Psychologists, parents evaluate methods of discipline
SIKESTON - There's an old saying: spare the rod and spoil the child. But there seems to be a difference in opinion as to whether or not that's a bad thing.
Elizabeth Gershoff believes parents who spank their children risk causing long-term harm that outweighs the short-term benefit of instant obedience.
After analyzing six decades of research on corporal punishment, according to a recent Associated Press article the psychologist reportedly found links between spanking and several negative behaviors or experiences, including aggression, anti-social behavior and mental health problems.
A researcher at Columbia University's National Center for Children in Poverty, Gershoff spent five years on her project, analyzing 88 studies of corporal punishment conducted since 1938. The studies tracked both short- and long-term effects of spanking on children.
''Americans need to re-evaluate why we believe it is reasonable to hit young, vulnerable children, when it is against the law to hit other adults, prisoners and even animals,'' Gershoff writes in the new edition of the American Psychological Association's bimonthly journal.
And Kyle Schott, a clinical therapist at Bootheel Counseling Services agrees - to a certain extent. "Spanking does have a place in the disciplining of children, but only if it is accomplished correctly," he said. "Spanking is wrong when it is used too frequently and out of frustration. Spanking can certainly be a factor in aggression and other mental health problems. Parents who rely on corporal punishment as their primary means of discipline teach their children that it is OK to use aggression to get what they want."
There are many individuals like Kim Justice who believe there's not enough discipline in today's society which is the reason for the lack of respect shown by many young people.
"I disagree with the belief that spanking is wrong," said Justice, the mother of two boys, ages 9 and 7, and a 3-year-old daughter. "I think kids today get away with a lot, a lot more than I did," she said. "And I have to admit my own kids probably get by with things in a way. I think it is OK to spank as long as it's not abuse. When your kids aren't listening after you've repeatedly told them something then spanking is the right thing to do. When I spank one of my kids I do it so they will listen to me and hopefully learn from it. I also tell them why they are getting a spanking, I don't just spank them without an explanation, because I think that helps them to know what they did was wrong."
But Justice agrees that spanking can become a problem if the timing and reasoning are wrong. "If we're out somewhere I'll usually take them to the bathroom and spank them but I don't ever spank in anger because I don't want to hurt them. I think if an adult is too angry at that moment, spanking can be a dangerous thing and can turn into abuse."
Schott described spanking children under age 2 as entirely inappropriate and he advised against using a belt. He said only an open hand should be used to the rear of a child.
"Spanking does not teach right from wrong, it teaches fear and aggression," Schott said. "The use of corporal punishment to gain instant obedience is usually inappropriate except in those instances that could be life-threatening or dangerous. For instance, a young child who runs into the street can be effectively disciplined through spanking."
Stop, step back and take a few deep breaths before taking any action. "Make sure you are calm," advised Schott. "If a parent spanks out of anger his or her own adrenaline is flowing which could lead to excessive force. If it is used to gain quick compliance then it is best to use alternative methods."
Although using other methods may take more time, he pointed out they are not psychologically damaging to the child. He named several alternatives to spanking, such as restricting privileges, time out, etc. The important thing to remember, he said, is to be consistent and logical.
"We certainly do not need more corporal punishment," he said. "There can be plenty of discipline in the home without corporal punishment. Some good old-fashioned positive reinforcement can also go a long way in getting the desired behaviors from your child. My rule of thumb is this: You cannot treat a child bad enough to make them be good. As an adult, if someone hits me I doubt I will want to do what he or she wants. Children are the same way."