Spanking hits bottom line in parenting debate


For years, I have arduously avoided the one topic that most certainly will incite a reader riot. However, I find I can stay silent no longer.

The issue? Spanking.

As hard as I am trying to fulfill a promise made to myself made years ago while sitting in front of a blank computer screen fighting writer’s block (“I don’t care if I have to type pages of the phone book, I will never, ever, ever write about spanking”), the issue has been put anew into the public debate, and I simply can’t stick my head in the sand and hope it goes away.

I’m reticent, because in nearly 22 years as a mother, I’ve concluded that no topic in the realm of parenting elicits a more vehement response from opponents and proponents. This is one issue about which there is no middle of the road.

If you are against spanking, you’re likely to be in the “spanking promotes violence in society” camp. You may have painful memories of being spanked as a child that inform your opinion. Or perhaps having never been spanked yourself, you are certain it is always unnecessary.

If you oppose spanking, you’re typically an advocate for “timeouts” and other disciplinary tactics to manage unacceptable behavior in children. You’re confident kids will grow out of their childish ways in time, and anyway, you just can’t bring yourself to do it.

You make a number of good points.

If you support spanking as a disciplinary tool, you’re likely to be on the “a little smack on the bottom never hurt anyone and may keep a kid from running into the street” team. Your memories of being spanked as a child are vague, or at least not disturbing, and you certainly wouldn’t call a swat on the rear “child abuse” or “violence” or even “hitting.”

If you think spanking can be OK, that opinion might reflect a general sense that it’s the job of parents to teach children how to behave appropriately in given situations, rather than wait for kids to decide to do this on their own, and you want kids who don’t just cooperate, but who also obey.

Your points would be well taken, too.

In fact, the spanking debate reflects the wide range of tactics parents use in the course of raising their children. Ultimately, spanking is a profoundly personal decision about how best to parent one’s own children, and thus, the reason I’ve distanced myself from the discussion.

Until now.

Last week in Corpus Christi, Texas, Judge Jose Longoria sentenced Rosalina Gonzales to five years of felony probation for spanking her 2-year-old child. (Red marks on the child’s backside were noted by the paternal grandmother and reported to a doctor.)

I don’t know the full story about Ms. Gonzales‘ parenting struggles. News reports say she does not have custody of the child she spanked and two other children, and is working with the state to regain custody. The judge also ordered her to take a parenting class, so perhaps she is an unskilled mother.

What bothers me, and should bother all parents, is what Judge Longoria said when he sentenced Ms. Gonzales: “You don’t spank children today. In the old days, maybe we got spanked, but there was a different quarrel. You don’t spank children.”

To be clear, corporal punishment of one’s own children is not a crime in Texas. It is a crime to use unnecessary force or to physically endanger a child, and it always is considered abuse to physically “discipline” an infant. But corporal punishment in the form of a spanking is not against the law.


Soon enough, the government should produce a parenting book so we know what will and will not be permissible in our homes. Is Judge Longoria a fan of grounding teens who stay out too late? Do “we do that” anymore? Are we allowed to closely monitor our kids’ activities via their cell phones or Facebook pages, or is that a violation of their privacy? Better check with the judge.

When a judge – or the government he represents – starts defining best practices in child-rearing, our nation is headed in a direction we do not want to go.

Debate spanking all you want, but let’s hope parents on both sides of that debate agree it is theirs to decide.

Copyright 2011 Marybeth Hicks


About Author

We welcome guest contributors who graciously volunteer their writing for our readers. Please support our guest writers by visiting their sites, purchasing their work, and leaving comments to thank them for sharing their gifts here on To inquire about serving as a guest contributor, contact


  1. Ashley Janneck on

    I agree with this post. As a mom of a strong-willed 3-(almost 4) year-old little boy, I struggle with the correct form of discipline for my youngster. However, the only thing I have found to really get his attention is spanking his rear end. I don’t do it out of hatred or anger; yes, sometimes, I’m a bit frustrated with him, BUT I know my boundaries. I love him too much to let him push me, his 20-something mother around. Don’t think so! I was raised by a very old-school father who believed in corporal punishment, hands down. I may not have liked it, but I knew it was in the cards if I misbehaved. We live in a world now where so many TEACH their children the WRONG way to treat people. We worry too much about being “politically correct” and judged by others as “prudish” that we neglect our own family; we push them out into this cruel world, unprepared to handle any form of disappointment that comes their way.
    “He who loves his son chastises him often, that he may be his joy when he grows up. He who disciplines his son will benefit from him, and boast of him among his intimates.” – Sirach 30;1-2
    “He who spoils his son will have wounds to bandage, and will quake inwardly at every outcry. A colt untamed turns out stubborn; a son left to himself grows up unruly. Pamper your child and he will be a terror for you, indulge him and he will bring you grief.” Sirach 30; 7-8
    Lastly –
    “Bend him to the yoke when he is young, thrash his sides while he is still small, Lest he become stubborn, disobey you, and leave you disconsolate.” – Sirach 30; 12

  2. I could go on and on about this issue. I was raised with a “corporal punishment” father… who wielded a leather belt. But, I swore to myself there had to be a different way, when it came to raising my own daughter.

    However, once I became a parent (of a special needs child, no less), it became very clear to me: children are not small adults. They cannot be reasoned with. They are not entitled to offer opinions, etc. They are, after all, only children. And we, as their parents, are entrusted with their stewardship.

    As the parent of an Autistic child, I found that punishment forms required flexibility. I personally prefer, especially as my daughter has gotten older, a “democratic” approach (i.e., yes, you’re getting punished, but you have your choice of losing TV, losing your Nintendo DSi, or your iPod). Of course, that is a huge generalization – it all depends on the offense. But I have found that allowing my daughter to 1. recognize that she has broken a rule, and 2. participate in her own discipline, has resulted in her having, frankly, more respect for her punishment than most of her peers. Particularly since she is frequently (though not always!) involved in the the consequence.

    So, all of that good, Democratic parenting aside… there are, I firmly believe, still times where a swat is necessary. Because there ARE times when you’d rather spank a child than bury him. For me, I leave spanking to, “I need my child to get this message loud and clear, till-death-do-we-part-Amen, because there might not BE an opportunity for the child to get the message a second time!” So, Ally grabbed for a hot pan handle… and her hand got a smack. She toddled down the driveway, running away from me, towards the street… and her bum got a smack. I need her to get those messages, loud and clear, the first time. God forbid some tragedy occur, if she doesn’t…

    But the rule is this: one smack, open-faced, is for the lesson. I have seen too many (including my own) parents take that to an unacceptable level. Parents need to remember that they are bigger, and stronger, than their children, and need to remember, too, their own size difference! One “smack” to a small child, CAN be too much, if not tempered!

    So, in my own opinion, if you decide that your child’s offense is worthy of a spank, I think parents need to ask themselves… Am I doing it for their own good? Or, am I doing it out of my own anger/frustration/embarrassment (substitute your own feeling!)?

    In my own opinion, one smack is for the child. But more than that is for the PARENT. And that, I don’t believe, is ever okay. That is when “discipline” becomes too close kin to abuse.

    Blessings, all. Parenting is never easy, but sitting in judgment is. Support fellow parents, and always, always practice forgiveness, first. Your children will love you for it! 🙂

Leave A Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.