Hitting someone is never right
By John Ostwald
The Record, July 29, 2012

I don't usually read the "Sound Off" part of the paper. Maybe I drank too much of Dominic Russomano's homemade wine. In my opinion, it is filled with too much bing, bang and boom! Ammunition fired at whomever, whenever for whatever. The whining, irrationality, anger, and narcissism seem foolish. Even though I make these critical comments, I see value in this portion of the paper. It provides an anonymous refuge for those who enjoy releasing their toxic emotional gas.

I feel compelled to respond to recent comments made in Sound Off about physical discipline for children. Here are the writer's comments:

"They say that spanking your kids gives them mental problems later in life. What a line of bull. That's the trouble today. People not spanking these little brats enough. You go to the store and all you see is these little brats, screaming and stomping and the parents ignore them."

This is my response. In grammar school my classmates and I were hit on our palms and knuckles with steel edged rulers, had to kneel on concrete floors for lengthy periods and were slapped. One day when two friends and I were acting up in the schoolyard, the principal brought the three of us into her office. She lined us up really close together and slapped us all with one swing like on the Three Stooges TV show.

During high school, at La Salle Institute in Troy, there were more aggressive methods used to try and control our behavior. Some of us were hit fiercely. In my estimation these techniques were more assaults than attempts to discipline. Even decades later, I am still bitter about these experiences. It was men hitting boys who did not deserve such malicious punishment. Fortunately, most schools have evolved from this dark period of abuse.

Dr. Dale A. Robbins mentions the Biblical perspective on this topic when he states, "... the scriptures not only provide an allowance for corporal punishment, such as spanking, but they actually mandate such discipline. The Bible says,"Don't fail to correct your children; discipline won't hurt them! They won't die if you use the stick on them! Punishment will keep them out of hell." (Prov. 23:13 The Living Bible).

I don't believe in hitting kids for disciplinary or any other reasons. This includes "mild" or "harsh" spanking. Since I teach psychology full time, my views are influenced by exhaustive research on this issue. Numerous studies indicate that corporal punishment is useless and often harmful. Here are a few of the consistent findings summarized by Paul Schwartz PhD:

  • Hitting teaches aggressive behavior
  • Hitting offers children a poor model for learning how to handle conflict
  • Children learn to avoid the behavior only when the person who does the spanking is present
  • Physical punishment may become tolerated by the child thereby increasing the physical punishment
  • Hitting produces fear and resentment.

I was having a brief conversation with a nurse the other day and she said that at age 50 she still flinches when her mother makes even a casual gesture with her hand. She learned fear not morality.

When I have felt like hitting my boys it was more about me than them. I was tired, hungry, stressed out or feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of parenting. One of their little habits, that I usually found mildly irritating, became a big deal. I wanted to hit them for some quick relief at their expense.

I know that you have heard someone say that they "turned out okay" because they were spanked as children. They seem to make the connection directly i.e. Spanking = character and good behavior. There are certainly numerous other possibilities for them turning out okay like feeling unconditional love, having great role models, and a firm spiritual foundation.

I realize the complexity and sensitivity of this issue that has religious, cultural, economic and educational influences. For the most part I believe that I am open-minded but on this topic I am rigid in my belief that using corporal punishment for disciplinary reasons is wrong. Can you tell me anything that would convince me that hitting someone that we love is right?

John Ostwald is a professor at Hudson Valley Community College. His column appears every other Sunday

Return to: