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Spanking: Disciplinary tactic or abuse?

In Graham. Michael David Ward spanked his 8-year-old son after he disobeyed him and proceeded to lie about his actions. The following weekend, the boy’s mother (who has visitation rights) saw red marks on his buttocks and called the police, citing child abuse by Ward. Ward was charged with abuse and the case went to court.

North Carolina Civil Code said, “Abuse includes infliction of a serious physical injury by other than accidental means creating a substantial risk of such injury by other than accidental means and using cruel or grossly inappropriate procedures or devices to modify behavior.”

Does spanking fall under the law? If the spanking leaves “serious physical injury,” then it does. Red marks on the buttocks may fall under this category, but during trial, the boy said that he didn’t realize that the spanking had left a mark. The boy even said that after the spanking was over, he hugged his father and continued playing outside.

The jury ruled Ward not guilty in the case. His son lives with him full-time and has visitation rights with his mother.

But how did we as a society get to this point? Many of us were spanked as children, and our parents were never charged with abuse. Personally, after the first few times I was spanked, my mother only had to threaten me with spanking before I would immediately calm down.

Additionally, many or most of our parents were spanked as children. How did they turn out? For the most part, they’re good people that knew how to raise us. If we look to the past, we can infer that children spanked today will not be permanently damaged by the discipline their parents dole out.

A Time magazine article from 2006 cites studies that show that kids who are spanked may be more likely to be deviant in later life not because of their spanking, but because their personalities are such that they are prone to disobedience — the traits that may have gotten them spanked in the first place.

The problem with spanking is when it gets out of hand — when spanking becomes an outlet for a parent’s anger or when the spanking becomes the response for petty offenses such as fighting over toys or sneaking a cookie before dinner. Appropriate spanking would follow repeated defiance of a direct order or request, and the majority of parents spank in this manner.

Spanking has also been deemed beneficial by psychologists. Studies at the University of Nebraska found that children under seven that were spanked in a nonabusive manner showed positive behavior change with no harmful consequences. For many children, a few incidents of spanking are enough to deter bad behavior.

Conversely, Psychology Today cites that simply yelling at a child gives rise to low self-esteem and shame in children, effects that do not seem to be present if the child is spanked. Yelling releases parental anger, but also makes the child feel responsible for the emotions of another — a socially crippling situation. Also, if the motive for spanking is explained, spanking can be devoid of emotion and just a consequence for bad behavior. Yelling makes the punishment personal.

Spanking in limited amounts, is beneficial to unruly children, and spanking, when done firmly but not cruelly, does not constitute abuse. As for Ward, he and his son have been reunited, and Graham courts have ruled that the parent should have the right to discipline their child the way they best see fit.

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