Parenting Without Punishing

Chapter 3

The Harm That Good People Do

We each of us have complex reasons for doing what we do, but no reader of these chapters intends deliberately to do harm to children. On the contrary, we are all intent on doing what’s right for the children. It is one of the chief purposes in life for all sane and decent people. When we fail, we feel terrible about it.

But the sad truth is, we are all supporting members of a society that treats children with the casual cruelty given the slaves of 200 years ago. For the overwhelming majority of us (well above 80%) it is not only acceptable to spank, slap, and shake children, and even whack them with paddles, whips and belts, but most of us rationalize this abusive treatment as our duty as parents, duty to society, and duty to God.

Let us state it clearly: hitting another person is abuse. Hitting a child is child abuse, and as such, it is a contemptible, cowardly act. Decent people don’t hit children. Period. End of story

Long ago, laws were passed to protect citizens from assault, soldiers from beatings, sailors from flogging, war prisoners from torture, and the elderly, sick and insane from all forms of hitting. It is shocking to find that, in year 2000, there still remains the only instances where bodily assault is legal are in self-defense, and child "discipline".

In a letter to the Seattle Times, a reader put it this way: "If you strike an adult, it’s called assault; if you strike an animal it’s called cruelty; if you strike a child, it’s called discipline."

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time we need to be mindful that all physical punishment of children is, by definition, abuse. The movement to abolish corporal punishment in schools and homes is a phenomenon whose time has come. In recent years every country in Europe has passed child protection legislation by denouncing and banning all forms of corporal punishment. We are now working toward similar action in the governments of Great Britain, Germany, and certain countries outside Europe, like Canada and the United States.

What is physical abuse?
It includes slapping, shaking, pushing, beating, kicking, hitting with an object, throwing objects at the victim...
Arizona Governor’s Office for Domestic Violence Prevention, & Arizona Community Foundation
In the U.S.A., 27 states have banned CP in public schools. Yet the majority of Americans still ask, "What harm does ‘a good slap’ or ‘a well-deserved paddling’ do? It didn’t hurt me, did it?" One answer to that is, It has made our country the most violent in the "civilized" world, and it has made you the kind of person who would physically assault a child. Think about that for a while.

In this world of victims and punishers, it is the choice of decent, moral and compassionate people not to be on the side of the punishers.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 2,500 children are beaten EVERY DAY in the U.S. public schools. Of the above, African-American children, (who make up 17% of the U.S. pupil population,) received 39% of he CP. The worst states are Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. These and Arizona are among the 23 backward states that still permit hitting children in public schools.

One key ingredient, but rarely acknowledged, is at the very roots of the violence in our society: spanking and other forms of hitting children.

1. In 1940, Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck began the study of delinquent and non-delinquent boys. They discovered that spanking in early childhood influences children to develop antisocial, aggressive, violent behaviors. They found that the earlier and the more severe the punishment, the worse the aggression later on. The first signs predicting adolescent delinquent behavior often appeared as early as age three, long before the babies ever heard of gangs and drugs.

The Gluecks also discovered that the least anti-social behavior is always associated with children who are raised from infancy in attentive, emotionally supporting, non-violent and non-spanking families.

LESSON: the single most important factor in raising a crime-free child is a non-violent home.

2. Dr. H. MacMillan and his six researchers surveyed 4,888 adults in Ontario, Canada, and found that "those who were spanked or slapped had increased rates of anxiety disorders, anti-social behavior, and depression." 28% developed anxiety or major depression, 13% had alcohol problems, and 17% were into drug abuse or suffered [clinical] anxiety disorder.

3. The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, August ‘98 issue, reports that spanking is linked to aggression, and makes children behave even worse than they did before the punishment.

4. Maurer & Wallerstein, ‘87: "Flogging in the Navy for drunken or disorderly conduct was abolished in 1853 ... Military instructors now may not touch the person or the clothing of a recruit ... Slavery and involuntary servitude was maintained with whips, but that disappeared with the Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

"Spousal abuse used to be called, ‘reasonable chastisement‘, presumed necessary to maintain the sanctity and stability of the family. All states now have laws against such assaults...

"Today, physical punishment is considered too severe for felons, murderers, criminals of all kinds and ages, including juvenile delinquents; too demeaning for soldiers, sailors, servants and spouses. But it remains legal and acceptable for children who are innocent of any crime."

"I am positively and actively and outspokenly in favor of [banning corporal punishment].... I thought we human beings were trying to get rid of these afflictions. In some countries they have. Why not in ours?"

Karl Menninger

5. Dr. Murray Straus, with a team of researchers in his Family Research Lab in the University of New Hampshire, found that:

a. ordinary spanking is one of the chief predictors of wife beating;

b. CP is related to an increased probability that the child will exhibit sibling attacks, juvenile delinquency, depression, impaired learning, distorted sexual behavior, occupational failure, and lower income throughout life.

c. CP predisposes our society in use of aggressive and punitive methods in dealing with social problems, including long prison sentences, capital punishment, and militarism.

6. Sears, Maccoby & Levin (‘57) found that 99% of 5-year-olds had been hit; in a Los Angeles study of infants age 1-6 months, as high as one-fourth were currently being spanked. Of those 6 to 12 months, nearly half were currently being spanked.

Dr Straus’ researchers later found that small children were being hit, on average, more than 150 times during the course of twelve months. At least 2.3% mothers of toddlers hit them three or more times a week.

In another famous study, the Straus team showed that spanking and "normal’ hitting stunted the intellectual development of the 900 children examined.

7.The Gluecks, after their 1940 studies, returned in 1950: "The most marked difference between the disciplinary practices of the parents of the delinquents and those of the non-delinquents is found in the considerably greater extent to which the former resorted to physical punishment, and the lesser extent to which they reasoned with the boys about their misconduct."

"Battered children will batter others, punished children will act punitively, children lied to become liars themselves, protected children learn to be protective, respected children learn to respect others weaker than themselves. "In the short term, corporal punishment may produce obedience. But it is a fact documented by research that in the long term the results are: inability to learn, violence and rage, bullying and cruelty, inability to feel another’s pain, especially that of one’s own children.... unless there are enlightened, or at least helping, witnesses on hand to prevent that development."

Alice Miller, Ph.D., author of For Your Own Good - Hidden Cruelty in Childrearing And the Roots of Violence.

8. Dr. Bruce Perry, chief of psychiatry, Texas Children’s Hospital, At the 11th Annual Child Abuse Prevention Conference in Mesa, Arizona said [he found that] children’ brains are forever changed by neglect, abuse, and even by witnessing violence. That can lead to drug abuse, school failure, and sleep disorders, among other serious problems.

9. The American Academy of Pediatrics, following a thorough study of research on corporal punishment and its effects on children, distributed these guidelines for its member pediatricians:
(a) Raising children works best in an atmosphere of love, affection, and warmth.
(b) Desirable and appropriate behaviors should be encouraged with attention and support.
(c) Undesirable and inappropriate behaviors should be discouraged by ignoring, and through negative consequences such as reprimands, time-out, and removing privileges.
(d) Corporal punishment should never be used ... spanking leads to greater behavior problems and more aggressive behavior.

The National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment at Temple University: A large research project asked grown-ups why they believed as they did about paddling, pro or con. Nearly all supposed they had taken their beliefs through logic. Actually, the research found the deciding factor was their childhood treatment. "Those who had been spanked, paddled, switched, whipped, etc. tended overwhelmingly to believe in [paddling]. Those who had not been hit, and had attended non-hitting schools, did not believe hitting did any good, or were shocked and dismayed by the very idea."

Dr. Murray Straus’ landmark book, BEATING THE DEVIL OUT OF THEM - Corporal Punishment in American Families (1994): In Part II he provides the data supporting the theses that physical punishment is causally connected with:

1. depression and suicide in later life (Ch. 5)
2. physical abuse of children (Ch. 6)
3. delinquency and aggression in adolescence (Ch 7)
4. wife beating and criminal activity as adult (Ch. 7)
5. violent sexual practices (Ch. 8)
6. alienation, maladjustment (Ch. 9)
7. lower job success and earnings (Ch. 9)

Dr. Ralph Welsh, after examining over 2,000 teenage delinquents, reported,"The recidivist male delinquent who has never been exposed to the belt, extension cord or fist ... is virtually non-existent. As the severity of corporal punishment ... increases, so does the probability that he will engage in a violent act."


Ashley Montagu, Anthropologist:
"Any form of corporal punishment or ‘spanking’ is a violent attack upon another human being’s integrity. The effect remains with the victim forever and becomes an unforgiving part of his or her personality - a massive frustration resulting in hostility which will seek expression in later life in violent acts toward others."

B. F. Skinner, behavioral psychologist:
"I believe that there is no longer any use for corporal punishment in schools and much to be gained by suppressing it.’

Plutarch, circa 46-120 A. D.:
"Children ought to be led to honorable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows and ill treatment."

Sid Leonard, retired principal, Toledo, Ohio:
"The same ones kept coming back for more. It wasn’t working. Hitting children did not seem to improve their behavior. It seemed in fact to be reinforcing the very behaviors I was attempting to eliminate."

Daniel F. Whiteside, M.D., Assist. Surgeon General, Dept. of Health & Human Services (Reagan admin):
"Corporal punishment of children actually interferes with the process of learning and with their optimal development as socially responsible adults."

Gordon Moyes, D.D., Pastor, Uniting Church, Supt. of Wesley Central Mission, Sydney, Australia:
"I have always been an advocate for the total abolition of corporal punishment, and I believe the connection with pornography that is no oriented has its roots in our tradition of beating children."

American Medical Association, House of Delegates, 1985:
"Infliction of pain or discomfort, however minor, is not a desirable method of communicating with children." The Christian Science Monitor, 3/21/89:
"The fundamental need in American education is to find ways of engaging today’s children in the thrill of learning. Fear of pain has no place in that process."

Rev. Thomas E. Sagendorf, United Methodist Church, Bexley, Ohio:
"The much-touted ‘religious argument’ to support corporal punishment is built upon a few isolated quotes from the Book of Proverbs. Using the same kind of selective reading, one could just as easily cite the Bible as an authority for the practice of slavery, the rigid suppression of women, polygamy, incest and infanticide.

"It seems to me that the brutal and vindictive practice of corporal punishment cannot be reconciled with the major themes of the New Testament which teach love and forgiveness and a respect for the beauty and dignity of children, and which overwhelmingly reject violence and retribution as a means of solving human conflicts."


[from Straus, Beating the Devil Out Of Them, Ch. 11]

1. Better behaved children,
2. Less stress for parents and children, fewer problems, therefore easier job of parenting,
3. less juvenile delinquency
4. When grown, children will not likely abuse their spouses and children; fewer violent marriages
5. Family members will be happier with each other, closer bonding between parents and children
6. Less alienation, depression, and suicidal tendencies among citizens
7. Lower crime rates, fewer violent crimes,
8. Less public moneys expended to control and treat crime and mental illness.
9. More caring and humane citizenry, improved general health
10. Increased economic production, and increased wealth.

"Some people find the memory of [being physically punished] so unpleasant they pretend that they were trivial, even funny. You’ll notice that they smile when they describe what was done to them. It is shame, not pleasure, that makes them smile. As a protection against present pain, they disguise the memory of past feelings. In an attempt to deny or minimize the dangers of spanking, many spankers have been heard to argue, ‘Spanking is very different from child abuse,’ or ‘A little smack on the bottom never did anybody any harm.’ But they are wrong ...

[Most] victims of food poisoning recover with no apparent, lasting ill effects. But who needs it? The mere fact that the person is likely to survive is hardly proof that the experience is beneficial."

Jordan Riak, director, PTAVE (Parents & Teachers Against Violence in Education (



Russell Chairs the Family Council

With a brother nearly two years his senior, Russell had a view from the bottom of a very tall totem pole. He was not the first to play with other children, the first to catch a fish, the first to work with Daddy with real tools. While it was not the most admirable position to be in, there was one aspect of life where he had equal standing: as a rightfully participating member of the family. This was most clearly shown at the weekly family meetings. Here would be brought up for discussion and resolution the week’s accumulated grievances of each member.

It happened that it was Russell’s turn to act as chairman on one particular day that I meant to voice some objection or other, now long forgotten. Russell was four years old; his brother, Henry, was six.

On the previous Tuesday the boys had been doing something I didn’t like, and as was our practice, instead of interfering I jotted down notes about it for Sunday’s meeting. I had settled in my kitchen chair pulled the notes from my back pocket and was noisily opening the crumpled paper, when - BANG! BANG! BANG! the pounding gavel snapped me to attention.

Russell was standing at the tiny chairman’s table, gavel in hand, looking at me pointedly. "The meeting will not begin," he intoned in a loud, dignified voice, (but with a slight lisp), "until Daddy thtops ruthelling hith paperth!"

I made not another sound, but paid respectful attention. "Now Mommy, you may thpeak"....Then, "Henry, your turn...." Each commented on their observations, after which, in deliberate slowness, Russell turned my way in the exquisitely imperial manner befitting his office: "Daddy, there ith thompthing you wish to thay?"

I stood, thanked the speaker, and, having been duly disciplined, respectfully expressed my grievance.

Can you imagine what that experience can do for a child needing confidence and self-esteem, living under the shadow of a talented, skillful and strong-headed brother who could do "anything"?


You have written very persuasively why we need to stop saying, "Don’t hit children too hard" and say instead, "Don’t hit children ... at all." - Nadine Block, chairwoman Center for Effective Discipline/EPOCH-USA (End Physical Punishment of Children) Columbus, Ohio []

Just read your paper today. Was very good. I believe the key for us all is to rid ourselves of our punitive tendencies. Had we all been able to do that, we would not see children at risk. - Jenene Maybury, CASA, Graham Co, AZ

I really appreciate all the trouble you’ve taken to learn the Internet, and the in’s and out’s of e-mail. You must have worked hard .....What does your organization say about the Bible’s admonition that to "spare the rod, spoils the child" and ‘he that loves his child, chastens him" (Proverbs 13:24)? - Laura Meidinger

*** We go with the gentle teachings of Jesus, over the harsh, authoritarian advice of Solomon, who evidently was passing on the abuse - (considered enlightened at the time)) - that he himself experienced as a child. Jesus’ message was to humanize and replace with compassion the brutal practices of 2,000 years ago. That’s the short answer to your question. (Also see above quotes from clergy.) Later on we expect to take up biblical discussion in more depth. - N.L.

Thank you very much for your newsletter, with the wonderful letter [from] a father. I love his sentence: It is so much easier without hitting! Of course it is because you have not to deal with a wounded person that can no longer trust you, that is in defense and fear and expecting the next humiliation. Why is it so difficult to understand the most obvious things?... Maybe we should publish [more] letters like that, personal reports of people who once were beaten and managed however to see through this lie ... people who first hit, and then learned to change ... My best wishes, Alice Miller, [author of FOR YOUR OWN GOOD - Hidden Cruelty in Childrearing and the Roots of Violence], Geneva, Switzerland

Great newsletter. ... what about youths that are in gangs, many whose parents have abandoned them .... It's a tough area that I know little about, but they need help and their parents need advice. - I. Neal, Beaumont, TX

*** After working with troubled and troublesome youth, I found that the work must be done at the infant/toddler/level. That’s when the damage is done that we see exhibited in their adolescence. The Gleucks’ studies of delinquency show that the parents emotionally abandoned them at the 0-6 age; it is not until adolescence that they are able to escape to seek a "family" among peers. - N.L.

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