SPANKING - Questions and answers about disciplinary violence
Olivier Maurel


Resistance every advocate of a spanking ban can expect to face

So as not to succumb to discouragement, advocates for banning disciplinary violence would do well to know the many defenses they will inevitably run into in combating the prevalent conviction that hitting is essential to raising children properly.

Widespread belief throughout the world in the educational disciplinary value of spanking and of disciplinary violence in general has, in effect, been acquired from a very early age, probably starting with the first spankings received. The baby who is struck by the person whom he most loves in the world, on whom he is completely dependent, and whom he regards as the highest authority acquires the conviction that what he is suffers is perfectly normal and deserved, as well as being an excellent and unquestionable means of discipline. Rooted so deeply in the life of every one of us, intertwined with the very roots of our personality, this belief is bound to be difficult to eradicate. It is also reinforced, of course, by universal practice and generalized approval. So there is no use in getting sore at those who manifest it. Whoever undertakes to tackle this conviction and this practice must be prepared for an impressive series of defensive tactics, sometimes combined with condescending accusations.

Religious justifications

There are two very ancient obstacles that we seldom come across anymore but which still find expression in some religious communities:

The conviction that disciplinary violence is endorsed by God. This is still encountered among a great many Jews, Muslims, and fundamentalist Christians. It rests upon a collection of proverbs taken from the Bible and attributed to King Solomon or to the Ecclesiast. Disciplinary violence is considered to be "Biblical chastisement." As it is God's will, there is no room for argument.

The conviction that God himself punishes man as earthly fathers punish their children. This conviction provides a good illustration of a vicious circle. For if we see man's suffering as the result of God's desire to punish his children, it is mainly because we ascribe to God, understood as the Father, the use of punishment similar to those which human fathers administer to their children. In this way "divine punishment" serves to justify quite human punishments, while the latter gave rise to the idea of the former.

Rationales based on personal experience or "they-say's"

The rationale by experience for disciplinary violence. "When my father gave me few swift kicks in the rear, it really set me straight". This rationale boils down to saying: "As soon as I became what I am thanks to my parents' violence, that violence was a good thing." While it is good for everyone to have a sense of self-worth, it is a pity to attribute such worth to things that belittled us more than they built us up. Endlessly repeated "they-say's": "A good spanking never hurt anybody" or "never killed anyone."

More or less willful ignorance

Selective amnesia. The mere memory of punishments received is so unpleasant and so humiliating that we would rather not remember them and eventually forget them completely. Most often, one does not remember blows received before the age of three.

Lack of interest on the part of explorers and ethnologists. This particular form of blindness is apparent first of all from the fact that it has long been exceptional for ethnologists, most of whom are male, to take an interest in the way children were raised. Margaret Mead herself said that she looked into the child-rearing practices of New Guinea tribes only because that was the task relegated to her by her husband, Gregory Bateson.

The indulgent blindness of well-meaning historians and ethnologists. When studying a past or present society for which they have an affinity, ethnologists and historians are not much inclined to talk about their negative aspects, especially if they wish to combat prejudices surrounding the people or the era that they are studying. Result: they pay no attention to the manner in which children are raised and their possible suffering. They also tend to emphasize only the positive aspects of education.


Derision. The shame experienced from being hit continues into adulthood and causes most people to give an embarrassed smile every time they talk about what they went through. They feel worthy of ridicule for having been hit. They cannot take seriously the suffering they endured, because they still think that they deserved to be hit and that, even if they are victims, they were more to blame than those who were violent toward them. Derision is the background noise that remains long after the humiliations we suffered, much like the background noise that is present in the universe today as a vestige of the original Big Bang.

Silence. Some do not speak of what they suffered. To the best of my knowledge, it was only as recently as the 19th century that a writer dared to speak of being hit by his mother and father as something objectionable. The first ever to dare make such statements was apparently Jules Vallθs. Keep in mind that practically all children since the first civilizations were hit by their parents. Children's suffering under the blows of their parents and the damage that resulted from it has for millennia been a lost continent. The corporal punishments inflicted by schoolteachers were questioned much earlier by a few philosophers for the apparent reason, mainly, that the men who served as teachers were most often slaves. Also, corporal punishment put children themselves on the level of slaves, which undoubtedly posed a problem for parents from aristocratic families. Another reason for the precedence of school disciplinary violence in being questioned could be the fact that some children whose parents were uncommonly gentle with them were shocked by what they then encountered at school. The case of St. Augustine may reflect something along these lines. He talks of complaining to his parents about the blows he received at the hands of his teachers but never mentions receiving such from his parents. On the other hand, the latter greeted his complaints with teasing, from which it could be inferred that they did not take issue with disciplinary violence and had few qualms about using it themselves. [translator's note: In-depth examination of corporal punishment's impact on St. Augustine's is found in Maurel's latest book, Oui, la nature humaine est bonne! ("Human Nature is Good!")] A more clear-cut example is found in Montaigne's account of having been raised with considerable kindness by his father. Having fully retained his sensitivity, he was horrified by the violence by his teachers at the College of Guyenne. The first Christian authors to discuss corporal punishment to recommend that it be moderated or dispensed with, to my knowledge, always spoke of school punishment, never of parental disciplinary violence. This deafening silence, which literally kept children's suffering from being heard, was blinding as well: it kept their suffering from being seen.

Extreme brevity. When certain autobiographies recall corporal punishments, even if they were frequent, the authors describe them in just a few words, while having endured them all through childhood.

Denial. "Nobody hits children anymore these days. Martinets are only used on dogs." (Heard inside a hardware store where I asked if martinets [A martinet is a small whip with several lashes, particular to France and designed specificially for use on children. It was possibly modeled after the "cat o' nine tails" once used on sailors] were still big sellers.)

Indifference. This is among the most frequent attitudes.

Denial that disciplinary violence is indeed violence. Those who believe in spanking supposedly give nothing but "swats on the diaper" or "little smacks" on the hands.

Current belief in resilience. With an emphasis on resilience, the notion has been established that, all things considered, people who repeat what they suffered as children are in the minority or even quite rare. Some go so far as to call this cycle a "myth." This mistaken view results from the chorus of those who talk up resilience without distinguishing between abuse that is identified as such and routine disciplinary violence, to which they pay little attention. In cases of abuse, meaning violence in excess of what a given society allows, there is a chance that children will meet someone who makes them understand they are being abused and who comforts them or even removes them from the parents who are brutalizing them, so these children might also realize that what they were subjected to is not normal and therefore be able to avoid doing the same. But in cases of ordinary disciplinary violence, which in some countries can be more intense than what constitutes abuse in others, the child only encounters people who tell him that such treatment serves him right and that being hit by one's parents is normal. In this case, repetition is usually what happens. Unfortunately, ill-considered statements about resilience tend to obscure this fact.

Innocuous target areas. People who say, "Never on the buttocks, that's too risky from a sexual standpoint, slap them somewhere else." Or alternatively, "Never in the face, too humiliating, always on the buttocks or thighs."

Psychoanalysis. Harm and pathologies do not stem from disciplinary violence, which only a few sadistic parents would inflict anyway; they stem from children's impulses, which moreover need to be controlled by laying down the law, slapping them around if necessary (ref. Christiane Olivier, Michel Pouquet, et al).

Pessimistic views of children. These are the product of being hit, of course. Being hit instructs the child all at once that he is naughty, disobedient, rebellious, lazy, bratty, and bad-natured. And that all children are so, hence original sin, sadistic impulses, and fundamental violence.

Idealized image of parents. We would rather remember the positive aspects of our parents' personality. So we minimize or manage to forget the blows that we received from them.

Denunciations of child abuse. Lashing out at a few child-tormenters is frequently a means of diverting attention away from the ordinary disciplinary violence often practiced by the very people who decry abuse.

Belief in the disciplinary value of violence is rooted in the psyche only of those who were subjected to it, however minimally, and who therefore came to be defenders of it. It is unusual for someone who has not endured violence to develop a favorable view of it. But it is also unusual for those who did not endure it to have the needed level of anti-spanking conviction to take on the role of messengers, or for their conviction to withstand the defenses they will have to face should they express it. For this reason, it is important to be familiar with these defenses.

Such familiarity is important for everyone, moreover, given that these defenses control and handicap a large part of our psyches and produce blind spots in our view of reality.

Proceed to:


Proceed/return to:


1 – A Brief History of Disciplinary Violence
2 – The Nature of Disciplinary Violence and Opinions on the Matter
3 – Why we must stop using corporal punishment
4 – How can we raise children without hitting?
5 – Why is it necessary to ban disciplinary violence?
6 – What to do?
7 – Question for the author
8 – Questions for the reader

World geography of disciplinary violence by continent and country

I – Introduction for the EMIDA Family Education Program
II – Why the Church must denounce ordinary disciplinary violence
III – Resistance every advocate of a spanking ban can expect to face
IV – Declaration against "disciplinary" violence