Spanking

Before you send me to jail would you mind if I shared a few thoughts?

The debate on spanking has raged for years and it is common for those on the anti-spanking side of the debate to argue for the criminalization of the practice. However, the prospect of this actually happening has remained very theoretical … until now.

The new Liberal government has, indirectly, promised to to take this discussion out of the ream of theory and into the realm of law. Specifically, it has vowed to implement all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation commission (TRC). One of those 94 “calls to action” (CTA) is to repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Section 43 is, of course, contains the language that allows parents, teachers, and other adults in the place of parents to discipline children with “reasonable” force.

Thus, if the Liberals do intend to fully implement the calls of the TRC spanking will no longer carry an exception. Parents who spank, could be charged with child abuse!

I, and many others I am sure, have zero intention of ceasing to spank my children: whatever the law says.

So, back to my subtitle. Before you send me to jail would you mind if I shared a few thoughts?

Yes, spanking can be abusive

The TRC had the repeal of section 43 as one of its CTA’s for good reason! If you have not read the TRC report, I strongly suggest you do. The abuse the report outlines is horrific. I find the fact that such things happened here in Canada during my lifetime almost unbelievable. Reconciliation between the people of Canada as a whole and the first nations who live among us is going to be a long and hard road. However, it is of utmost importance we walk that road with determination and urgency.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to document the many and varied abuses of the residential school system. However, spanking as institutional abuse is certainly counted among them. I unreservedly condemn this abuse in the strongest possible terms; It was, and is, a grievous sin against man, and against God. The suffering it caused will be with us for generations.

Abusive spanking, unfortunately, goes beyond even the horrors of the residential schools.

Some parents neglect their responsibility to love and care for their children. Children may be seen as an inconvenience or worse. The situation may be compounded by substance abuse and/or mental illness. Harsh spanking may be just one of many assaults on the child's dignity, health, and even on their life.

Each time I read one of these stories in the news my heart sinks. I feel hopeless to help these kids that need someone to love them but find only abuse from the very people who are supposed to care for them.

And the number of these stories is shocking! I don’t just mean the ones that make the news; over 8,000 kids are in government care in BC alone. This represents a huge failure of parenting in our society.

However, when I say that, “spanking can be abusive” I don’t just mean institutional abuse like the TRC outlines or even abuse that gets to the point where the government steps in.

The truth is that spanking, even when used by parents who deeply love their children and want the best for them, can on occasion be abusive. It can be all too easy to take the easy way out and just give the kid a spanking when really another tool in the parenting toolbox would have been more appropriate and effective. Whatever discipline tool is used, Parent mis-read a situation and punish the victim an not the perpetrator. And of course parents are human and sometime do things in anger they later regret.

In all these cases, parents need to set a good example for their children of repentance and humility. When such situations arise parents should do the same thing the tell their kids to do when they hit another kid: they should say “sorry”, they should ask for forgiveness, they should give their kids a hug.

In all but the most extreme cases, sending the parent to jail seems to me to be an … overreaction.

Additionally, may I put to you that such a response would not be in the best interests of the children? Whatever your views on spanking, surely you don’t believe that taking their mom and dad away to prison and putting them in the care of a stranger will lead to better outcomes?

The abuses of spanking outlined above are just that: abuses. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater by criminalizing spanking is not a justified response. Spanking, does and will continue to have an important place in the parents toolkit.

No teachers don’t need to spank my kids

This is pretty straightforward. Banning spanking by teachers and caregivers is an appropriate response to the TRC report. It is my understanding that this practice is already exceedingly rare. I don’t think you will find any strong reaction to such a course of action.

Truth be told, I don’t want anyone else spanking my kids anyway.

Sometimes spanking IS the appropriate tool

Once, a number of years ago, I found my three young children playing with a plastic shopping bag. When I found them, the bag was (loosely) over one of their heads.

Of course, we had a long and stern discussion about why this would never happen again. This was followed up by a wooden spoon to each of their bums and a strict warning to expect the same if I they ever put a plastic bag over anyone's head ever again!

I love my kids dearly. I do not want to find one of them dead with a bag over their head. A spanking was absolutely the right tool that day.

Spanking is not the only tool in my parenting toolbox which is as it should be for all parents. Spanking is only one dozens of techniques that parents can use as appropriate. It should very rarely be the first tool used. However, as the anecdote above illustrates, there are times where it does need to be used.

I know of no other tool that would have made the necessary impression on my kids that day. It seems to me that a time-out just wouldn't have done the job.

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” — Proverbs 13:24

Proverbs 13:24 is just one of many verses in the bible that speak of discipline in general and corporal punishment in particular.

The specific verse uses very strong language. A failure to properly discipline out kids implies that we hate out children. I believe that the gist of this verse is discipline in the general case (all the tools in the toolbox). However, we must note that it explicitly mentions “the rod” as a specific tool to be used in some cases.

This brings me to my final thought.

Christians are not just going to roll over on this issue

Yes, I know that not all Christians believe in spanking. And, yes, it is hardly the most significant theological hill to die on.

However, Christian or not, pro-spanking or anti-spanking, you need to realize that me and many Christians like me are not going to stop believing what the bible says about this issue. Like it or not, we are not going away.

This means that if you are going to criminalize spanking you need to decide (preferably in advance) what you are going to do with me. Are you really going to put me in jail?

Like I said, spanking isn't the most significant theological issue facing the church or society today. However, it isn't an issue we can just ignore either.

Also, I don’t really expect I’ll be put in jail. Unfortunately, The reality will probably be much worse.

I expect that middle class white families like mine will get a free pass as long as we are appropriately discreet. However, other families, the ones already on the margins will not be so lucky. I suspect that this will become yet another tool used to kick those who are already down.

Black families, poor families, immigrant families, these are the families who’s dads will be stripped from them. We will see even more children grow up without fathers and mothers. The cycles of poverty and neglect will continue.

I don’t see that as a positive outcome for the TRC.

Jeff Paetkau

CC BY 3.0