I have no idea what you may personally think about spanking children. I was vehemently opposed to it when I was a child, but no one asked my opinion. All of my children are now too large to spank. Indeed, my son is larger than I am and could certainly take me out if the need arose. I am very polite to him. The story I’ve linked to here is from a National Public Radio program – and is by an Orthodox woman. I liked it.
It reminded me of an incident with my son when he was about three. I can’t remember what he’d done, but he was in trouble – with me. I raised my voice and frowned, I could feel a “whipping” coming on. Suddenly, he rushed forward, grabbed me around the legs and buried his face in my lap. Sobbing, he cried, “Forgive me!”
I thought at the time that I had never asked for such forgiveness from my heavenly Father, at least not with such force or intensity.
I forgave him.
Listen to the NPR story. It’s worth a few minutes.
The large anthropoid figure in the front of the boat is my son with Magdalen College Oxford in the background.
I admire (and aspire) to her greater point; for her sake though, as a fellow mother, I feel tender concern that she speaks so adamantly when she has but one young son. We ought not put ourselves in little boxes that time may require we outgrow.
My husband wonders if she hasn’t innocently wandered into a gnostic view of discipline, where the inner must inform the outer only. (He goes on to say) In our liturgy we express ourselves through externals, even when our attitudes do not parallel them. Yet through external disciplines we begin to reshape our internal perspective. This is not always true, but it is valid.
I heard this commentary on NPR when it was originally broadcast and was pleasantly surprised that the commentator was Orthodox. I had originally thought of linking to it on my own blog then it just slipped my mind (as do most things these days).
As for spanking, not me. I was on the receiving end of too many beatings to ever do that to my children. How can we tell our children we love them in one breath then in the next commit a violent act on them? Would Christ have ever physically punished one of his disciples?
Was Christ ever spanked by the Theotokos? By Joseph? I guess he would have never done anythng to deserve it.
Sparing the rod, who was it that said that by the way? I was spanked and my Daddy, southerners have Daddys, especially girls, Daddy was very wise about the whole thing. First off, from a very young age I knew what would get me in trouble and I was always warned, I always had a chance, there was always fairness in play and consistency, nobody changed the rules. Second, I wasn’t ever struck in anger, I knew what I did wrong, punishement was always for something drastic and then, after I had told him that I understood what I had done wrong, I was told I was a good girl and very much loved and it was forgiven & forgotten.
Three things could get me in trouble, lying, cheating or stealing (yep, Daddy was a Navy man).
I fear disappointing my father to this day because I love him so much. I worry about people who cannot discipline their children, and I don’t mean corporal punishment either, just plain ol’ discipline that is so good for their souls and helps them be good people and makes them productive and successful in life.
She was right about one thing, if you cannot do it effectively, don’t do it. I was only effective if my son was in danger, but I knew his currency and I have an iron will, tantrums don’t faze me, so they didn’t last long. I just love kids, wish I had had more!
Very nice post! I guess spanking does not serve the purpose, when I was little kid I once stole bigger sum of money and buy stickers of World Cup in football in Mexico. We were poor family, and I remember my mother was crying, but my father when he got back home forgave me, saying that his brother also stole money once and his father forgave him. Is there a stronger force in entire Universe than Forgiveness?
Father, have you read book by Alexander S. Neill -“Summerhill”? That book adresses one important issue, and that is scaring little children with religion and hell. And what consequences such things may have on child’s personality. Now, one of good things that socialism and communism gives (among all bad ones) is that religion becomes “forbidden fruit”. When I was a little kid, nobody scared me with eternal fire or something, nobody was even talking about God, so in that case I felt spontaneous inner urge to find what spirituality is, following divine sweetness inside the heart. I remember that we celebrated our slava in secrecy, because of communism.
Now people celebrate slava openly, making frequently show-business of that. The kids are now being educated in schools about Orthodoxy, but what happens? They tell them that if they swear God will punish them. And they tell them about hell and everything. From my point of view it is stupid to speak to children about tortures in hell, when children can better than us feel that God is all Love.
In my opinion, if someone tells a child that God will punish the child for something, that person makes unimaginable sin. It is far more dangerous than spanking, which is also bad, and opposed to freedom. If someone needs to correct a child, let him do it calmly and rationally with carefully chosen words, right after the child misbehave (child is aware when does something wrong, so no need for spanking). Who uses physical force must know that he has already lost his own freedom – that applies to countries and nations also, not people only.
I deeply agree
I didn’t mean to say there is only one way to discipline a child. What is obvious is that she cares about what her child is doing and responds. I came to the place where I ceased using violence with my children because it seemed out of context of our relationship and there were more effective ways to get the job done.
Incidentally, with my son, who was prone to wander, when nearing a street, we would shout, “Bad road!” and he would back away. I still laugh when I think about it.
There were emergency moments, as the commentator noted, when a swift swat was all I could do. But consistent rules, consistently enforced, tend to have the same effect. Though proverbs says “Spare the rod and spoil the child” I don’t know anyone who uses a rod. We need not be literal. But you can say that if you use no form of discipline, then you’ll likely get a bad result.
My wife and I use the switch, which might be the poor man’s version of the rod.
Forgive this long comment on a subject which is a source of some consternation for me.
It seems to me that we have a crisis of discipline among most persons in our society today, and I think that part of this has to do with the triumph of the therapeutic, to borrow Rieff’s phrase. Whether or not one spares the rod, it is clear that most children today are spoiled. I see this spoiling taking place in two areas:
First, most parents today bribe their children in order to attempt to get them to behave, and on top of that they reward bad behavior. This is ubiquitous in our culture today, even among Christians. The toddler throwing a fit in the store ends up getting what he wants and he grows into an adult whiner who whines until he gets what he wants, or simply whines incessantly. Most parents today are unwilling to spend the time and the energy required to not give in to their child’s selfish or harmful or rude demands. They do not want to be bothered by their children, so they do whatever it takes to shut the child up. I see virtually no difference between Christians, including Orthodox, and the rest of the culture in this regard. I wish that those parents of this sort who choose not to spank could see that their bribery and giving in is just as much a form of coercion as spanking, and generally far more harmful.
Second, television. The “American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television for children younger than two years of age” (see http://www.aap.org/healthtopics/mediause.cfm and click on “Television’s Impact on Children”). TV has been linked to decreased cognitive development and even neurological problems among small children (including seizures). I am a firm believer in human freedom, thus I admit that anomalies exist, but I have noticed, generally, that the more TV a child watches the more poorly behaved he or she tends to be. My wife and I do not know a single other Orthodox family who does not allow their children to watch TV, and frankly, we are very tired of that. We have heard and read of other Orthodox like us, but we do not happen to know any. This makes for a fair amount of awkwardness when it comes to play dates and even birthday parties and the like (what does it say when our festivities for children involve mass media – well, I’ll tell you what it says, it says that we want to teach our children that life is not real, there is only the mass media surreal).
Considering the above, my wife and I would be thrilled to find Orthodox friends who do not bribe or give in to their children and who do not degenerate their minds with TV. Spanking is thus down the list for us. My wife and I have known (Protestant and Roman Catholic) spanking and non-spanking parents who are with us on both of the above issues, and we are convinced that the above two factors have far more to do with successful child discipline than does spanking.
That said, we use the switch, and for reasons along the lines that Tia’s husband suggests. Let me say that I have never, ever punished my two year old daughter. I have trained her. There is a difference. When your two year old reaches for the fireplace, and you pull her away from it, gently tell her what was wrong with what she did, and then switch her arm, you are not punishing her. She is not old enough to really be culpable for what she does. You are training her not to hurt herself. The small amount of controlled pain provided by the switch is part of an effective deterrent from the greater pain of my child burning herself. I think that the consistent, gentle, and calm use of the switch is a very effective tool in disciplining most small children. Children have different personalities, thus some will respond differently than others.
Adults have different personalities too. I have a relative who I think should probably not ever spank his children because he only seems to do so out of anger. Mrs. Langston on the NPR piece says that she is unable to spank with consistency. I agree that one should discipline a child always and only dispassionately. But I am not inclined to agree with Mrs.Langston that her mystical contemplation leads her to a dispassion that should not involve spanking. I think that her mystical contemplation should rather lead her to a dispassion which allows her to spank dispassionately. She mentions earlier in her piece that she has a psychotherapist and that makes me wonder if there is a Jungian influence upon her idea of mystical contemplation. I have heard and read a dozen or so Orthodox use such religious language to defend their choice not to spank their children, but in most of those cases I think that the influence which lead to the decision was more contemporary sentiment and the triumph of the therapeutic than it was the writings of the Fathers, the Orthodox mystical life, our Trinitarian theology, or our distinct soteriology.
I would bet my house that virtually all faithful and devout Orthodox through the ages, until the last 1 or 2 generations, spanked their children. I think we can be fairly confident that most or all Orthodox saints who were parents spanked their small children as part of their normative disciplinary activity. This does not mean that we must spank, but it would seem to counter that increasingly common suggestion that the decision not to spank children is somehow more holy or more mystical than the decision to spank.
My wife and I both grew up in home environments which were not very disciplined. My parents used a form of spiritual manipulation not that dissimilar to what dreamscorner above mentions, and when they did spank (very rarely) it was in anger. My siblings and I were well behaved in public settings (church, where my dad was pastor) but we all went through (one still is going through) long periods of hating my parents. My wife’s home life was a moral free for all. I took to a Sex Pistols sort of life (to connect to the last part of the NPR piece) when I was in my teens and early twenties and I am very concerned that my children not repeat my mistakes in life, and that they have the opportunity to learn to live serious, disciplined lives. Perhaps I err on the side of overkill, but I very much hope and pray that my children do not have to have their own lives self destruct, as mine did, in order to learn some basic human disciplines. I have seen where the Sex Pistols lead; it ain’t all that great. I wish I had never gone down that route.
Forgive me, but my comment did not refer to you at all! I don’t think that you are kind of person who could use physical force to teach child what is right and what is wrong. But I do know some people who do deliberately beat their children or grandchildren, because they are 100% sure it is right way, and when I tell them that if they continue to do that I will consider they have lost their own freedom, they look at me and say that their other grown up children now are thanking them for bringing them up propely. And this is making me so sad. The violence so goes on, under name of duty.
I am just stating that people must not hide behind physical force. When my country was bombed in 1999 operation was given the name “Merciful Angel”. Now why just they did not threw bombs on our heads without such angelic name? Since it was not approved by UN Security Council, I consider that operation to be aggression on a sovereign country. But the same thing happens in ordinary life. Parents hit the child, since it was easiest way, it does not require diplomacy. Do they have the right to do it? And even it is not enough – so they add magical words, it is for “your own good.”
I deeply recommend Alexander S. Neill’s book about his experimental school Summerhill. A pupil in the school breaks the windows deliberately, and momentarily Neill as director punishes him with taking away his monthly allowances until the window is paid. When punishment is fair (not physical) and comes right after the wrong deed is done, then it is alright. Kid will understand that he did something wrong, and according to Neill in such way children do not develop neurosis. But,
What if child tells bad words and someone tells him that if he continues to do so, God will punish him? Or that he will go to hell or I don’t know what. Obviously, some religious teachers in Serbia frighten children with hell. I heard little cousin telling me with fear in voice, please don’t swear, God will punish you!!! ‘No He will not!- I instantly repled -He is all Love’. I should have been told: please don’t use bad words it is not nice, instead. But most obviously, someone likes to scare children with God. What a wrong policy!
The best way to teach a child discipline, is to be disciplined in my life. The best way of teaching is teaching by example. The best way to have friends is to be one. There are many wise people whose books one can read like Maria Montessori or Kurt Hahn.
to quote Albert Einstein
Physical force is not the worst thing that can happen. What will today’s civilization do with brainwashing in our educational system? (at least I am speaking about schools I attended)
By the way, I found interesting online resource about Education written by great Sufi philosopher Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan. I will provide link here, because these writings brought me many hours of pedagogical inspiration, although I do not belong to Sufi culture. Please take a look, it is very deep.
And, last but not least, I shall now remember wise words from St. Nicholai Velimirovich, Prayers by the Lake, XCV
I wrote a big comment, but again it tells me it is waiting for moderation, so please look in Moderation place as before to approve it.
Again, I did not refer to you in my previous comment at all. I believe that you are great father since you are sincerely interested in ethical questions (look how much energy you spend for writing this blog!). I think that any atheist father too will be great dad, if he is interested enough in ethical questions, pedagogical questions, and questions of individual freedom.
Wow, Fr. Stephan, this opened a can of worms!
I didn’t think you were referring to me. Sorry for any misunderstanding.
I think I agree with you. First, there must be discipline and it must be consistent. We certainly disciplined our children. The first two are married to priests and the second two have turned out well also.
We were fairly specific about use of television as well most of the time for our children, and certainly screened what could be watched. I believe you’re right about it’s impact on children.
Not to discipline a child would be not to love them. We were able, by paying attention, to generally discipline without spanking, though we did not have a principle that said no spanking.
We did not bribe (it’s also destructive as you said).
I was raised in a fairly violent time for American children. We were whipped with belts, and in anger. I certainly behaved in public up to a certain age. But I could not imagine inflicting that amount of physical pain on my children.
I think the woman on the NPR program was perhaps a bit off theologically, and I’m not sure I’d use theology to explain my discipline, other than to say love requires discipline (in some form).
But it’s an important topic. I agree that Orthodox parents probably spanked as much as anybody else through the centuries. And its certainly not forbidden in the canons…
We are told in Scripture, “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath” (Eph. 6:4). St. Paul doesn’t explain what he means here. But I remember being provoked to wrath a lot as a child. Apart from the whippings as well. Life felt irrational and dangerous.
But consistency and consequences (whether spanking, time-out, what have you) seem most important to me. As well as not using the tv as an unmonitored babysitter.
There’s not a perfect way of being a parent, since we are all sinful. It’s most important to do your best, pray for them a lot.
Stanley Hauerwas once said that the blessing and curse of children is that almost no matter what you do they’ll turn out to be like you. 🙂
I generally agree with och – American kids today are far, far more likely to be spoiled than abused.
I was spanked a ton as a kid and I don’t think it was a terrible thing. My parents had zero tolerance for flagrant disrespect and flagrant disobedience; my wife and I have followed the same principle. In contrast to my parents I have used spanking more as a last resort than a first, but I have resorted to it a handful of times. I’m not at all sorry I did.
And no TV either. We do watch videos (we have the whole Veggie Tales series practically memorized) but broadcast TV has never been seen in our home since we were married.
Thanks for answering, and sorry if I misunderstood anything. Stanley Hauerwas has said it in very interesting way. Duško Radović said that we should spank our children when we see that they resemble on us. Both sayings are interesting 🙂
I applaude for your TV attitude – there should be strong selection, and I am always sad when I compare today’s cartoons to those ones 20 and more years ago. Such lack of simplicity and aesthetics in cartoons today cannot be understood, because technology is advancing. Of course, I am not speaking about all cartoons, there are nice exceptions. And I would like to see Muppet Show again on TV.
Question now is – what do we really know about influence of 3D computer games on children minds? I suspect it can be dangerous, at least I get headache very soon when I try to play such games.
Dejan from dreams.cor ner
Ochlophobist, pleased to meet you; we are an Orthodox (almost, we are catechumens) family who does not use television. We do use a supply of DVD’s but no programming. We also limit computer and all screen media though we are using them in moderation, for a variety of reasons.
I would humbly urge you though, in regards to the method of discipline you described, to consider how like “shock treatment” it is, how debasing to a human it can be to train as if though an animal, and the consequences it can lead to. I would imagine we have read a few of the same books and though I don’t know the ages of your children, I can tell you that my husband and I have a testimony to offer with our first born and second, when we also utilized this method. If you are interested, please feel free to email me; this is not the place to continue in that vein.
I’ve always been amused by the “no spanking” crowd. They are only too happy to tell everybody how to raise their kids, yet I have never once heard “spankers” try to convince somebody to spank their children. And always the means used is guilt and shame. But always it’s a false shame, because the physical discipline is mischaracterized as “violence” or a “beating” so as to produce a feigned moral high ground. If you set out to refute a proposition, create a straw-man, and then proceed to knock the straw man down; you never refuted the proposition you set out to refute, only the false proposition you created.
I laugh at the “this will hurt me more than it will hurt you” line. My kids know it won’t me a bit, which makes them think twice. Fear is a civilizing influence.
I don’t think the term “time-out” had been invented yet when I was a kid, but the concept was certainly around. My parents did spank me (in fact, they broke a few yardsticks over my beind!), but they would occasionally supplement my punishment regimen by making me sit in solitary confinement with no books or TV for a half-hour. After I was old enough not to require punishment anymore, I remember telling my parents that I had always hated the 30-minute time-outs worse than spankings, which were over quickly. I had never mentioned this to them when I was younger because I was afraid they would start replacing spankings with lengthy time-outs if they knew!
My husband and I have also decided on no tv for our son (I am Orthodox, my husband is not). We did initially let him watch a little tv after he turned 2, but we noticed a big change in his behavior (and it wasn’t good).
As far as spanking goes, I have waffled on the issue. I was raised in a home that included spanking, but always in anger. My husband is pro-spanking. Since I can’t make up my mind, I decided not to spank, since I’m not sure I’d be consistent. I do use other methods of discipline. My husband and I both agree, though, that if we need to discipline our son, the other parent doesn’t interfere.
I do wonder, however, if the fact that one of us spanks and the other does not will have negative effects later on. 🙁
Juliana, I know many households that handle discipline this way; one way to explain it, as I’ve heard it from a Catholic friend, is that mothers and fathers can be both consistent and different, much like God is our Father and Mary is our mother figure. I have wondered, since becoming Orthodox, how (and if) that is affected by Orthodox theology. I do know though, that my dh is strong where I am often weak and vise versa, and I’m very grateful that my children are blessed with two parents.
Thank you, Tia, for your comment. It makes me feel much better! 🙂
Oddly enough, I have always felt that spanking was only good for a time. I think that when they are very young (2-6) when they deserve praise; immediate gratification in the form of praise is a good thing, and I also believe immediate distress over wrong doing is also a good thing. I think it is how they reason and learn best at this age. If you try to explain to a four year old about the reasons why they cannot run into the street they cannot really grasp it.
So by the time they reach seven years old I am working to try to find new ways to discipline them. I am a firm believer in making the punishment fit the crime.
I have watched as some have gasped in horror when I told them that from a young age in my house if you lie with your mouth, spit, swear, are disprectful…you will get pepper sauce on your tongue.
I actually had someone tell me it was inhumane.
*I tilted my head* inhumane to put food on their tongue? I figure it is better than soap and I only risk them growing up with a dislike of Mexican food.
I think that in the end, as parents, we will be judged not on if our kids turned out ok…many kids who have been abused…horridly abused rise above it and turn out ok…but rather what courses we chose to discipline with.
For sure not always perfect…but for sure always trying.
I once sat my closest friend and his wife down and we had a heart to heart about the way they discipline their children–or the lack thereof.
I tend to be more “hardcore” and willing to spank. They tend to be lenient and avoid the rod.
I still agree with my position and thnk that they would be better off (both their harried life and their children) if they were more quick to discipline. But, in hindsight, I wish I had been a bit more tactful and more gracious. Nevertheless, it may have done a lot of good. Hard to say.
My point, however, is that I believe their kids will turn out well. Why? Because they truly love them (as I do mine). My motto at this point in child rearing is: “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
That applies to parents who err on failing to discipline enough (including sparing the rod) and others who err on being too harsh or angry. If the child discerns love coming from the parent, we can only hope and believe that the Spirit of God will do his part to warm the child’s heart toward Christ and righteousness.
Curiously, the assemblywoman here in California who has proposed legislation outlawing spanking for children under four – has no children! My wife listened in to a local talk radio show on which the state assemblywoman was interviewed. Despite what one might expect, most of the callers to the show thought the state assemblywoman was off her rocker, and had no place -as a person with no children- telling parents how to raise and discipline their broods. There is no chance this will pass into law, not even here in California.
I’m with Owen (The Ochlophobist) on this one (though I’ll have to admit that while we don’t allow television watching, we do allow a video now and again). I have a son approaching four years old. He’s a very bright and a very stubborn little fellow. Thank God for his intelligence and stubbornness and may these serve him well in life, but some form of corporal punishment is entirely necessary for him. Abstract rules and principles must be bound to tangible consequences if he is to incorporate them at this stage, and a time-out just ain’t gonna do it sometimes. There’s plenty of room to counter the NPR commentator’s “mystical-theology-of-not-spanking,” with an “incarnational theology of corporal punishment.”
I’m sure, though, that our experience as children has a lot to do with our positions in the spanking debate. I was spanked as a child, as was my wife, but my parents went about it the right way. I never felt victimized or treated unfairly. The rules didn’t change, and when a spanking was administered, it was done so after I had been told to sit in my room a while. This allowed me time to reflect on how I’d gotten myself into such a position, while affording my parents time to cool down so that they were able, with remarkable consistency, to administer the spanking dispassionately. I understood that my parents forgave me for my actions, but I understood, too, that sometimes there are such things are consequences. In my role as disciplinarian, I model myself after this example.
It is surprising to me how people, particularly when they’e Christians, discuss spanking. For some reason, even the proponents of spanking tend to discuss it in terms of physical life or death circumstances. For example, spanking when the child is about to touch something hot or run out into the street. Ironically, these are not the times when spanking ever occurs to me. Instead, pulling them back or hanging on tighter with a serious warning about burns or being flattened like a pancake tends to do the trick.
The times that I spank is when my child is obviously challenging my authority, has recognized his will is at odds with mine and prefers, naturally, his own. In our current culture, spanking to teach submission is often taboo. It isn’t exactly seen as the right recipe to create the future CEO who will tell others what to do and submit to no one. Perhaps there is a fear that if we make are children submit we’ll weaken their wills and then they’ll be prey to any stronger personality they come across. Whatever the reason, it’s dellusional.
I am a firm believer that if I teach my child to submit to my will (and I say this as an Orthodox Christian who realizes I am in constant need of submitting myself to God’s will) while he is a child then when he is no longer a child required to submit to my will, he will more easily submit to his Heavenly Father. There is a reason that all that is required of children is to obey and honor their parents.
Now, why spanking instead of time-outs and simply taking away privelages? While the latter two may be effective, they basically give the wrong message. The first of the latter, says disobey and you get a breather, the second says, disobey and you won’t get nice things. Neither says the wages of sin is death. When a child is spanked, not out of anger but love, what dies is the delusion that he is his own. It is a only mildly painful, if administered properly, but mostly a humbling experience that teaches a child not to trust their own instincts over their parents. Essentially, it’s teaching them not to perpetuate the sin in the garden. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree, they trusted their own immature instincts over God’s love-filled warning.
How many times has my son told me when asked why he disobeyed…”I just wanted to…” or “I thought my idea was better.” These are the times, when I feel in my gut that a spanking is in order. Yes, I think there are times when time-outs or taking away privelages are in order. For example, when a child is losing control of himself and is over-excited is a nice time for a breather or when a child is behaving like someone who has been spoiled perhaps having some privelages removed would reveal this to him. But when a child gives his parent the equivalent of the old “I’ll do what I want to do” then spanking, in my opinion, is the medicine.
The reason to spank isn’t simply to teach consequences so one can avoid problems in society later in life. If this were the sole reason, spanking would indeed be unnecessary and just behaviouralistic. The main reason is to teach obedience and submission to the good and rejection of the bad.
Good comments… I find this thread thought provoking. I am not a parent myself, but have taken some interest in this topic as I have friends who are parents.
To comment on the forgiveness that Fr. Stephen talked about… I think it is important for any parent, regardless of their disciplinary methods, to have the humility to admit when they have wronged their child and ask them for forgiveness… say, if a person were to spank their child for a poor reason or out of anger. I think children are highly adaptable and able to forgive easier than adults.