The topic of spanking has been at hand of late. In my mind, spanking children is like going to war. When, according to a report issued by the Zero-to-Three organization, 61% of American’s have attack strategies in their arsenal and poor impulse control that impels their use, this is a recipe for big trouble in my opinion. One reason is, it often ends up stopping us short of doing a much more difficult work. What kind of work? Perhaps work like examining our own behavior and addressing our own fears and anxieties, and then searching for and coming up with more effective, creative solutions for teaching children what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
Practicing Aikido Consciousness
In my mind, one thing children show up in our lives with great power to help us with is our own growth and development. And when we look at a martial arts metaphor like aikido – which primarily trains practi- tioners in non-attack – what we discover are many possible creative alternatives to spanking children. When I’m feeling like attacking other people – in this case, children – what I’m generally NOT doing, is looking at how my actions might be co-creating the conditions that seem to warrant war-like responses. The inability to do this kind of discernment often indicates impaired prefrontal-limbic connectivity and integration. An unfortunate result of having been spanked as children ourselves?
Be the Discipline You Want to Instill
That’s one issue. Another is that when spanking is on the table as a discipline option, some people use it in ways that unfortunately, and often unwittingly, end up doing serious damage to neural development, especially in girls. I would say that spanking children in response to our own limbic system having been hijacked is again, more often than not, a signal that it is we who have some work to do. Why would we treat our children any differently than we would treat our spouse or our best friend or our pastor or spiritual teacher? Especially when research shows that kids not only don’t learn the lessons spanking is attempting to teach, but that it mostly makes them feel resentful, humiliated and helpless. The brain is an associative organ and kids powerfully learn what they have painfully modeled for them. Is a model that says it’s all right to assault other human beings who are smaller and less powerful, or when I can’t control myself, something we should feel comfortable presenting? I wonder how many of us who do so, can’t not spank our kids. In other words, we can’t really help ourselves. We get hi-jacked in the moment and lose the ability to control ourselves.
Obviously we want our children to be safe and well-cared for, but is threatening them, or physically hitting them the best way to provide them with a feeling of safety? Considerable research suggests not, and in my experience a Command Voice, or physically holding or leading children in the direction we desire, is often more than enough to control most kids. Physically assaulting our kids, in my opinion, turns parents into caregivers who can no longer be fully trusted. Is that good or bad? I think it’s certainly sub-optimal from a neuro-developmental point of view. And as C. S. Lewis observed, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims, may be the most oppressive. Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
I Turned Out Okay
Oftentimes parents will rationalize and defend their actions (a sign of their own discomfort?) by saying things like “If you spare the rod, you spoil the child” (This phrase, by the way, is not from the Bible but from Samuel Butler’s “Hudibras”, a 17th Century satirical poem. The poem, like his novel, The Way of All Flesh, was written to expose and denounce violence against children) or, “I was spanked as a child and I turned out all right.” To these rationalizations I generally respond, “Compared to what?” What we know about networks is that when you have a collection of nodal points (discrete neurons), and they begin connecting up, at some point, one final connection will connect every single node, setting the whole network ablaze. It’s like finding the faulty bulb in the Christmas tree lights that suddenly lights up the whole string. When that happens we have a lot more processing power available to us. Suppose those spankings we got as kids were the one thing that has prevented massive numbers of neurons in our own brain from fully connecting and thickening our cerebral cortex to the point of brilliance? How unfortunate is that? What might we be like with twice or ten times the energy and more multiple intelligences than we now have? The point is that we really don’t know what damage spanking might do. If that’s true, with respect to spanking wouldn’t we be much better off making Pascal’s Wager?
Finally, one last thing to consider is Alice Walker’s wise template as a parenting guideline – Is spanking really best for the children?