McFeely: Spare me the old sayings, spanking children is abusing children

FARGO -- Spanking is child abuse. Yes, it is. How can the physical striking of a defenseless child be viewed as anything else? No, it is not "discipline." If it was, a father could slap his 5-year-old daughter across the face when she got sassy a...

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FARGO -- Spanking is child abuse.

Yes, it is.

How can the physical striking of a defenseless child be viewed as anything else?

No, it is not "discipline."

If it was, a father could slap his 5-year-old daughter across the face when she got sassy and say, "Don't you get sassy with me, little girl, or you'll get more of that." He could say he was disciplining his daughter, teaching her a lesson.


But that's not acceptable, at least not to reasonable-thinking adults. Striking a kid across the face, even with an open hand, is generally considered abusive behavior.

You agree, right?

But if dear old dad grabs his daughter, lays her across his knee, whacks her five times across the bottom and says, "Don't you get sassy with me, little girl, or you'll get more of that," that's OK?


What's the difference?

The action is the same (physical violence against a child) with the same goal in mind (discipline).

Please explain the difference.

We're talking about spanking/child abuse because the Journal of Family Psychology released a study this week of 160,000 children who were spanked over a 50-year period. The conclusion: Spanking is harmful.


To quote a summary of the study: "The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties."

That doesn't sound much like a positive outcome of discipline.

That sounds eerily like a negative outcome of abuse.

"Spare the rod, spoil the child," you say.

"Kids have to be taught respect," you say.

"My dad spanked me, and I turned out OK," you say.

"We're raising a generation of wusses," you say.

"Heck, my old man used to get out the belt when I stepped out of line," you say.


In regards to the last one, we have this to say: Your old man should've been thrown in jail.

As for the others, just stop making excuses. Don't quote worn-out, obsolete sayings or use the "good old days" as a reason to continue damaging behavior. Things change. We study. We learn. We advance.

Remember, less than a century ago women didn't have the right to vote in the United States. The arguments against women's suffrage were many, including: "A woman who takes proper care of her household, has no time to know anything about politics." You may want to ask Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Heidi Heitkamp, Carly Fiorina, Nicole Poolman and Joan Heckaman their opinion on that sentence.

Some day, the idea of spanking will look just as outdated. Let's get started right now. Millions of children have been raised to respect their parents or guardians without the use of intimidation or violence. Millions of parents have raised good kids without smacking them in the name of discipline. It must be possible, right? The evidence exists. There are numerous nonviolent ways to get a point across.

But, you argue, spanking my child is not meant to hurt them. I'm not hitting them in anger, or with a fist, or trying to hurt them. I'm hitting them on the bottom to change their behavior.

So it's all about intent? Even though you are hurting them, the purpose of hitting them is not to hurt them, so that makes it OK? It is positive violence? That logic is so twisted that trying to unravel it might take months.

But, you say, I'm just whacking them on their butt. It's not like I'm punching them in the nose. Even Pope Francis said it's all right to smack your kid, as long as it's not in the face. It helps preserve their "dignity," he said.

So it's about body parts? The rear end is fair play, but the face is out of bounds. How about the arms? Or feet? Or legs? The back of the head? The hands? Maybe the Pope could come up with a list of body areas that are acceptable to hit. Maybe give them a numerical score. Start with the face being 0 (bad!) and the butt being 10 (good!) and go from there.

And you can't leave a mark, because that would be abuse. Unless, of course, it's on the rear end, which is an acceptable place to hit a kid. Then some bruising is OK. But not too much, because that's bad.

Are we clear?

As a society, we have somehow convinced ourselves that spanking and physical abuse are distinct behaviors. We've defined spanking as good and acceptable. We've defined physical abuse as bad and unacceptable.

Might this have more to do with justifying violence than actually changing behavior? If the father spanking his "naughty" 5-year-old daughter is able to convince himself that hitting his child is allowable, that lets him off the hook. There's no guilt and no repercussions because hitting a defenseless little girl's backside is morally acceptable, but hitting her in the face is reprehensible.

The discussion should be why hitting a child in any manner, anywhere on their body, is not viewed as reprehensible.

If a 6-foot, 200-pound man just says to a 3½-foot tall, 50-pound girl, "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you," then that makes it OK, apparently.

Somebody might want to ask the little girl how she felt about that.

Spanking is nothing more than legalized child abuse that serves no purpose other than to allow parents or guardians to believe they are teaching their children discipline.

The Journal of Family Psychology study shows it does far more harm than good in the long term.

Spanking is child abuse.

Yes, it is.

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