Now You Can Finally Stop Hitting Your Kids

I don’t know of a single good parent who likes spanking their kids. I don’t know how one could.

We surely hated it, but we didn’t know better: The Bible seemed to sanction it, our Christian parents had certainly spanked us lots of times, and it seemed to work, too.

After a while, however, as we continued to hate spanking (we actually really liked our firstborn–cute little Trevor), we realized that it was no more efficacious than other modes of discipline. Sure, it worked sometimes, but not always. And that was true of other forms of discipline we used that were not violent.

So that was that. We quit doing it while Son Number One was still small. Son Number Two got spanked a bit. Son Number Three has never been spanked. And all of them have become juvenile delinquents, defiers of authority, drug abusers, and violent maniacs–when they’re not going to university, church, or choir practice, that is.

On the Bible part, Dr. William Webb has painstakingly argued the most moderate case possible against spanking in his new book, Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts (InterVarsity, 2011). You’d simply have to want to spank your kids to keep spanking them after reading this book.

On the social science part, lots of media are reporting on an article  in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that concludes that, sure, whacking a kid can stop certain undesirable behaviours for a while (children do tend to leave off doing things that earn them sharp pain), but you reap what you sow. Guess what? Kids who are smacked tend to smack and they generally become more aggressive than their non-spanked peers.

UPDATE: Here is the citation: Durrant J and Ensom R. “Physical punishment of children: Lessons from 20 years of research” CMAJ 2012; DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.101314.

Evangelical organizations in both Canada and the United States have lined up on the wrong side of this issue, defending parents’ “rights” to spank their children as a religious freedom issue when they ought to be defending children’s rights not to be hurt by parents who don’t know better. If we are against honour killings, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, polygamy, and other violence against children sanctioned by other people’s religions, let’s stop the violence sanctioned by our own. Jesus showed himself to be particularly concerned about children, and we ought to be, too.

Here’s good news, Christian parents: Now you can finally stop hitting your kids. And let’s stop other people from hitting theirs.

56 Responses to “Now You Can Finally Stop Hitting Your Kids”

  1. evedyahu

    WOW. Another controversial topic (at least in some circles). I think only history will tell us which approach is better. I must say – from what I see so far, that the ‘non-spanked’ generation does look in a lot worse shape (and I dare say more angry and violent) than the spanked one [yes – I was also spanked and I thank my parents for that; well – most times! :)].

    I used to coach sports in a prep school (these were rich kids and I doubt any of them got spanked) and I just could not figure out why they were so angry…their music was angry, a lack of discipline etc…And I think this can be seen in many other areas!

  2. Dan Masshardt

    That’s all well and good, but what is the alternative means of discipline?

    • John Stackhouse

      Thanks for this clever response, Dan! Yes, the main reasons why lots of parents hit their kids are (1) they lack the imagination or the determination to actually find out about other forms of discipline that do work (although books and books have been written about this subject since the 1960s) and (2) they’re too tired or lazy to do anything other than whack ’em when they’re bad.

      • Dennis

        My parents were like a lot of African American parents of their generation and they did spank me. I’m not here to defend it, but neither did I start spanking my nephews either.

        I take issue with your reasons why parents spank which amounts to people being dumb. My parents who are now in their 70s and 80s were trying to do the best they can to raise their son. If I ever do have children, I won’t spank them, but I also won’t look down on my parents.

        I can tell that you feel passionately on this issue, but please don’t paint those parents that were good, but imperfect parents in the way that you just did in the paragraph above.

        • John Stackhouse

          I’m not saying your parents were dumb. My wife and I weren’t dumb, either, and we also did the best we could. We weren’t dumb–we were just wrong. Please read carefully: I’m trying to write carefully. I talk about “the main reasons why lots of parents hit their kids” but I’m not saying that the ONLY reasons why ANY parents hit their kids, etc.

          • Dennis


            Just to be clear, this is the sentence I was referring to:

            Thanks for this clever response, Dan! Yes, the main reasons why lots of parents hit their kids are (1) they lack the imagination or the determination to actually find out about other forms of discipline that do work (although books and books have been written about this subject since the 1960s) and (2) they’re too tired or lazy to do anything other than whack ‘em when they’re bad.

            Maybe I’m wrong, but the way you wrote that paragraph seemed rather sweeping. It one thing to say that here are some reasons why parents might hit their kids, but you said here are the main reasons why lots of parents do this. The way your wrote seemed careless.

            One more point: if we are wanting to change a practice like spanking, it’s not going to go away simply because books have been written advocating against it. Culture also plays a role and that takes some time to change. In African American culture, spanking was part of what it meant to raise a child well into the 1990s, if not even up to present day. I think it can change, but since parents learn parenting from their parents, it will take some time to unlearn the idea that spanking is not the best way to raise a child.

            I don’t mean to be harsh, but I am a momma’s boy ready to defend his parents. I apologize if I over reacted.

          • evedyahu

            “Parents do not need to spank their children, on biblical or social scientific grounds. So isn’t this good news? Aren’t we glad to hear that? Aren’t we glad to be able to stop striking the little people we love best, and to encourage our adult children not to strike our beloved grandchildren?”

            John – this is good news only if you believe the social scientific studies! It just so happens that some are not convinced by this study…mostly because we do not see the brave new civil generation raised on a ‘non=spanking’ platform.

            Here is an article that clearly disagrees with the Canadian study:


            See also this one!

            • John Stackhouse

              I’m a bit confused. The first citation is to a poster, not even a refereed journal article, that was published years ago and the article I’m citing is coming out from a major refereed journal to be published this coming week. On what scholarly grounds would you prefer the former to the latter? Maybe you’d like to wait and read the article first?

              I never could get the Christian Science Monitor article to load, the second one you cite, but I’ll keep trying.

              In the meanwhile, though, you keep referring to spanking vs. nonspanking as a major social fact without any evidence that (1) spanking is the key factor at work in the changes you see and (2) this correlation holds in subcultures that continue to spank.

              So until you’re ready to argue the social science in a scientific way, I don’t see the point in continuing this line of discussion.

              • evedyahu

                John – I thought that the article has some weight because of the writers and also because of where it was presented (Poster presented at the XXVI International Congress of Psychology, Montreal, August 18, 1996). It is also posted on the OSU Human Sciences site. I have not seen any links to a peer reviewed article arguing the opposite view. I only read a brief article on Yahoo.

                It seems to me that most of these anti-spanking articles have focused on cases where there was actually child abuse involved (not mild spanking done in love): “only one made any attempt to exclude child abuse from the measure of corporal punishment.”

                Of course I could be wrong – so I agree that I should read the upcoming article in the major journal.

  3. Andrew Tsai

    I agree with evedyahu. Not only in the West, but also in Taiwan where I am, the younger generation does seem to have less self control, ignore more rules, and exhibit more violence. After the public schools ban spanking as a form of punishment/discipline, teachers have been having a hard time keeping students in order (my step-dad is a public school teacher for two decades).
    Perhaps these changes of behavior does not have direct relationship with the change of the form of discipline, but I still can’t stop wandering about it. At least there is one thing for sure, the data does not show that my generation, and your generation, after experiencing spanking, exhibit more violence, etc.

    No one will argue against the fact that improper spanking (done in rage, without legit reason, etc.) causes harm to children. But it is a long way to argue from the harm of improper spanking to discouragement/ban on all spanking.

  4. John Stackhouse

    Before we have anyone else say anything unintelligent about how spanking made the previous generation better than the current generation, let’s just remember that the burden of proof is on you to show that it was SPANKING that made the difference–versus, say, much higher incidence of divorce and the dynamics of two+ homes and parental units; exposure to television; a post-60’s regime of anti-authoritarianism; greater litigation regarding all sorts of discipline; and so on, and so on.

    AND you would need to show that the previous “spanked” generation that was more mindful of authority did not also make negative trade-offs: acts more aggressively (as the research apparently shows), acts less creatively (because more deferential or fearful), etc.

    So if you’re going to argue for or against spanking, please argue sensibly in a clear, well-evidenced chain of evidence and logic.

    • Andrew Tsai

      I believe the burden of proof lies at BOTH sides. Yes, those of us who want to argue FOR spanking need to show that it actually works. But the other side, those who claim that spanking SHOULD NOT be a form of discipline, should also present a convincing argument.

      I do not know what kind of evidence you are asking. It sounds like it would be extremely hard to provide. Something like a statistics that study the behavior of kids who grow up in homes that spank kids LOVINGLY versus the behavior of kids who grow up in homes that do not spank their kids but use other methods LOVINGLY. The difficult part is to decide what constitutes a loving discipline in both sides. My hunch is that even if this study is done successfully, it will turn out that both sides are well-functioning adults. My point (thesis?) is that whatever discipline you inflict on children, it should be done in love. When perceived as a loving action, kids do receive discipline well. You may say, if there is no difference why still do spanking? I will say, if no difference, why not?

      On the other hand, what evidence do you have against loving spanking?
      Of course it is easy to come up with statistics on how kids who grow up in violent homes exhibit such and such behavior more than kids who grow up in other peaceful households. But such study does not itself prove the badness of spanking.

      In the end, the best proof is our experience, our testimony. Ask around those who feel resentful towards their parents spanking, and you will NOT find those spanking to be pretty. Ask around those who feel grateful for their parents spanking them, and you find loving parents who proceed their spanking in moderateness.

  5. Jeff

    Meh, depends upon the child. My first and third kids needed spanking to simply get their attention. Second – looking at him crossly was enough. And the fourth – well she’s an angel and hasn’t done much wrong (kidding).

    I’m usually impressed by the formidable and prodigious cranial capacity Dr. Stackhouse brings to bear on a subject but this blog post sounds rushed. 🙂
    “defending children’s rights not to be hurt by parents” is a somewhat torturous reach and lacks proper definition. A good solid whack on the backside done in love to demonstrate the seriousness of an action and to call forth an immediate repentance is not the same as beating your child senseless (I’m filling in the blanks here since no definition was given). Without proper definition – all discipline simply becomes hurting your child – even putting a kid into a corner could be deemed psychologically damaging, no?

    • John Stackhouse

      I’m not making a distinction between hitting a child in mode A and hitting a child in mode B. Spanking parents are forever making this distinction, and I’m saying it’s bogus. OF COURSE it’s WORSE to hit more times, with more anger, with more violence. But I’m saying that is a difference of degree, not of kind. Spanking is a bad idea. Period.

      If you could not find a way to get your child’s attention other than to hurt them, then you needed to get more training as a parent. And if you think that spanking can be defended by a reductio argument that “all forms of discipline could conceivably damage a child,” then you’re just not arguing seriously.

      All discipline is not joyful, but sorrowful–that’s what Hebrews 12 says and that’s what we all know. So the key is to find the modes of discipline that produce good fruit–whether you’re a parent or a prison warden or a professor. How about modes of discipline that actually connect withdrawal of goods or experience of bads with the wrong behaviour of the child? How about modes of discipline that do not amount to fear of pain from someone who is supposed to be your centre of care? How about modes of discipline that we would never use on a fellow adult, but somehow think is all right to use on smaller, defenceless people? That’s what I’m asking.

      I’m not “rushing” anything, brother. I’ve thought about this for about 25 years.

      • Andrew Tsai

        You would have to convince me that spanking ITSELF is a bad idea. Look at me, and look at yourself, and look at all those people who have experienced spanking in their childhood. Do we really have trauma because of spanking? Not me.

        When done in love, spanking is received well. When not done in love, time out, or being grounded for one week can still create resentment in children.

        If you want to make an argument on degree, it will almost be self-contradictory in the end. Because time out or decrease of pocket money, etc. also make children miserable. That is only degree of difference from spanking.

        You say, “How about modes of discipline that actually connect withdrawal of goods or experience of bads with the wrong behaviour of the child?” 1. Of course spanking can connect with the wrong behavior of the child (disrespecting parents for one). 2. How about the consequence is too great or improper for the child to experience? e.g. if a child reaches his hand to the hot stove, would you really let him/her experience the sharp pain of burning? 3. I believe NOT all of the alternatives of discipline connect with the wrong behavior.

        You say, “How about modes of discipline that do not amount to fear of pain from someone who is supposed to be your centre of care?”
        I can use the same logic to disprove any form of discipline. Come on! All forms of discipline inflicts discomfort, as you admit in your blog entry. All forms of discipline create a fear in children so that they won’t do what get them that discipline again. If there is no fear, it won’t work.

        You say, “How about modes of discipline that we would never use on a fellow adult, but somehow think is all right to use on smaller, defenceless people?”
        I would never lock a fellow adult in his house. I would never ask a fellow adult to stand in the corner. I would never take pocket money away from a fellow adult. This analogy fails. The most important factor, parental relationship, is missing. We are not responsible for other adults; and they are not in our custody.

  6. Roger


    I am astonished at the arrogance of your response above where you categorize all the early responses as “unintellegent.” This coming from the one who confuses discipline wih violence and draws a straight line between genital mutilation, forced marriage, pologamy, violence to the discipline that you acknowledge you utilised as part of your own parenting journey is just plain sloppy thinking. To call it rushed is far too generous. This is a serious topic and deserves your best thinking not your first reaction.


    • John Stackhouse

      Take a breath, Brother Roger. I am not saying that people who disagree with my position are ipso facto unintelligent. I am saying that those who want to credit spanking with what they like about one generation’s behaviour over another (which is what those comments were saying and which I was explicitly referring to) need to actually show that spanking can be credited with such a result. To simply say, “One thing that is different today than was the case yesterday is X; therefore X is responsible for a bunch of other things that are different today than yesterday” is not yet a good argument.

      And I am clearly not confusing discipline with violence. I am identifying one form of religiously sanctioned yet illegitimate physical violence with other forms of religiously sanctioned illegitimate physical violence–which is what I think spanking is. I used to think spanking was legitimate violence and now I don’t. What’s intellectually defective with saying that?

    • evedyahu

      Well said Roger!

      I applaud Dr. Stackhouse’s call [and I admit that my points are simply based on common sense/experience/observation]: “So if you’re going to argue for or against spanking, please argue sensibly in a clear, well-evidenced chain of evidence and logic.”

      I just have not seen the clear, well-evidenced chain of evidence against spanking.

      There is no doubt that the issue is very complex [as Dr. Stackhouse says above]: there is more violence on TV, more violent games, more single families etc…but did the studies take that into consideration?

      The fact is, and this seems to be validated across many cultures [we saw an Asian example, I speak as an E European/American], there is more anger/violence and anti-social behavior today than in the past generation(s)! Now – if that is not due to the lack of spanking, I suggest dropping that kind of research (to avoid wasting taxpayer’s money) and focusing on what is actually causing the depression/anger/violence/antisocial behavior in the present generation! 🙂

  7. D.J. Brown

    Oh brother! I can’t believe that some of you still think that the only way to teach children to be well-behaved is by hitting them.
    My three children are in their 30’s and raising their own wonderful children without any need for hitting them.
    For goodness’ sake, puhleeze read some decent parenting books and stop resorting to spanking.

    • Andrew Tsai

      Nobody is claiming that spanking is the ONLY way. We are saying that spanking is a legitimate way of discipline, apart from other legitimate ways.

      • D.J. Brown

        Why hang on to a tool that means hitting your own beloved child when you don’t need to? Why are you so anxious to defend physical punishment?

        • Andrew Tsai

          You said, “Why are you so anxious to defend physical punishment?”
          With all due respect, D.J. Brown, guessing other person’s motive or emotional state is not a mature way of handling a discussion.

          I am simply trying to correct your obviously exaggerated and untrue summary of other side’s viewpoint.

          “Why hang on to a tool that means hitting your own beloved child when you don’t need to?”
          This question presupposes that corporal punishment is indeed an undesirable way of disciplining children. But that itself needs to be proven! If, as is shown by evedyahu’s link, that moderate and controlled corporal punishment does yield positive outcome, the question should be, “Why not use it?”

          For those of you who think that hitting somebody is simply wrong, you need to know that is no argument at all. We human society knows that violence is wrong from the beginning of civilization, but that does not stop parents from spanking their children for thousands of years. Unless you want to say that human beings are simply stupid and can’t see the contradiction for thousands of years, just appealing to this simple statement is next to meaningless.

  8. John Stackhouse

    If you seriously think that the burden of proof is equally distributed between those who think that hitting someone else is okay in some circumstances and those who don’t, then I throw up my hands. I respectfully suggest, as I do, that the person hitting someone else has the burden of proof squarely on his shoulders.

    And that’s the point. I was spanked by my parents, who loved me and provided for me in many ways–and they ought not to have spanked me. I am indeed traumatized by that experience, and it seems bizarre to me that you would presume that I would not be. My parents hit me, often, painfully. How could that not make a difference and possibly a negative one?

    I lived for a while on the South Side of Chicago. You want a culture that still believes in corporal punishment? Look no further and ask yourself if there happen to be any social pathologies in that situation that haven’t been smacked out of those kids.

    Of course children need discipline and I have agreed that of course discipline is always unpleasant. I also freely stipulate that other kinds of non-physical discipline can be abusive–just in case anyone wonders whether I am such an idiot that I would not stipulate that. So let’s agree that harmful discipline is harmful.

    My point is a simple one: Parents do not need to spank their children, on biblical or social scientific grounds. So isn’t this good news? Aren’t we glad to hear that? Aren’t we glad to be able to stop striking the little people we love best, and to encourage our adult children not to strike our beloved grandchildren? It might be worth asking yourself, Why do I feel I must dig in and defend spanking?

    • Andrew Tsai

      In the end, I think we have something in common, that is, spanking is not a necessary form of discipline. But I still contend that we don’t paint an ugly picture of those who spank their kids with moderateness.

  9. KD

    Great article. I agree with most of it. Some of the comments can be chalked up to a statement Tony Campolo once wrote which was, “Adventures in missing the point”. One thing I think John misses is the argument that the approach God models for us in Christ should be taken by parents. That is, that God uses love and self-sacrifice to demonstrate the right way. He absorbs the evil we commit and responds in love. The best approach to parenting is the example we see in the ultimate parent — our Father — which is absent of the corporal punishment we see in the Old Testament.

  10. Doris Goheen

    I actually worked for a school board teaching, among other things, parenting courses in which I taught parents other means of discipline other than spanking. Some of those were as follows
    Simply re-directing the child to another activity for the very young (3 and under)
    Using logical and natural consequences for those above the age of 3. For example, go outside without your mitts in mid winter and discovering your hands get very cold or know that coming home after curfew means staying home that long the next night, Instead of forcing them to eat something, saying nothing but giving no substitute and no food until the next meal.
    In addition, I found with my own children that giving choices took away much conflict. When my grandson wanted only cereal for dinner I gave him the choice of beans or corn and when he saw I wasn’t going to cave on the issue he finally chose the corn.
    When parents first start doing these things the children usually escalate the behaviour for about two weeks until they see their parent isn’t caving this time and they comply. In taking on this topic, I had to deal with the followers of Dr. Dobson who openly promotes spanking.

    • D.J. Brown

      Right on, Doris. I had to dispense with Dobson’s teaching when I was a young mother decades ago. I think many parents who resort to hitting are drawing unnecessary lines in the sand with their little ones and creating a confrontation where someone has to ‘win’. “Do what I say!”
      I learned the techniques that you’re recommending, and found that there are in fact very few times when one has to force one’s will on a child. Even then you can do it without hitting.
      I really don’t understand why Christians think that it’s righteous somehow to keep hitting kids. Why do they prioritize one ambiguous OT verse over the life-long experience we badly behaved children of God receive because of Christ – the Spirit’s infinitely gentle, guidance and instruction.

      • Andrew Tsai

        I clearly don’t see why the idea that somebody has to win is a bad one. It has to be part of discipline. You need to get the child to comply to your rules (or school’s rules, the law, etc.) How can your discipline work if children do not perceive that they can’t get their way?
        Besides, letting your kids have time out, or grounding them for a week, seems just like “somebody has to win.” Even giving your kids choices on things you desire them to have, but not giving them choices that they want in the first place does sound like “somebody has to win” too.

          • Lyle

            If someone has to win – then someone has to lose. Isn’t win-win better? Does it come to the point where sometimes a child loses? Sure. But hopefully it’s not about rules as much as it is about beliefs. Do I not lie because I’ll get in trouble/spanked/whatever or do I not lie because it breaks trust/hurts feelings/etc.

            • Andrew Tsai

              When we talk about winning or losing, a clear definition needs to be discussed. Of course I think win-win situation is better than win-lose situation, but what does win-win situation look like? How is that different from win-lose situation in practice? Is spanking by definition a win-lose situation, and how is that different from grounding the child for a week in terms of win-win or win-lose?
              I agree that we need to teach children values and virtues instead of just cold obedience to the “rules.” But sometimes young kids just don’t learn those values unless there is positive/negative reinforcement or punishment.

            • Lyle

              With respect to ‘win-win’ I think that happens when the child sees and understands what they did was wrong and then makes an (honest) effort to fix it. I don’t think that happens through punishment (and that is why I don’t punish my kids 7 and 9 year old kids or my junior high and high school students). I don’t understand how a relationship can be a safe place to problem solve when one person is given to hitting. Worst case scenario (the way I see it) is a natural consequence is enforced. The difference for me between punishment and discipline is that punishment intends hurt. A consequence is a natural progression (if you don’t do A, you can’t do B). Lastly, it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around why hitting needs to be proven as wrong. The argument that a child is so small/young/unintelligent/etc that they don’t understand and therefore *needs to be struck* blows my mind. Isn’t that worse? You’re hitting someone that doesn’t know better? What about people in care homes? If they don’t understand logic – hit them. Makes absolutely zero sense to me in any way.

            • Andrew Tsai

              You talk as if corporal punishment’s sole intention is to hurt while discipline is not. If you are talking about physical hurt, you are right, but I thought the point of discipline is to create discomfort in children. Sometimes grounding a child for a week is worse for him than getting hit on the palm with a stick. Tell me how being stripped away of spatial freedom is hot “hurt”?
              Also, I think you confuse good spanking from bad spanking. Just like there are good verbal correction (“please stop doing that.”) and bad verbal correction (“Why can’t you f****** leave it alone, you SOB?”), corporal punishment can be done wrong. And one big thing it can be wrong is that the child does not know why he is hit (the same goes to other forms of discipline if the child does not know why he is corrected.)

            • Lyle

              Maybe we’re arguing over semantics. I don’t believe the point of discipline (at least not in my attempts to practice it) is to cause discomfort. For me – it’s to teach. If there’s discomfort – it’s a natural byproduct that I don’t argue with (losing a privilege for example). But my primary aim is NOT to cause pain or discomfort, but to teach AND to find a better way.

              And I don’t think I confuse good spanking (oxymoron) with bad spanking (redundant).

  11. Mike in Pennsylvania

    I haven’t read the recommended book yet, but is its line of reasoning similar to that in Finally Feminist? I.e. (if I understand your argument) yes, physical discipline was present, used, and not condemned in the NT but the trajectory out of the NT leads to its ultimate rejection?

  12. Jeff King

    Thanks, Dr. Stackhouse, for the post. I do agree that it’s good news that we can dissolve the conceptual link between Biblical parenting and corporal punishment — thanks very much (once again) to William Webb for giving us another way to think about those hard passages faithfully. I also agree that, with each child that my wife and I have the privilege of parenting (and we’re at four now), it became increasingly obvious that spanking simply was not as effective as other forms of discipline.

    I wonder, though, if part of the backlash against the criticism of spanking (particularly when it gets politicized, as it recently did in the CBC news) derives from our fear as Christians that what is occuring is less a hermeneutical shift, as it is for Dr. Webb, than it is a threat posed by “the world” to what we conceive as our responsibilities as Christians. (I’m not suggesting that this is what IS happening; only that we might imagine at some level a correlation — which, in spite of its truth or falsehood, produces anxiety in us). I really admire the thesis (and content, of course) of your book on “Making the Best of It,” and have recommended it to many people. The question that lingered for me at the end of reading it was what we ought to do with that anxiety about “capitulating” — giving up the hard line on issues that we have inherited historically, rather than spiritually. In the context of your post, the implication I imagine many of your readers might have is like mine was initially: Today they’re (the government, the media, the schools, etc.) trying to take away my God-given right to spank, to tell me how I ought to parent; tomorrow, they’ll be telling me that I have to send my kids to public school/force them to get the HPV vaccine/put a computer in their bedroom. Obviously, this reaction is both a non sequitur and slippery-slope fallacy; however, I’ve offered only barely controversial examples to maintain a sense of the psychological and emotional background that prompts at least my own gut reaction: how dare “the world” force us not only to accept their conception of “the good,” but also to behave according to that conception?

    Reading your post, however, I was very grateful for your reminder that I can move beyond that gut reaction, that my kids are ultimately in God’s loving hands and not mine, and that faithfulness to Him in this responsibility is more important than insisting on my right to discipline in a particular way.

    But, I suppose the question remains at another level: how can we help each other as Christians to overcome these kinds of anxieties? (Perhaps a topic for another post?)

    Sorry for the overly long (and uneven) comment! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us…

    • John Stackhouse

      I think you are right that for some people the defense of spanking is connected with a broad agenda of defending Christian rights against what is perceived to be an encroaching social consensus against Christina values.

      The problem with this stance is that it is based on a false assumption: not every development in Canadian culture is anti-Christian. Because Canadian culture has been so deeply and relatively recently affected by Christianity, many cultural developments over the last generation in fact reflect values that Christians can endorse: increased regard for the handicapped (sidewalks, doors, buses), increased status of women, decreased tolerance of racism, protection of homosexuals from bullying and discrimination, and so on. We Christians should be rejoicing, in fact, that some aspects of Canadian society reflect Biblical values better than they did a generation or two ago.

      Not every change, then, must be feared and resisted. We need to discern each one carefully, realizing that powers of good (and especially the Holy Spirit) are at work in Canada today even as powers of evil are busy also. I think it’s a good thing that spanking is less and less seen as an acceptable option for parenting, even while I’m strongly against other developments in Canadian culture–which I write about here, in Faith Today, and elsewhere, so I shan’t start listing them here!

      So I agree with you that pastors, professors, parents, and others must help us all stop reacting to social changes reflexively, but reflectively. Let’s not be so afraid, but faithful and, yes, even hopeful that God is still at work and still at work everywhere, not just in our own institutions of family and church.

  13. Roger

    I am following this conversation with great interest and trying to detect patterns in the arguments and postions offered. I appreciate those who have cited a variety of positions including John’s initial reference to Dr Webb. I will read him and others to gain a deeper understanding of the various positions.

    At the same time I am giving some thought to the following questions:

    1. What is the biblical mandate concerning discipline and does that mandate include the physical punishment of children?

    2. Has this mandate changed over time, and if so, for what reasons?

    3. When the Bible speaks of discipline now and in the future, inso far as it speaks of the future, does the discipline of which it speaks include phyiscal punishment, including the punishment of children?

    Just to telegraph my own experience as a placeholder. I was spanked, several times, as a child. I never once confused it with violence and was not and am not tramatised by it at all. As a parent of 3 grown children, I have not spanked my own children. They never gave me reason to. ( Okay, maybe they did). For those of my friends who have spanked their children, for reasons and motivations of their own, I have never confused that with violence. Personally, I have seen much more violence and damage accomplished with words, inaction, or neglect than I have with spanking.

    I am concerned about the tendency on this thread to propose categorical mandates for or against spanking that seem, from my reading, to flow from personal experience or latest argument as the basis.

    Looking forward to following the thread.


    • evedyahu

      Very well said Roger.

      For the rest – I think we should agree to disagree on this one. At least for now.

      What bothers me, is the superior attitude of some of the people who are clearly looking down on the ones who think that spanking may be legitimate in some situations. We are treated like some cave men who need to grow up and become civilized! 🙂 Maybe you are right.

      On the flip size – I have to agree that I have a different kind of ‘attitude of superiority’ thinking that here are some naive PC Christians who swallow everything that the liberal media publishes, even if it goes against centuries of experience and especially the Bible (I know you would dispute this and maybe you are right. I will try to read Webb’s book).

      Personally – I have to admit that I am fairly skeptical of the (liberal) media and I do not trust many of their studies. After all – I would not be surprised if a new study will show that kids raised in a single parent family are just as well adjusted etc as those raised by both of their biological parents…Industrial grade silicone is just as safe as medical grade silicone so go ahead with that kind of implants. Oops…”France’s health ministry recommended last week that the 30,000 women in the country with the implants have them taken out, saying that while there is no proven cancer risk, they could rupture dangerously.”] 🙂

      In any case, I hope that we will end up respecting each other and each other’s views. After all, what unites us is much greater!

  14. Aaron Leakey

    Hey John,

    I actually completely agree with your post- in that it is good to let go of any form of religiously sanctioned violence.

    I am just wondering if you think there would then be contexts that necessitate a compromised position? Like in the violence-non-violence discussions.

    I work with really rough kids, that’s why I ask. I think your right we do need to think creatively, and that is most important. What if the best (most shalom-bringing / loving) solution for some situations was a compromised one, like spanking? (I have not actually arrived at that, just wondering).


    • John Stackhouse

      Brother Aaron,

      When it comes to other forms of violence that are, in my view and in the view of the main tradition of the Church, sanctioned–the legitimate and proportional force used by police officers in arresting criminals or the act of war under certain conditions–the onus is on the one resorting to violence to demonstrate that it is the least bad and the most shalom-producing of all the available options.

      It is not enough, that is, to argue that “other options can be bad, too” or “I’ve seen other options used to damage others worse than what we’re planning to do by physical violence” or “I’ve had this done to me and it doesn’t bother me now,” but one must argue that “this is demonstrably the least bad option and every other one we can think of is definitely worse.”

      It is this principle that renders me unimpressed by the arguments on behalf of spanking adduced so far in this discussion. The burden of proof is not on those who say we shouldn’t hit children: it is on those who say we sometimes should.

      I do not have the requisite expertise to say whether spanking might be the least bad option in dealing with extreme cases. I can simply say that I am open to that line of argument in theory, as you guess I would be (that’s how I argue in “Making the Best of It” for police and military action). But you can tell from this exchange also that I’m not very open to it (!) in the sense that I cannot yet see how spanking a child would be the best of the available options in any situation.

      • Andrew Tsai

        Professor Stackhouse, I sincerely suggest that we probe the assumption that those who claim that we should not hit children do not need to present proof. After all, why are we against hitting in general? Isn’t it because of the consequences of hitting as well as the motive of hitting? We can present a good case why hitting in general is wrong, why not present a good case why hitting children as a form of discipline is wrong?

        I don’t major in philosophy, but common sense tells me that if you want to argue something, then the burden of proof is on you. Those who want to argue that spanking is sometimes better than other forms of discipline have burden of proof while those who are suspicious of this idea do not have the burden of proof — they simply need to point out the evidence of the other side does not stand. But what we have here is not entirely this kind of scenario. What we have here is two sides both having a point to make. One side is those who are for spanking, and the other side contends that spanking IS a bad idea (not just suspicious of it).

        Your assumption of the burden of proof resting solely on one side is begging the question — assuming already that everybody agrees that spanking is a bad idea (so needs to be proven otherwise), but that which awaits to be proven.

  15. Andrew Tsai

    I would also like to comment on the following logic that I see in this discussion:
    1. Corporal punishment is not the best way of discipline. There are other better ways.
    2. Therefore, corporal punishment should not be used ENTIRELY.
    3. Therefore, those parents who still practice corporal punishment NEED to stop

    What I am concerned is the underlying assumption that “not best”=”evil.”

    Even if I agree that spanking is not the best way of discipline in ANY circumstance, it does not follow that spanking becomes a monster to avoid at all cost. Of course we should strive to do what is the best in our lives, but come on, we live in a real world in which very often we do what is second-to-best and we don’t judge other people who do likewise.

    We all know that fast food is bad for our health, but we let our kids eat it anyway, and we don’t look down on other parents who do.
    We all know that computer games are waste of time, but we allow our kids to play them anyway, and we don’t look down on other parents who do.

    Why? Because fast food and computer games are NOT THAT BAD.

    And if you want to tell parents they should NEVER give kids PS3 or french fries, but you say, “the burden of proof lies on those who think sometimes they can offer these things to children,” you need to be ready that you won’t be taken seriously.

    So, what is so bad about moderate spanking that needs to be avoided at all cost, and the legitimacy of labeling those parents who still practice it as “uneducated” (or other not-so-nice adjectives)?

    • John Stackhouse

      I am surprised that the point about burden of proof needs to be made, but I will try to make it simply and clearly.

      (I have not called anyone names in this discussion, so I will not otherwise reply to your last remark. Disagreeing with people’s ideas and practices is not to insult them, it is to disagree with their ideas and practices. That’s what I have been doing.)

      So here goes:

      Hurting someone else needs justification in a way that not hurting someone else doesn’t. Therefore spanking needs justification in a way that not spanking doesn’t.

      Other forms of coercion, to be sure, similarly need justification: depriving someone of their property or liberty, for example. In the discussion we are having, one would justify these forms of coercion in terms of their appropriateness as forms of discipline.

      Given various disciplinary options–spanking, time out, verbal instruction, withdrawal of privileges, etc.–the selected option would need to be justified as better than the others, and especially in the case of an option that involves causing actual hurt to another person.

      Thus my basic point: If spanking is not the best disciplinary option–and I do not see, Biblically or social scientifically, that it is–then one ought not to resort to it. Conversely, those who do resort to it ought to be able to justify it as the best of the available options. If they cannot, then they should stop hitting their kids–and stop veiling this violence behind adverbs such as “moderately,” “lovingly,” and so on.

      And I will, for the last time, make this appeal: Aren’t you happy not to have to strike your children any more? If you feel you want to defend spanking, ask yourself what–or, perhaps better, whom–you are defending. Yourself? Your parents? Why? What is going on here that you want to cast yourself in the role of “defender of adults hitting kids”?

  16. zy

    Great post – I’ve been reading the blog and your books for a while, but don’t think I’ve commented. I first read “Finally Feminist” after Susan Bauer was vilified for her review of it. She was someone I respected, so I just had to read the book!

    We came to the decision to stop spanking with our 4th child – the 5th hasn’t been spanked. The 4th became uncontrollable when we spanked her at which point we had to decide: do we continue to essentially beat her with no positive results, or do we stop and think of a more effective method? Is it better to cause your child to fly into an offended rampage, or to help her calm down and see the error of her ways?

    Since I have 5 kids, it’s easy to see that different kids will respond differently to spanking. For the sensitive, people-pleasing types, it will be effective, and yet so will a stern word, or a gentle conversation. So why spank? For the “clueless” or “oblivious” types, it will be ineffective, because they don’t “get it” – a lot of training is in order. For the stubborn and stoic types, spanking will be interpreted as an offense against their person or an invasion of their autonomy (this idea taken from Please Understand Me by David Keirsey), and they won’t listen as long as their rights are being violated, although for the sake of self-preservation they may “submit” on the outside. This last describes me, and my 4th kid.

    The truth is, parenting without spanking is a lot more work, which is why I think (AND know from experience) we easily resort to spanking.

    Our decision was contrary to ALL the Christian advice we’d heard and read. But, you know what? Scripture is ambivalent at best on the topic, and it certainly doesn’t demand spanking.

    For the record, relatives, friends, strangers, doctors, teachers, and neighbors, are forever telling me they’ve never seen better behaved children. They also said this before we decided to move away from spanking. Maybe they’re exaggerating a little (: for they certainly don’t see all the things that I see, but I don’t regret moving to a choice which involves more thinking and effort on my part, as well as more thinking for my children. I won’t be around to spank them when they grow up, so hopefully they’ll have established good habits, self control and thoughtfulness when they’re still young (inner motivation instead of outside motivation).

  17. Eric

    This is a fascinating thread and interesting to read from a country where spanking is now illegal

    I was like any brought up in the school of – ‘well it certainly never did me any harm’ . . . except perhaps it did. I don’t mean psychologically, although my therapist avers in this regard, I mean it harmed me in that it made me a vehicle of violence against my own children.

    I’m the father of five and spanked, VERY sparingly, the first three

    What changed my mind on this was when one day I saw the fear in my third daughters eye

    Thanks for the post John

  18. Eric Kyte

    It also comes to mind that it wasn’t all that long ago in history that we stopped talking of a husband’s right to hit his wife. I guess no one is still arguing for this, yet many of the same arguments were made. ‘The rule of thumb’, was about of the thickness of a rod a husband might legally use to ‘chastise’ his errant spouse and this in countries where the church was powerful societally.

    Regarding smacking children though, I’m also reminded of the work of the very left field psychologist Alice Miller. Her work will not be flavour of the month for many who read this post I guess, and I have some reservations.

    Yet her important insight for me was how Bewildering the Adult world is to a small child – they make strange noises -behave in unpredictable ways, often laugh when something is distressing, exert untold Control because we are utterly dependent on them. They are at once our safe place and a place of radical uncertainty at times. And then they say they love us and beat us.

    It is hard to begin to imagine what this must be like. And we have either buried or forgotten that memory. If we hadn’t I think this issue would be a non-issue

  19. evedyahu

    This question is certainly related to our theology of suffering and also of God.

    Since many people on this blog (seems to me) lived and live in countries where Christians did not suffer (especially physical) pain, I can understand why suffering (it seems especially physical) is such a big problem. For some of us who lived in Communist or other countries where Christians suffered various kinds of persecution and (yes) physical pain, we learned to see its benefits too! While it can be argued that the pain was inflicted by the ‘bad guys,’ and that is certainly true, as believers in a sovereign God we also understood it as a way that God was disciplining us and working on our character. Some of the most beautiful characters I know/knew were people who were ‘chiseled’ by suffering (e.g. Richard Wurmbrand).

    Contrary to what one commentator said above [if I remember correctly] our God, the Loving Father, did punish His children [Israel etc] in various ways and some of them did involve PAIN (physical included).

    I would argue that PAIN can be good, including physical! It wakes up and it shows the danger of something in a way that other ways of discipline cannot and do not! [When I got a beating from my grandmother for going near some ponds where (supposedly) someone drowned, I received a fear of that place and fear of possible future punishment that I would have never got if I was put in a corner for 2 days. Obviously that was a good kind of fear, one that protected me from future dangers and also showed me how much my grandmother cared for me!]

    I will let John Piper speak on this matter much more eloquently (Would Jesus Spank a Child?). As one who is willing to go to jail over this issue, he is more qualified (

    I would highlight these sentences from that article:

    “I could give a whole theology of spanking here, but maybe I’ll just boil it down. Why does this person feel squeamish about spanking? My guess is that it is a wrong view of God.

    Deep down, does this person believe that God brings pain into our lives? Because Hebrews 12:6 makes the direct connection: God disciplines every son whom he loves, and spanks everyone that he delights in (my paraphrase). And the point there is suffering. God brings sufferings into our lives, and the writer of the Hebrews connects it to the parenting of God of his children.

    This is a wrong view of God! God uses suffering to discipline his children. So do we.”

    Note that he is relying on an NT text…and the primary meaning of the Greek is “to whip/flog” – used figuratively “to discipline/chastise.”

    Please understand that we are not uncivilized and uneducated ‘cave-men’ that are not aware of other methods of discipline and always resort to spanking. [In fact I am willing to bet that I spanked my children a lot less that some who are against in now but used to do it. And I do not defend this because I need to ‘justify’ my methods.] We just think that a very good case (no one responded to the article from the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review – that one has FACTS: can be made in favor of appropriate spanking and should not be taken off the table.

    In my opinion – this is NOT a major issue in Canada. Sure there are people who abuse their kids and forceful action should be taken against them. But appropriate and loving spanking IS NOT the problem in Canada. As one commentator said above: what about neglect? What about verbal abuse?

    If I am allowed to weigh in (as one who lived for about 8 years in Canada), I think a much more major problem in Canada is the problem of NEGLECT. I want to see a study in Canada (and the Western world in general) about the negative impacts of neglect. In the Western world that is the major problem. Kids left with their babysitters and TV/games etc because their parents are too busy to get rich and to maintain their lifestyles etc [NO – I am not saying that in ALL the families those are the reasons. I know that some need to work so they can survive.] But you know what? I doubt that you will see a study on the problem of NEGLECT. Because that would not be PC! It would imply that one of the parents may have to stay home and put family before career, and that is just a big “no no’ in enlightened 21st century.

    P.S. CANADA never ceases to fascinate me. A few months ago a woman was who strangled and killed her baby was freed…but please don’t spank your children because it is uncivilized! 🙂

    • Andrew Tsai

      I agree with the first half of your response, seriously. But perhaps the second half can be re-thought. As Professfor Stackhouse has already pointed out, mentioning of other bad forms of discipline does not in itself justify corporal punishment. Of course your point that neglect does not receive the attention it should may be right, but that only proves that neglect should be taken as a serious problem, not that spanking should be taken less seriously.

      Also, I do believe that there are a number of studies on neglect. One major finding that I learned in college is that authoritarian/controlling parenting style and permissive/neglect parenting style both produce errant-behaving children.

    • Lyle

      evedyahu I may regret sending this because I am not nearly as eloquent as 99% of the responders here but it would appear that your ‘argument’ is so full of fallacies it’s hard to decide what to respond to. Are there worse places to live in the world for a Christian? Yes. Irrelevant. Are there worse parenting practices? Yes. Irrelevant. Can God use bad stuff/pain/discomfort/suffering for good? Yes. Should we be agents of that bad stuff? (Rhetorical.) And as far as how long you lived in Canada – with all do respect – who cares? I’ve lived in Canada all my 37 years and my life experience does not make me an expert on Canadians. I have spent a few days in the United States though and I can bend your ear on their foreign policy but that’s for another post…

      The one point I want to seriously take issue with is your beating for venturing near the bad pond. Is it better you were hit then not taught to go near the pond at all? Agreed. Was it necessary you were hit? Maybe if no other alternative was thought of. Is the only other option to sit in a corner? No. My daughter once attempted to run out into traffic. I didn’t hit her, I didn’t punish her, I didn’t put her in the corner or ground her. We had a very serious talk about what would or could happen if she was hit by a car. Was she old enough to understand? Loud and clear. If she wasn’t – it would mean that I need to be attached to her until she’s old enough.

  20. John Stackhouse

    And with that I think we’ve come to the end of the comments, since my sense of things is that people are repeating themselves (including me) and we’re not adding anything new to the conversation.

    Check out the links I first adduced in my blog, consider the alternative voices offered by evedyahu (John Piper and Oklahoma State University’s Professor Larzelere), and weigh up the arguments offered here, such as they are. It’s simply obvious to me which way one ought to come out on this question, and I sincerely hope more parents will embrace the freedom to stop striking their children in the name of godly discipline.


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