Spanking: Which Side of the Fence Are You On?

What Experts Don't Know

One explanation for the fascination with discipline is that most parents think -- at least when it comes to physical punishment -- that the experts are all wet. "I was spanked," parents often say, "and I turned out fine."

Sure, most moms and dads are eager to adopt health and safety innovations their own parents didn't use, like car seats, bike helmets, and sunscreen. But when it comes to spanking, many parents doubt the experts have actually ever been on the losing end of a toddler meltdown. And of course, many spankers are following expert advice, just different experts. They cite popular author John Rosemond and church-based psychologist James Dobson, Ph.D., who think occasional and carefully administered spanking can be effective.

In the past, spanking has been regarded as something good parents do, and 79 percent of those we polled say they were spanked as kids. "Most of us have a parenting style based on our own experiences as a kid," says Parents adviser Sal Severe, Ph.D., author of How to Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too! "When we're upset, we're particularly likely to revert back to how we were raised. And since most of us were spanked, we spank."

There's another reason parents today are resorting to physical punishment. "People see that the pendulum has swung too far, in terms of permissiveness," Dr. Severe says. "And for many parents, spanking makes them feel that they are being strict."

But Dr. Severe thinks the main reason parents spank is out of sheer frustration. Raising children is difficult, and the years between 2 and 6, when most spanking occurs, are especially rough. "People just don't know what to do when the child misbehaves, so they spank," he says. "But spanking only works in the same way that giving in to a tantrum and buying a child a candy bar works. It's a very temporary solution."

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