The Spanking Debate


We believe spanking works.

"An effective discipline regimen has a variety of things -- time-outs, separating kids from activities, logical consequences -- and we use spanking too," says Jason Berggren, of Atlanta. When his boys, Aiden, 4, and Logan, 2, are defiant, Berggren and his wife, Lisa, give one warning. If the boys don't comply, they get a spanking. Immediately afterward, the Berggrens discuss the reason for the spanking with their boys.

The experts respond: Larzelere condones conditional spanking -- reasoning first, nonphysical punishment second, and if a child is still defiant, then an open-handed, two-swat spank on the buttocks for kids ages 2 to 6. But he adds a crucial caveat: "If parents are at risk for getting out of control, they need to do something to calm themselves down."

Once parents lose control, however, it's not always easy to get it back. The AAP reports that 44 percent of parents spank because they "lose it." And even if a parent could deliver a spanking calmly 100 percent of the time, spanking is simply not effective over time. "If children are hit, they'll stop what they're doing right away. But they will not stop in the future," Gershoff says. "When people say that spanking works, they're probably spanking and doing something else. They get the child's attention by spanking, and then they talk to the child about what he or she did wrong. Hitting, unfortunately, is one way to get a child's attention, but there are lots of other ways." Speaking in a stern tone of voice or touching a child on the arm are nonviolent alternatives for getting a child's attention. Of her own children, 4 and 2, Gershoff says, "One of the things I'm always trying to teach them is to not hit each other. Why in the world would I hit them if that's the message I'm trying to teach?"

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