Focus on the Family promotes painful spanking

The Institute for First Amendment Studies, August 25, 1997

Colorado Springs, CO -- In a faxed bulletin to thousands of pastors, Focus on the Family faulted a recent study that said an end to spanking would reduce the national level of violence.

The study was released by Murray Straus, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire. He stated that when parents use corporal punishment to reduce antisocial behavior, the long- term effect tends to be the opposite, causing children to lie, cheat, and disobey. It also sends the message that violence is an acceptable way to solve disputes.

Focus on the Family claims the study was severely flawed. The group said "at least eight previous studies have concluded spanking is actually beneficial when used in proper balance."

The communique from Focus on the Family was part of The Pastor's Weekly Briefing (8/22/97), a newsletter faxed to pastors on Thursday evenings. Many ministers use the material in The Pastor's Weekly Briefing in their Sunday sermons.

It comes as no surprise that Focus on the Family, the mega-ministry headed by psychologist James Dobson, objected to the study. Focus on the Family was built on sales of Dobson's 1970 multi-million best-seller, Dare to Discipline.

In the book, Dr. Dobson wrote that spanking is "a painful disciplinary measure to make a vivid impression." When spanking doesn't work, he wrote, "The spanking may be too gentle. If it doesn't hurt it isn't worth avoiding next time." Dobson recommends "a firm thump on the head or a rap on the fingers."

In a Q&A section of the book, a parent asks if spanking will teach her child to hit other people or make him a violent person. In his response, Dobson compares spanking to the pain a child suffers in accidents such as touching something hot or being bitten by a dog. These acts teach a child to "avoid those mistakes again," and, according to Dobson, "doesn't make him a violent person." He adds that "spankings should be reserved for his moments of greatest antagonism."

However, many sociologists believe that spanking indicates that the parent is out of control, not the child. Even dog trainers teach that one should never strike a dog, lest that dog learns to bite in self-defense. Is a child any different?

The Institute for First Amendment Studies, publisher of Freedom Writer newsletter, monitors the activites of the radical religious right. Founded in 1984, the Institute is a nonprofit educational and research organization.
CONTACT: Skipp Porteous (413) 528-3800,

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