With respect to the Convention’s guidelines against spanking, the U.S. is in alignment with eighty-eight percent of the countries in the world who still have no specific laws against spanking children … and that may be a good thing. New Zealand’s anti-spanking law, passed in 2007, failed to reduce reported instances of spanking, and as Oklahoma State psychologists Robert Larzelere and Brett Kuhn report, Sweden experienced a nearly 500% increase in abuse after passing their anti-spanking law in 1979. It clearly takes more than simply making it illegal for people with neurological deficiencies to learn and remember that “people aren’t for hitting.” Unfortunately preschoolers, those kids with the fewest resources available to manage the stress that results from corporal punishment, are the ones who receive the bulk of it.
I know I’ve covered this topic before, but it’s one I find myself continually returning to. Why? Because the stakes are very high. This Youtube video of Kate Gosselin (from the Jon and Kate TV show) depicts Kate hitting her daughter Leah. (The photographer would have better served the child by compassionately intervening the way this different Southwest flight attendant recently did). One day Kate will discover Leah hitting her younger sister or a neighbor’s kid, and Leah will report, “But I was only playing mommy.” One of many powerful lessons learned in the Family Training Camp.
But this is exactly how I imagine much of the spanking in the world takes place: mom or dad gets limbically highjacked and simply loses emotional control. When a child who is a fifth of our size and has only a tenth of our brain power emotionally controls a situation, it’s the parent who has the problem. And it’s often such parents who have never had anyone help them to connect the dots: research confirms that the aggression showing up in kids at age five has a direct correlation with the spankings they received at age three. And the physical violence they engage in as young teens and adults also has its roots the nursery. I strongly suspect that the prisons we currently fill in record numbers, and the wars we engage in around the world, also have roots there as well. Not to mention how many of us die long before we might otherwise, due to compromised immune systems contributing to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, various cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. As researchers at the Institute on Aging have identified, childhood abuse casts a very long shadow.
The Rod is a Flock-Herding Tool not a Paddle
In his article 10 Reasons Not to Spank Your Child, nationally renowned pediatrician Bill Sears identifies parents who definitely should not spank their children under any circumstances:
- Were you abused as a child?
- Do you lose control of yourself easily?
- Are you spanking more, with fewer results?
- Are you spanking harder?
- Is spanking not working?
- Do you have a high-need child? A strong-willed child?
- Is your child ultra-sensitive?
- Is your relationship with your child already distant?
- Are there present situations that are making you angry, such as financial or marital difficulties or a recent job loss? Are there factors that are lowering your own self-confidence?
The problem with the worldwide spanking epidemic isn’t the physical abuse itself. It’s what happens in vulnerable children’s brains and bodies as a result of the stress and disconnection the abuse causes: neurodegeneration. I’d be willing to seriously wager that Kate Gosselin was spanked as a child. She should not be spanking her own children. Abusive people very likely have not been able to develop the neural resources that allow them sufficient control over their abusive behavior. Their own abuse as children is a significant contributing factor. But research shows that simply passing laws against beating kids is not sufficient, that such laws might actually be a bad idea. So what might be a good idea? I can think of one off the top of my head. How many can you think of?
Child Beaters Anonymous
When two out of three moms report that they lack true friends and that their local community does NOT positively contribute to the quality of their lives, we need to create places to constructively channel the energy that frequently ends up exploding as spankings and the abuse of children. Behaviors we are challenged in controlling can benefit from getting regular social support. Children’s brains and parents brains are social organs and generally respond well to care and compassion – the Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience in action.
While not as effective as meeting regularly in person, we can also get online support in forums like Mommybloggers or Cafemom or Daddybrain or Rebel Dad. It’s dangerous out there for parents and kids alike. Don’t try to go it alone.