them, getting them therapy, listen to them, empathize with them… go through great lengths to help them, but at the end of the day I’m simply not going to have that going on in my house. NOW I KNOW that this is so unlikely because of how much love and support my kids are going to get growing up. I’m also fairly certain that any of the non-spanking methods I mentioned would be enough to reach the child. I could even employ incentives as a last resort. All I’m saying is that in the long term that is not going to happen in my house and I think I have that authority since I worked and paid for my house, etc. Also, the other children have to be thought of. This may seem far fetched but when universalizing you should be able to go out far and have the principle still work.

        I find it interesting that Molyneux compares raising children with a restaurant. I agree completely, the child’s preferences should be considered but ultimately the restaurant owner does have authority and force would be used on a customer if they started tearing up the place.

        Am I missing something here? Yes, intolerable behavior is USUALLY a sign that something is amiss in the childs life and that should be the initial assumption. But it is not ALWAYS and to say it is would be to remove all moral agency from the child especially as the child ages, learns, reads, gets ideas from the internet, etc. I don’t know if you had siblings LP but having siblings opens your eyes that not everyone outputs the same behaviors with the same environmental inputs. SOME kids will get the sense that no matter what they do the parents are just going to talk to them, get them therapy and may ultimately view their parents as easily manipulated. Out of 4 kids 3 may never even think of being manipulative but one (being a unique developing moral agent) will.

        The second problem I have with this universalizing is that even without spanking force is used on kids all the time (even Molyneux’s kid). I mean if the child is 18 months old and at the park and doesn’t want to leave no matter how long you stay eventually the adults have to leave and they can NOT leave the child at the park. If they remove the child from the park and the child is crying they are using force. Using your method imagine you are at the park and don’t want to leave and the cops drag you off – that is a use of force. I argue that it is legitimate when it is the parents and the child (as a fact of nature) is dependent on you (which does not apply to the kidnapped or to recipients of police force).

        I’m really not trying to put your viewpoint down and hopefully you can tell that we are pretty close in perspective. I would really value your input because I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

  2. To Aes, my thing is that yes your parents spanked you 5 times but they were still wrong. I’m not saying that your family is evil just that they made a bad decision. First of all how old were you when you were spanked. Also what was the reason. Even though I’m not LP I would like to respond to my opinone. Obviously you don’t have to. I mean was it running out in the street, because if it was then your parents or parent should of just restrained you. Plus you said one out of 4 of the kids might be manipulative. That’s like saying he or she is born evil. I think that all baby’s are selfish they just have to loved and shown limits. I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with restraining your kid until they come down. Plus depending how old you might know that mommy or daddy thinks its wrong but you would not why it is wrong because you have not developed the right amount of empathy which you have to learn. P.S I don’t think that your parents are evil just that they made a few mistakes

  3. I fully advocate it.
    Being a child a shot rubber bands as a neighbour’s parked car. I had a wooden spoon snapped over my backside. Did it hurt? Hell yeah! Did it teach me never to damage someone else’s property. Yup.
    Now _anecdotally_ I remember a parent; a family friend who always bragged “Oh I have better ways of controlling my child than _that_” she was totalitarian in every other way to her eldest, her _husbands_ and her eldest, who has remained an acquaintance of mine, despite his life choices always got out of the house to misbehave as a child, usually with me when I was a child too (and she always blamed me, until I stopped seeing him so often) eventually I heard that there were people calling to his parents door looking for money for the drugs he’d bought (not that I agree with the war on drugs, but hand something dangerous over to criminals and it only becomes more dangerous), police to his door for assault, property damage and (blatant, not that I didn’t drink when I was young, I just didn’t do it in the middle of the city) under-age drinking. His mother even tried to ship him off to his grandmother in Germany, he just nicked his passport and a credit card then flew home when his parents and siblings were away, inviting half the city over for a party at his parents. He was a stereotypical ‘problem child’, he went on to shoplifting, thieving and all that, now he deals in weed and other soft drugs, but doesn’t seem to have any aim towards a goal.
    His mother didn’t spare the rod on his siblings and let them have a lot more leeway in loads of different areas, they are doing well, it’s just sad to see him become a ‘failure’ (by our twisted society’s standards) because his mother had a ‘nonviolent superiority complex’ and rather than hit him she’d deprive him of things like games consoles (I always grabbed my playstation if my mother was staying at his place and grand theft auto so he could act out his anger on pixels rather than public property), make him play with girl’s toys just to demean him and other insanity like taking a perfectly tidy room, upending everything and telling him to tidy it.
    Obviously they rarely talk now but psychological abuse can be much more damaging than any physical ‘abuse’ especially when you’re placed second to all of your younger siblings despite being the eldest and having a duty of care for them.

    1. Psychological abuse is probably worse than physical abuse in many ways. However, parenting is not some kind of messed up choice between being abusive physically on the one hand, or psychologically on the other. Neither is necessary, and both are harmful. I’m sorry you don’t see that yet. I hope one day you will see a third, peaceful way.

      Unfortunately, the lesson you learnt that damaging other’s property was bad because you would be physically hurt, is a bad one. Other’s property should be respected because of empathy for how they would feel if you did not respect it, not because of a fear of consequences. The latter is a bandaid that soon falls apart in a world without them (such as a collapsed society). It’s important that a child’s empathy is developed, not their fear of artificial consequences.

  4. I completely agree with the sentiment here–that spanking is wrong, that it’s ignorant, that trying to reason people out of it is unutterably frustrating and damaging while not seeming to do any good–and yet I don’t find this article convincing, even though I really wish it were. For one thing, calling parents who spank “abusive, barbaric, violently attacking,” etc. is a problem for two reasons: one, it’s basically just name-calling without even an argument to support it; two, it’s such a blatant exaggeration of what so often goes on during a spanking that even I, who loathe the whole concept on moral principle, would feel dishonest describing it this way. So much of spanking is banal, momentarily fractious but quickly over, or (in my mind this is sometimes worse) “done in a calm and loving manner.” So at best these names are a gross exaggeration, and no one who didn’t already agree with you would be convinced by them.

    Second, the reason people defend spanking isn’t (necessarily) because they’re cowards; from what I gather, it’s precisely because they DON’T see it the way you describe. Again, I think they’re wrong and I wish this weren’t the case, but I’m pretty sure it is. Those parents and grown kids genuinely see spanking as a loving or at worst benignly-effective method of teaching children how they should behave, and they think those of us who abhor it are simply misguided or making things up. It’s not that they see this as a bad thing and are too scared to confront it; it’s that they don’t see this as a bad thing. So how do you change someone’s mind on an issue like that?

    I remember seeing a YouTube presentation (TED talk?) about the sociology of behavior change. The finding was that the most powerful indicator of what people were likely to do was what they thought everyone else was doing. People will litter less if they’re shown examples of people who don’t litter, and MORE if they’re shown evidence of how bad the littering problem is. Obviously this is a silly reason to do anything, but it seems to pan out in many situations. Spanking may be one of them: if we can focus on all the people who AREN’T doing it instead of the ones who are, we may decrease the rate of spanking and other “normalized” violence more than if we kept pointing out how bad and widespread the defense of spanking is. The latter not only falls on deaf ears, but may actually be making the situation worse.

    1. Hi DC,

      I think you have a good point that using such terms to describe the behavior of abusive parents probably won’t be effective in changing the minds of the abusive parents, but when I wrote this (and I think still mostly now), I saw the idea of changing their minds as highly unlikely in the first place. The idea was to appeal to the children of such parents, so that they can see the behavior for what it is, recoil against it, and never use it themselves.

      My reasoning is based on the idea that people who have repeatedly done bad things are unlikely to take responsibility for their actions in some sort of epiphany-type moment and turn their life around. Most people just don’t re-evaluate their actions all that much, at least in my experience. There are a few who alter their course of life in mindful ways but most just kind of.. sail on in whichever direction the wind blows.

      To answer your question: “So how do you change someone’s mind on an issue like that?” Ultimately, I don’t think you can in most cases. In most cases, I think it’s like trying to use reason with a deeply religious person. It’s likely to bring up a strong emotional response within them, because the reason they’re deeply religious is because it was “beaten” (literally or metaphorically) into them as children. Their reasoning ability was taken away from them in that regard, and so trying to reason with them just won’t work. It’s like trying to box someone with no arms. The same, I think, applies to abusive parents who hit their children. It’s usually grounded in emotional trauma, not some sort of reasoned approach that “Spanking is better because xyz”, even if they do sometimes try to justify their reasons.

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