So the other day I got into a rather heated debate with my brother about spanking. We were both spanked as children, and as parents ourselves, the question of appropriate discipline and the related issue of not becoming our parents comes up occasionally.
My fallback position is always to go to the literature, but in this case the literature is somewhat ambiguous at best. Some researchers have found that spanking, as a form of correction, is ineffective and may lead to greater violence later in life. Others criticize this research on the grounds that abusive and non-abusive spanking are not distinguished, or that if over-utilized, all forms of discipline lose effectiveness. (cite).
What surprised me the most when I further researched this question was the definition of non-abusive spanking, as opposed to abuse. One article in opposing views, non-abusive spanking is defined as “one or two swats” to the buttocks, and abusive behavior as “physical assault”, that is, kicking, punching, or slapping the face and body.
This completely excludes spanking as I experienced it as a child. I suspect that it excludes most thirty-something’s experience of spanking as children. And what bothers me about that is that when the word “spanking” is invoked, we go to what we know, not to what the literature refers to. It would never occur to me that a single swat on the butt would be classified as a “spanking”, simply because it is so far removed from my experience. Similarly, I wouldn’t consider a slap or a punch to the face to be a form of spanking or even corporal punishment, again because of the separation from my own childhood experience.
So what do you all think? Should skeptical parents spank their children as a form of discipline? Is this an empirical question or a matter of opinion? What do you consider spanking? What role do studies and research play in your position?