Why Do People Hit Their Kids? Failure, that’s why:
Now, this is the part where I point out that study after study after study has proven that corporal punishment—even a light spanking—does not work. At all. Corporal punishment makes kids sullen, violent, and angry. I know this because I have dabbled in corporal punishment with my own children, particularly my oldest kid. (Poor first children are always the beta kids: The kids parents fuck up with the most before applying better techniques to their younger siblings.) I have tried spanking the kid, and giving the kid a light smack on the head, and threatening the kid. My dad spanked me once or twice as a child. That’s it. I don’t even remember it, really. And yet I’ve probably tried more ways of physically correcting my child than he ever did. And the reason I tried all of these methods is because I am a failure.
That’s what corporal punishment is. It’s a failure. It’s a complete breakdown of communication between parent and child. Children are unpredictable, reckless, and occasionally violent. They can drive otherwise rational humans into fits of rage. And I have had moments—many moments, certainly—where I have felt that rage after exhausting every last possible idea to get them to behave: bribery, timeouts, the silent treatment, walking away (they follow you!), distraction, throwing the kids outside (they end up ringing the doorbell a lot), you name it. So I have tried corporal punishment as a final resort, a desperate last stab at closure. That’s an easy way for parents to justify it: You forced me to do this, child. Spanking the kid did nothing for me. It only made me realize what a fucking failure I was. Oh, and the kid still kept yelling.
Spanking and beating your kid teaches your kid to talk with violence. It validates hitting as a legitimate form of communication. Everything is modeled. I have yelled at my kids, and then seen them yell. I have smacked my kid, and then watched her smack someone else. They don’t learn to be good from any of it. They don’t learn to sit still and practice piano sonatas. All they learn is, Hey, this works! And then they go practice what you just preached. Beating a kid creates an atmosphere of toxicity in a house that lingers forever: One beating leads to the next, and to the next, and to the next, until parents don’t even know why they’re beating the kid anymore. They just do. Once it is normalized, it takes root. Parents begin to like the habit. Those pictures of Peterson’s kid? The violence can get worse … much worse … so much worse it’s astonishing.
Go read the whole thing. The honesty of the piece is refreshing, to say the least.
As it happens, I answered a question about corporal punishment of kids on the 24 June 2012 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast here:
- Duration: 25:08
- Download: MP3 Segment
For more details, check out the question’s archive page.
Then, if you’re one of those parents wonder what the heck you should do if you can’t physically discipline your kids, check out my interview with Jenn Casey and Kelly Elmore about “Parenting without Punishment” on the 27 June 2012 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the podcast here:
- Duration: 48:57
- Download: Standard MP3 File (11.2 MB)
For more details, check out the episode’s archive page.