Saturday, January 27, 2007

Spanking Children

Updated on 1/29/07 (audio clip)

Recently Sally Lieber, a California lawmaker, seems to have made it her mission to outlaw spanking in her state. She seems to have a skewed idea of what spanking is and how it is used. "’I think it's pretty hard to argue you need to beat a child,’ Lieber said. ‘Is it OK to whip a 1-year-old or a 6-month-old or a newborn?’"1

I don’t know anyone who would argue that beating a child or whipping a 12 or 6 month-old baby is ok. But it is a straw man argument to state that spanking, in any way, is equal with “beating” or “whipping” a child. Furthermore, if someone is abusing their child (i.e. neglect, beating, and sexual molestation)2, they are already punished (rightly so) by law. But equating the controlled spanking of a child on his or her buttocks for the purpose of correcting a wrong behavior with that of uncontrolled or rage filled beating of children is truly an abuse; an abuse of language.

So, if this lawmaker succeeds in California and the same law eventually reaches Minnesota (knowing the state of Minnesota politics, it wouldn’t take too long) making spanking children illegal while I have young children, I would be guilty of breaking the law. I would continue to use this form of discipline on my children when it was appropriate.

Apparently the California lawmaker believes that spanking should only be outlawed for children who are under four-years-old.3 I have only been blessed with the duty of parenting two children so far (#3 is on the way), and my oldest is going to be four-years-old this coming summer. My son has been spanked, when appropriate, for about the last 2 years of his life. And he will continue to be spanked until that is no-longer the most effective corrective deterrent to bad behavior.

What do I mean when I say that it is “the most effective corrective deterrent” relating to my son’s behavior? According to the article, Governor Schwarzenegger is not opposed to this bill and is reported to have said that when he was raising his children, “they found it more effective to threaten to take away their children's play time if they didn't do school work” as opposed to spanking. Furthermore, he was quoted as saying, “They hate that much more than getting spanked."

I think that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s comments clarify this issue, but as with the case of Ms. Lieber‘s reckless equivocation of traditional spanking with child abuse, the clarification is not the way that he intended. He said that his children responded better to a threatened losing of privileges if schoolwork was not completed, but four-year-old children are not in school. This example is as irrelevant to the issue as it could be.

A two-year old child may not like to have a toy taken away, but within seconds (literally seconds), that same child may be more content doing something else and completely miss the reason for having a taken away. I want to argue for the validity of spanking as a worthwhile form of discipline to young children in two areas; personal experience and the biblical witness.

First I will look at my personal experience. As always, personal experience and “traditional” ways of doing things are always subject to being corrected or changed based upon the Word of God. So, admittedly, my first argument is what I perceive to be the weaker of the two and, if taken by itself, could almost be disregarded. However, if taken in conjunction with biblical teaching, it very powerfully shows the truth of Scripture.

A Child’s Perspective (Experience)

When I was a child, my parents spanked me…a lot. I don’t remember when it started (which means it started early on), but I do remember a few things about my own experience of being the “spankee”. I remember that it was very effective as a deterrent to my misbehavior. My parents had a spanking tool that was used to spank both me and my brothers.4 It was a deterrent in two ways.

First of all, the stinging that follows spanking (which dissipates fairly quickly, in retrospect), caused me to remember the price of disobedience clearly. So I was less likely to be disobedient in the same manner as frequently in the future. Secondly, the visible reminder of the spanking tool was key, I think. I don’t remember if my parents would take it out to be seen by me if I was heading down the path toward a spanking, but I do know that seeing it made me think of the consequences of disobedience.

As a college student away from school on some sort of a break, I was sitting with both of my brothers and we all had a similar conclusion or thought from our childhood; we probably should have been spanked more than we were. This came out of discussion of the (then) possibility of becoming husbands and fathers and how we could use our experience to help us as we assumed the parental leadership role. We were not scarred by the fact that our parents spanked us, on the contrary we saw the reason (even if we didn’t understand it totally as a child) for spanking.

A Parent’s Perspective (Experience)

All children are sinful from the get-go. Sure, they are cute, cuddly, funny, but they are ultimately sinful from the very beginning of life. Even knowing that this is true, it was hard to come to grips with it and how to deal with it when it concerned my own child. Specifically relating to spanking, my wife and I didn’t spank our son until he was right around 18 months old. We haven’t used spanking as the primary method of correction, but it has always been setup to be the final punishment for disobedience. Because we have used it regularly, but not frequently (i.e. when disobedience calls for a spanking, it is used, but it is not invoked frivolously), Micah has an understanding of the gravity of disobedience when he is warned with something similar to, “Micah, if you continue to disobey Mommy, I will have to spank your bottom. Do you want me to do that?” To which he replies with a quick “No,” and we have a little discussion about being obedient. It has served as a good deterrent against common childhood problems of tantrums, hitting5, and overall disrespect of others (Sunday school teachers, grandparents, etc.).

As for the general impact on Micah, it is quite remarkable. Frequently we are around other children that are of a similar age of Micah, so we are able to see how other children act as well as how their parents act or react towards their own disobedient children. I will not go into any great detail about any one of these experiences except for one story. Some of our family does not agree with spanking children, and therefore the children in these family units are not disciplined in this manner. One such relative must have seen me talk to my son (in a corrective/disciplining manner) at a family event and didn’t approve of my action. I don’t remember the specific circumstances that led me to (a) take my son away from the action, (b) speak to him in a serious manner about being obedient, and then (c) sent him back to play in a more controlled manner, but I know that I was the only parent to have intervened. The reaction of this relative was to say, basically, “They are too strict with that boy.” The irony of this comment was that later on that same day, this same relative said, while witnessing a general mayhem that had taken over the other children that was now out of control, said, “My, Micah sure is a well behaved boy.”

That is just one example of how the manner that my wife and I parent our children, not perfectly by any means, is readily apparent already while our son is less than four-years-old. This brings me back to the statute that Ms. Lieber is trying to force on the people of California. If I were to not have spanked Micah at all yet, and we were to wait for another 6 months, we would have to deal with the entire course of his little life of learned wrong behaviors that were unable to be corrected properly or effectively. This, I think, would be much harder on everyone, both the children and the parents. Again, I am not saying that spanking is to be used all of the time for every opportunity to discipline or correct a child; I am simply saying that without the deterrent of spanking, Micah would have more areas in need of correction that had corrected earlier.

The Biblical Witness

  • The biblical passages that I am going to look at next need little in the way of explanation. However, modern thought or methods cause us to defend the strikingly (no pun intended) obvious verses that deal with the corporal punishment of a child.
  • “On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found, But a rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding.” (Proverbs 10:13)
  • “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” (Proverbs 13:24)
  • “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)
  • “Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol.” (Proverbs 23:13,14)
  • “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)

So, as far as the Bible is concerned, there is not a debate as to whether a parent should spank a child who needs to be corrected. I think that it is helpful to hear some solid Bible teachers on how they apply the truths of parental love and correction as it relates to spanking.

“’A rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding.’ Now very simply, folks, how do you get this little guy or this little girl to obey? Bottom line, you hit them with something, it's here called a rod. You say, "You sure that's what it means?" Well, what's the point in just saying...look, here's a rod, would you please obey? If the rod has never been applied, I don't think they understand the picture. You basically are called to use corporeal punishment. That's what it says. A rod is for the back of him who lacks...and isn't it interesting the Lord even tells you where to hit them? Not on the front and not on the top, on the back, where they've been designed to be hit.”6

“Can I suggest to you, it really isn't that hard? What it says here is pretty straightforward. You have a depraved and foolish child, if you want him not to be so foolish, spank him. That's it.”7

John Piper makes the case that children react to the “thou shalt” commands of police officers, parents, the Bible, God, by saying, “But I want….’ And that this is something that emanates from the sinful roots of their (and our) humanity. He then exhorts his congregation with how parents must respond to the “but I want” reactions of the children with this plea:

“You must teach children ‘NO!’ You will be spanked if you do what you want here. And if you continue [to follow your own will] to the end of your life you’ll go to hell, which is why we spank lovingly. If kids don’t learn the meaning of the wrath of God and the love of God from their parents, who love them, where are they going to learn it? [If] somebody tries, later on, to convince them that a loving God is also a wrathful God, if they haven’t seen that in daddy – that daddy can hug, and kiss, and roll around on the floor, and be sweet and pure and kind and gentle, and really have fire in his eyes when you disobey – if a kid can’t put that together in a parent, how’s he going to put it together in God?”8

This last quote from John Piper expresses exactly the reason why we see the necessity for spanking our children. It is because the rod of discipline will drive home the importance of obedience and show the penalty of disobedience. Another interesting note is that David says that he is comforted by the rod of God (Psalms 23:4). The rod is used to beat off wild animals just as it can be used to swat (if necessary) the sheep to get it back in line.

The essence of this whole issue of whether someone should spank a disobedient child comes back to sin and how we as sinful people need to understand what it is and where it comes from. We also need to know how to react to spanking, both as a parent (discipliner) or child (discipline). So, later in that same sermon, Piper goes on to talk about sin and what it is at its core.

“What’s the ‘nub’ of sin? What is sin? Here my efforts to put it into a few paraphrases. The essence of my condition apart from Christ is not first and mainly that I break specific laws of God. That’s way down the river; that I break specific laws of God is not my main problem. My main problem is that I am hostile to God; that I do not want to submit to God. The essence of my sinful condition is the unwillingness to be told what to do. I don’t want to be told where to find happiness. I don’t want to be told ‘this choice will ruin my life’; ‘that choice will make my life.’ ‘I will not be told what to do. I will tell me what to do.’ This is the beginning of sin in the Garden of Eden, right?

“’No!’ she said and he said, ‘I will eat what I want to eat,’ and there’s sin. ‘I will trust me. I will be my own god, thank you, anyway.’ The essence of sin is a passion for self rule before there is any rule on the scene. My essential problem is that I break laws. My essential problem is that I hate laws. I hate them before the even appear, and as long as they don’t appear, my hatred lies dormant. Which is why there are so many good people in the world. ‘Good’ people. ‘Good’ people.

“The main thing, or the essence of sin, or the sinful nature, is self deification. Deification means ‘I will make myself god; I will be god. I will deify, I will make myself a deity.’ Self deification, that’s the essence of sin.”9

Until we understand what sin is, and we really get a grasp of what we are as people because of sin and its effects, we can never have any way to deal with the present issue of disciplining children. My main goal, hope, or dream for my children is that they will be saved by God’s grace through faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And if spanking my children will create a more humble attitude as well as opportunities in which to share the gospel, then I am all for it.

When I say that spanking can be an opportunity to share the gospel, that is just what I mean. In my home, we teach Micah that stealing and lying are wrong, we basically teach him the moral guidelines by using the Ten Commandments.10 So, when Micah is in need of a spanking, we have a conversation as the first part of the disciplining process. I first ask him to recount what he has done wrong. In our conversation he communicates the reason for his discipline, that he has done a “no-no”, and that “no-nos” are sins.

Once we walk through that part of the discussion, we are able to begin the gospel portion. God is angry with sins, and we deserve to go to “the bad place” because of them. And in order to show him how serious God is about sin, I tell him that the Bible tells daddies and mommies to spank their boys in order to help them to be obedient. And because he is in this position because he broke a rule, it is a clear correlation to the breaking of God’s rules that leads to damnation.

One main point in all of this is that at two points during this whole spanking process, I make it clear that his sin is not primarily against me or anyone else, but against God Himself. I make this clear prior to spanking him, as well as after it is done when I ask him if he needs to say anything. Usually he apologizes to me, but I always ask him further until he says that he needs to apologize to God too.

Spanking, as the practical application of the consequences to disobedience, makes our Bible time when we talk about sin, the cross, and salvation much more clear in his young mind.

Way of the Master Radio had an interview with Ted Trip on this topic of spanking children. It's a good listen (about 15 minutes long) and worth while. Click here to listen (the interview portion begins about 5 minutes into the program).




4 It was a small, thin, white cutting board that had a handle on it.

5 Micah hit Stephanie once. When I came home that day, we dealt with it, and it has never happened again. I think this might be a key to forming good behavior. Come down on a rebellious action like this hard, and it should not happen again.

6 “God's Pattern for Children, Pt. 1” by John MacArthur

7 Ibid.

8 “Dead to the Law, Serving in the Spirit, Part 3” by John Piper, originally preached on February 11, 2001 (Transcribed from the 11/30/2006 audio Netcast)

9 Ibid.

10 You can read “Christmas thought #2: Children and Christmas” for a sample of how I teach my son using the Ten Commandments.

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