On a regular basis we are bombarded with opinions that spanking is archaic and cruel, and that it teaches kids to become abusers themselves. Sociologists who equate any form of corporal discipline with child abuse seem to concentrate their disapproval on the religious people who favor corporal discipline.
A study reported in The Dallas Morning News on July 26, 1999, by Richard Morin, revealed information that challenges the perception that growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family is sometimes harmful. Sociological researchers suggest that conservative Protestants are possibly twice as likely to use corporal punishment as other parents. "That's only half the story, and it's the bad half," said Princeton sociologist Bradford Wilcox, who spent six months studying parenting and religious beliefs at the Brookings Institution.
In his article, Morin points out that Wilcox agrees that religious conservatives don't spare the rod, but neither do they spare hugs and kisses. Wilcox's survey shows that fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are more than twice as likely to hug and praise their young children as parents who aren't religious conservatives. He and sociologist John Bartkowski also found that conservative Protestants are far less likely to say they yell at their kids, according to the University of Wisconsin's National Survey of Families and Households.
In the poll, parents were asked how often they spanked, hugged, praised and yelled at their children. Other questions measured their religious conservatism, including whether they believe the Bible to be literally true.
Wilcox said his research stands as a corrective to a growing body of scholarship that depicts conservative Protestant parents as abusive and emotionally distant. It's a view epitomized by an address delivered years ago by noted theologian and psychologist Donald Capps of the Princeton Theological Seminary to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. His title: "Religion and Child Abuse: Perfect Together." "That," Wilcox said, "was incredible." He said he found "a controlled style of discipline, where spanking is used in certain situations but where there is less yelling and where parents are far more expressive in their interactions with their children."
Psychologist James Dobson believes we should be careful to separate rebellion and disobedience from a careless childhood mistake. He explains that the small child who carelessly spills a glass of milk should not be spanked, but should be taught how to be more careful so it doesn't happen in the future. However, a child who verbally stomps his foot and says, "I'm not going to do it!" has challenged the authority of the parent and needs to be dealt with quickly, fairly and effectively. Spanking is an approach that brings results. Ideally, both parents should be present to assure there is no abuse, or, if only one parent is in the home, he or she needs to be certain the spanking is discipline and not punishment. Second, the parent must have total control and should not spank while angry. Obviously, there are other alternatives, but for out and out rebellion or direct disobedience, there is no substitute for controlled corporal discipline. Remember that discipline is something we do for a child and not to a child.
One final thought: With my own four children, I don't remember but one instance when one of them deliberately rebelled and a serious conflict ensued. Two things: First, I wished I had never made an issue of her rebellion, but once started I knew I could not let her "win." Second, later on in life, she thanked me many times for not letting her "win." Children need a parent, not a buddy. I'm delighted that current research shows that there are significant benefits to corporal discipline. It's very important to understand that once the discipline has been administered, the child needs hugging, comforting, and to be told he or she is loved. In all probability, the disciplining parent will do what I did with my daughter — I cried in the process.
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