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We Still Spank, We Just Don't Admit It

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Recently headlines and hot takes have been decrying the use of spanking in our country. NBC’s mini-series “The Slap” follows the life-altering effects of a parent slapping a child at a birthday party. Before that, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted for hitting his child with a wooden switch. Additionally, Jillian Keegan has been adding to this dialogue by arguing that spanking a child is akin to sexual abuse.

RELATED: How 'The Slap' Is Just Like a Mom Blog

It’s in this climate of anti-spanking dialogue that Kathryn Jezer-Morton, writing for Jezebel, argues that we are in a post-hitting era. She writes: “But according to the middle-class mores of our time—and I would argue that this is an issue where class lines are more telling than race, despite the obvious intersections of the two—using threats and acts of violence to teach your kids discipline is not OK.”

Jezer-Morton has a thoughtful approach to discipline, trying to find her way around raising spoiled and indulged children without resorting to corporal punishment. I too face the same dilemmas with my children and have had to resort to some pretty creative punishments, like making my daughter who loves dresses wear pants when she was misbehaving.

But ultimately, I disagree with Jezer-Morton. We are not in a post-hitting era. Some 81 percent of parents still think spanking is OK. And if you talk to a parent who spanks, it's clear—they don't just think spanking is OK, they think it's necessary.

This is the problem with gauging our national temperature based on hot takes. While the dialogue is going in one direction, it’s clear our society isn’t following suit. And we aren't just leaving people out of the discussion, we are failing to discuss this issue in the first place.

Anti-spanking dialogue hasn’t rid our society of spanking, its only pushed it underground. Parents are still spanking; they just aren’t talking about it publicly out of fear.

I live in the Midwest and I know plenty of parents who spank. They don’t admit it openly. I often hear them dancing around the idea of spanking trying to suss each other out. They use coded words: “painful consequences” or “I’ll punish you like my mom punished me” or “Let’s have a chat in the car” or replace “car” with “the other room,” “your room” or “the bedroom.” I asked a friend of mine about this last week. “Why don’t you just say the word ‘spank’?” I asked.

“Because,” she said lowering her voice (we were at a Chik-fil-a), “I don’t want someone thinking I abuse my kids and calling CPS. But it’s really the only way I can give my son a punishment that has any effect on him.”

She said she wants another parent to admit they spank before she will admit it to them. But she did say it’s a relief to be able to talk about it with another parent. “People are so judgy,” she added. “I don’t want to have to deal with other people telling me how to raise my kids.”

Anti-spanking dialogue hasn’t rid our society of spanking; its only pushed it underground. Parents are still spanking, they just aren’t talking about it publicly out of fear. And before you say, “Good, they should be afraid,” let’s stop a moment and consider that when parents aren’t openly discussing something, they aren’t getting ideas and finding solutions. It’s a kind of cognitive dissonance. When faced with the reality that spanking might actually be wrong, parents have just entrenched themselves in their pro-corporal punishment stance even further.

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If this dialogue is going to make any sort of difference, we have to move away from shame and criminalizing and give parents some alternatives. I love a good time out, but honestly, it’s not always effective. Parents need more options than talking it out with a kid or time out. Those are pretty lame. Also, talking to a screaming 2-year-old? I’d rather argue semiotics with a feral cat. The best punishments I’ve discovered are when we, to appropriate the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, make the punishment fit the kid. But what that looks like and what that is will depend on your kid and you and the situation. And it’s hard.

We get nowhere simply telling parents “don’t hit.” The dialogue has to be bigger and invite everyone in. Otherwise, it’s leaving everyone out—including the 81 percent who still hit their kids.

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