The Culture of Spanking
Four Ways to Think It Through
Posted December 21, 2016
In the middle of a recent exchange with my 15 year old son, I felt the impulse to pop him upside his head just to “stop the nonsense.” That phrase, “stop the nonsense,” is from my childhood among many others that my mom and her crew of mom friends would toss out in the heat of anger and exasperation when we kids were “acting up.”
Hearing those words in my head caused a desperately needed pause and a moment to think about what I was trying to do. I was trying to control his actions, yes, but the thought to pop him was mostly me trying to control my fear of what he was saying. He had engaged in behavior that I did not approve of and did not see the wrong in it yet. The idea that I wanted to hit my son who has never been hit by his dad or me is actually not a foreign one. I have had to dissect the thought on previous occasions in order to determine its origin and move through it to a thoughtful response.
I was raised in a spanking culture and it has been both challenging and rewarding to raise healthy, respectful, smart, assertive, argumentative and widely loved young Black men without resorting to spanking. My oldest was popped on his leg or behind on a few occasions before I committed to change, but truthfully he wouldn’t know a spanking if it walked up to him, shook his hand and introduced itself.
This experience with my teenage son sent me to my room (the irony) thinking what does it take to finally break culture when it comes to spanking? The United States is a spanking culture. According to an ABC news poll done last month “sixty five percent of Americans approve of spanking children, a rate that has been steady since 1990. Among parents with minor children at home, 50 percent report that they sometimes spank their child, that is about the same as it was in a Gallup poll a decade ago.” Every ethnic group participates in this choice of discipline although at varying percentages and we are passing it on. Even millennials are participating. In a Washington post article it was reported that “the most recent generation to have been children aren’t leading any attitude change on the issue of spanking, if anything they are slightly more supportive than their elders.”
A recently aired episode of the TV talk show “The Real” opened with a discussion on discipline in which each of the hosts shared their spanking and whupping stories which included moms using chunklettas (slippers, sandals) in Puerto Rican households, every object that moms could get their hands on in Vietnamese households and the ironing cord and the threat of taking you out, both well known in African American households. After sharing and laughing about these experiences, all of these under 40 hosts concluded that every child needs some kind of hands on physical discipline. The reality in communities of color is that we need our children to respect, listen and obey us and authority as a matter of life and death. So, spanking is an easy reach reaction to fear, but at what cost?
I will be the first one to admit that when I sit with family and friends, I can share some spanking stories that make me laugh, but with or without data I know the positive effects of raising the level of communication in my household rather than my hand. It is to this end that I want to offer four responses to the genuine question I am frequently asked whenever I present this breaking culture challenge.
What do you do as a parent if you don’t want to spank?
Stop and Think. Why are you raising your hand to them? What are you trying to stop and why? The answer is often in your feelings. Disrespect and fear often sit together when our children behave in ways that we don’t like, but we often focus on feeling disrespected rather than being afraid.
Ask yourself if this is a learned reaction rather than the best response you can give in this situation. Are you just repeating what was done to you without any thought as to what you are actually teaching your child by hitting them?
Ask yourself “why do I want to shut down my child rather than open them up to communicating with me?” “Am I listening to them and do I understand what they are saying about why they are making the choices they are making?”
Stretch yourself. Listen underneath the words. Tune in to the feelings coming up for you and acknowledge that they may be getting in the way of you making the best choices.
It is tough to move past spanking and get other skills in order to make different choices. It’s time for us to really look at why spanking is such an easy go to. As we face a less civil society, our children need to see us model more nurturing and creative responses to conflict because the change that we want to see in the world starts at home.