Sparing the Rod

Recently the Liberal Party of Canada have floated the idea of banning spanking, so I’m going to write a bit on spanking.

The anti-spanking crowd is superficially right in that most studies of spanking find that spanking correlates with  a number of negative traits, particularly increased aggression.

I’ve read many of these studies over time, and the primary problem with these studies is that they are always observational. Nobody sets up controlled, randomized studies of spanking (getting parental consent and cooperation would likely be prohibitively difficult). A superficial examination of the problem, ignores other more likely factors for increased aggression among those children who are spanked.

Another problem with most of these studies is that they look at physical punishment, and do not distinguish between spanking and abuse. Most “spanking” studies would lump together breaking your kids nose in a fit of rage and smacking our child’s bottom with your hand in a controlled manner after a ‘this hurts me more than this hurts you’ talk as both being corporal punishment. The studies would then find out that, very obviously, there were negative effects from “physical punishment” (ie. beating the shit out of your kid) which was then translated as spanking harms children. When the form of physical punishment is controlled for, controlled spanking ranges from harmless to beneficial.

Back to the primary problem, the correlational approach misses two related explanatory factors that I think would be more likely explanations than ‘lovingly-enacted disciplinary swats on the bottom permanently scar children’.

The first is that aggressive and impulsive kids get spanked more often and more harshly. Lots of these studies find that those children who are spanked more are more aggressive (and maybe even less cognitively able) and assume that they are aggressive because they are spanked. But wouldn’t the reverse causation be more likely. Wouldn’t you be more likely to physically discipline a more aggressive child? One study on the causation question found that it was both, aggressive kids were physically disciplined more and physically disciplined kids were more aggressive. They say early childhood spanking starts the cycle, but I can not access the study to check. (Note, the data for this study do not distinguish between forms of spanking).

The second is that those parents who engage in physical correction, particularly the more violent forms thereof, are likely those parents who are less self-controlled and more aggressive themselves. Aggression and self-control are largely heritable. It stands to reason that the kind of parents who physically discipline children are the kind of parents who would have more aggressive and more impulsive children.

I find it doubtful that moderate spanking is in itself harmful. I think it likely that aggressive children were born that way due to naturally aggressive parents who use aggressive parenting to control them. (Note: I am using aggressive as a continuum here, not a dichotomy).

Like many things though, the people controlling the discussion are liberal elites. The children of self-controlled puritans and Jews at Harvard and Yale likely don’t need physical discipline. These children are likely naturally non-aggressive, self-controlled, and intelligent, and need only minimal discipline. So banning spanking will work fine for them, it is a luxury they can indulge in.

On the other hand, when upper class sentiments meet the lower classes of naturally aggressive and impulsive Scots-Irish and blacks, a ban on spanking probably will not work out as planned. Time-outs and lectures probably won’t work as well at controlling, directing, and teaching morality to the aggressive, impulsive children of aggressive, high-time preference people.

I would hypothesize that applying cultural elite values on spanking to lower classes will be harmful to the lower classes. The parents probably know their children and their temperments better than disconnected elites and will be more apt to properly punishment their children. Forcing an unnatural ban on spanking on populations where spanking may be necessary could be counter-productive.

Of course, to say for certain some proper studies would need to be conducted and that is unlikely to happen.

Until then though, instead of assuming lower-class parents are abusive for their, to-us, violent methods of parenting, maybe we should consider that they know how to properly raise their own children. Maybe for those children with less natural self-controlled, the application of violence is necessary to teach lessons that more naturally self-controlled children would learn after a firm lecture.


One side note: I find it somewhat amusing that the sorts of people who are strongest against spanking are also the sorts of people that are happy to put their children on mind-altering drugs. I would think that latter would be more abusive than the former, n’est-ce pas?


  1. Nice points. You have exactly summed up my thoughts on the matter in a far more elegant way than I could. Would be interesting to see Stefan Molyneaux react to this as he is evangelical for Peaceful Parenting but maybe his own background distorts his view (like all of us.)

    As an introverted son of mild and somewhat timid parents I never needed to be physically punished but some of my friends….

  2. Don’t let them commie gits get you Canada like they got us. The SOB’s made it a crime in NZ to smack your kid, supposedly to reduce child abuse. If they say it will reduce child abuse then point to New Zealand and say ‘Yeah Right’

    The supposedly ‘right-wing’ National party currently in power [NZ’s equivalent to the Republican party, and probably just as corrupt as the GOP too] still refuse to get rid of the law despite a referendum being held and 87% of Kiwis opposing the law

    “Recorded sexual offences against children rose 43 per cent and child neglect rose by 42 per cent during this same period, and notifications to CYF rose by a whopping 66 per cent.

    The problem is not getting any better – in fact it’s getting worse, much worse. The public were right.

    “The continued “roll of shame” of child abuse deaths over the past three months in the media and significant increases in serious child assault offences reported by police – 83 per cent increase between 2008 and 2013 – demonstrates that the anti-smacking law has been a spectacular failure.”

    The law is held in contempt by New Zealanders. A recent survey of a 1000 New Zealanders found that only 12 per cent of respondents think the law change has had any effect on the rate of child abuse.

    The survey also found that two out of three respondents said they would flout the law and smack their child to correct their behaviour if they thought it was reasonable to do so.

    The report also referred to an increase in false allegations of assault.

    This may come from neighbours or even the children themselves.

    Forty-six prosecutions have been brought for “minor acts of discipline” – another eight were brought for “smacking” on the buttocks or legs.


    There’s plenty of info about this on the net for any Canadians wanting to fight the introduction of these laws

  3. There was nothing in my home against hitting. My father hit me twice. Once I was playing outside and flew through their bedroom window. He got out his belt and I got a few hits. One more time I don’t remember the cause. But my brothers and I have no doubt that our two parents were among the best parents that ever lived. This idea of hitting being wrong is absurd.

  4. “Because men’s viewing of pornography frequently culminates in orgasm, the lessons of pornography are learned much faster and more tenaciously than when they view nonpornographic media.”

    Russell, D.E.H. 1993, “Introduction”, Russell, D.E.H. (ed), Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography, Open University Press, Buckingham, pp.1-23

    Does this mean Christian parents get the right to correct sexist boys by beating them?

  5. These studies also seem not to take race into consideration. The anti-spanking push has been by far the most effective among whites, who these days tend not to spank their children very much. However, among blacks and Hispanics (with their life outcomes that are very different from whites), spanking is still very common. Could we be seeing a correlation without causation in this chain because we’re going straight from A (spanking) to C (unfavorable life outcomes) without stopping at B (race)?

  6. Watching my young male nephews grow up has made me a big believer in the value of judiciously applied spanking. It’s pretty simple: if you want to modify your kid’s behavior, you must provide incentives and punishments to keep them between the lines. Young kids don’t have much in the way of consciences so heartfelt appeals to their better natures are useless. Yelling is also useless, especially once the kid learns he can yell right back at you. You can threaten to withdraw privileges like TV time, but that’s too abstract to faze young kids, plus parents are often unwilling to actually enforce those punishments and deal with another meltdown later.

    Ultimately, as a parent, your control over your children’s behavior is rooted in your physical superiority. Soft modern people hate to think this way but there it is. If your kid refuses to go to bed, pick him up and carry him like a baby. If he refuses to stop running around the house, drag him outside and leave him there until he settles down. And if he’s willfully disobedient or disrespectful, spank him so he remembers who’s in charge and who isn’t. Above all, drive it home to him with Zen-like patience that you, the adult, are going to get your way in the end, so there’s no point in fighting it. Once you get that across, you miraculously find that you rarely need to punish him because he knows in his bones that you’re ready to back up your words with actions and that resistance is futile. But the reverse is also true: if he learns that you’re just going to yell a little bit, then yell louder, then give up in disgust, he’s going to realize that he’s the one in charge, and walk all over you. Don’t be that parent.

    Related excellent advice here:

  7. I think you are wrong about the mind-altering drugs. The kids on the drugs are genetically impulsive lower and lower-middle class. Maybe there is some population of elites using stimulants to maximize academic achievement but I doubt there are many base on my observations.

  8. The elementary school where I saw the most use of psych drugs was an elite, expensive private elementary. Their Principal told me that their medication rate was around 40% when I objected to her trying to put my kid on Adderall. I pulled my kid out, sold my house, and put him in an exurban public school and the rate of drug use is far, far lower. The Vice-Principal at my current district school was absolutely shocked when I told her about the drug use rate at the other school.

  9. I remember clearly the very first time my father spanked me. I was 3 years old. We lived in a second floor apartment in a city on the west coast. It was a warm day and my mother had opened the front door to air out the apartment but had neglected to latch the screen door. I decided to go on out and proceeded to do so. I climbed down the stairs (they were outside and led to a sidewalk) and then wandered a short way down the sidewalk until I saw a big shiny black car parked at the curb. I then proceeded to lay down behind the car with my head firmly pillowed against one of its rear wheels. I don’t know how long I lay there but when my mother found me (she had rushed out upon finding me missing and had spent some time calling and searching before spotting me under the wheels of that car) she became almost hysterical. She did not do anything but scold and then drag me back upstairs to the apartment.

    When dad got home from work she told him what I had done. I have never seen him as upset as he was after hearing that story. He turned white then red then he picked me up, pulled down my pants, and proceeded to give me the first spanking of my life. It HURT and he didn’t stop no matter how much I cried and pleaded. It seemed to go on for a long time but actually he only delivered maybe 10 or 12 whacks. During all of it he very forcefully told me that I was never, ever to leave that apartment alone, that I was never, ever to ignore my mother when she called for me, and I was NEVER, EVER to go off the sidewalk into the street or to stand or lay behind any automobile.

    And I never did.

  10. The anti-spanking crowd solidifies my belief that the greater the entropy in the data, the stronger the opinions that are held. In the case of spanking there are sooooo many positive, negative, and neutral feedbacks, never mind any direct actions, in the environment that it is virtually impossible to determine if spanking causes bad behavior. So it therefore must, and you’re a child abuser if you think otherwise.

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