Discipline

Cross-Post: It Doesn’t Matter If You Turned Out Fine

Editor’s Note: this post was written by Olivia and originally featured on Skepchick. To read the whole article, and to leave a comment, click through the link at the end of this post.

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One of the recurring discussions that pops up on my social media feeds and blog rolls is one that people have strong opinions about: hitting or spanking kids to punish them. One of the most common exchanges/memes I see in regards to spanking goes like this:

“I got hit and I turned out fine.”

“Do you think it’s ok to hit kids? Then you’re not fine.”

I have problems with both elements of this exchange. While I agree that thinking it’s ok to hit children means you probably aren’t a paragon of ethics, I don’t think the response really gets to the heart of the matter. It focuses on the long term effects of spanking rather than recognizing the most important fact: hitting someone is a Bad Thing. It hurts them. You do not need to show any additional harm beyond the actual hitting. You don’t need to show that it causes psychological damage later in life. Hitting another person all on its own is inappropriate.

The ONLY way that spanking advocates could show that they are correct is by a. showing that the benefits outweigh the negatives or b. showing that hitting their child does not actually harm the child at all. B seems fairly impossible since you are physically striking the kid. Maybe there’s some level of spanking that doesn’t actually hurt the kid at all, but then why are you doing it if the point is to punish? Obviously you have to cause some physical pain or no one would say that it’s a consequence or a punishment. The point of the action is that the pain or discomfort will deter the child from the behavior in the future.

This is where I start to get confused because some people don’t see that as a bad thing. In ethics, when we talk about harm, the most basic one that people can think of is physical pain. So while we could argue about whether or not there are things that outweigh the harm of getting hit, I truly do not know how else to argue that causing your kid some physical pain isn’t harmful in the here and now. Hitting someone hurts them and that is bad. Ok? Ok.

So we move on to a. The ONLY way that spanking would be justified is if it turns out it is actually a super effective disciplinary method that works SO MUCH better than any other way of raising your kid that it outweighs the immediate harm you’re doing the child.

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Mary

Mary

Mary Brock is a scientist who works on drugs you've hopefully never heard of. She enjoys cooking to Blue Grass music, messing with her cats, and hosting the Boston Skeptics' Book Club. She was born in the South but loves living in New England (despite the lack of chocolate chip pizza). Mary does not use Twitter and don't even try to follow her, because she is always looking over her shoulder.