Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Getting all fired up!

A couple of hotly debated parenting topics have been bombarding the web in the last couple weeks, first it was breastfeeding last week and now it is spanking. These also happen to be two issues that I feel pretty darn strongly about (as do a lot of people based on the responses on-line to the recent studies released about these topics). As I have mentioned before, my decision to become a parent did not come lightly, mainly because I believe that children should be born into a family, and since I happen to define ‘family’ pretty broadly I will say for this purpose, a family is at least 1 person willing to make the necessary commitment, sacrifices and prioritization to that a child or children (which I discuss in more detail in my post, Accountability) to be the best parent they can be. Throughout my career I have focused on strengthening families in an effort to make children’s lives better and now that I am a parent I am trying to implement a lot of the lessons I learned in my education and professional life to be the best parent I can be.

I had a brief stint working in the foster care system in Detroit (a true eye-opener to the struggles families are faced with) and as with any human service job, I had to go through regular trainings on a range of topics related to parenting, child development, etc. One of the trainings I attended discussed different discipline methods and the merits and shortcomings of each. The training specifically discussed how many parents still resort to corporal punishment or spanking their children, for a lot of reasons but mainly because that’s how they were raised. In fact a good portion of the training had to do with debunking the many excuses people use to justify spanking their children, from religious and cultural beliefs to the all too familiar “I was spanked and turned out ok” excuse. To the latter, the presenter pointed to children’s resilience to overcome many horrific circumstances and experiences to become well-adjusted, productive adults and reasoned that if you were spanked and ‘turned out ok’ it was IN SPITE OF spanking NOT because of spanking.

This makes so much sense when you think about it. It especially gives explanation to all the people that are currently trying to point out all the exceptions to the recent study linking spanking to aggressive behaviors in children. The fact of the matter is that each child is a unique individual with their own personality, reactions to different stimuli and temperament and that doesn’t even take into account the differences in their external environments. So, of course not ALL children who are spanked will end up being aggressive bullies, some will retreat within themselves and begin to question their worth, some will resort to numbing their feelings later in life with any number of addictions, some will become victims within their future relationships and still some will turn out “OK.” But to use those that turn out ok as an excuse to hit is like pointing to those of us that were abused in other types of ways that are clearly unacceptable in our society and saying that it’s ok to abuse children because some of them turn out ‘ok.’

Now, I came from a family that spanked and even though I was probably spanked fewer than a handful of times, my brothers were no strangers to being spanked and I can tell you how horrifying it is to have to listen to a sibling being spanked, so I can only assume the amount of emotional and physical pain as well as humiliation the victim is going through. Probably because of this in addition to my education in child development and chosen career path within children’s services, I have always been opposed to spanking. I have always known in my heart of hearts that this was not the way to discipline a child. Through my education, I learned what I always knew to be true, spanking only teaches children that it’s ok to hit. There has been more than one anecdotal report where a parent is asked why they are spanking only to hear the reply “to teach them not to fight/hit.” So, given the clear absurdity of that statement, I find it truly baffling that still, 90% of parents believe it is ok to spank.

The real issue comes down to figuring out a way to discipline our children that doesn’t have the possibility of disrupting their development or sending mixed messages about love, authority and discipline. It comes down to putting forth the effort in raising our children that doesn’t resort to heat of the moment reactions and violence. It is time to invest the time and energy to educate ourselves in being better parents, which includes the job of disciplining our children. Because I have yet to run across a study that points out the negative repercussions of time-out.

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