In a study of American kids, Straus and a colleague asked parents of about 1,500 young children participating in an IQ research project how often they spanked their children.Straus doesn't pull any punches in his opinion of what this study means for parents, and for our society:
The findings? The 2- to 4-year-old kids who weren't spanked at all, according to their parents, had IQs that were, on average, about five points higher after four years than the kids who were spanked. The same trend held for 5- to 9-year-olds, though the differences were less pronounced.
"It is time for psychologists to recognize the need to help parents end the use of corporal punishment and incorporate that objective into their teaching and clinical practice. It also is time for the United States to begin making the advantages of not spanking a public health and child welfare focus, and eventually enact federal no-spanking legislation."
I don't say this very often, but I think NPR was being extremely lazy in the way they chose to present this information. I don't think spanking your kids makes them dumb. I don't believe that those of you out there who choose to strike your children are actually beating their brains out of their little heads.
I do think that, in general, people with poor communication skills and a lack of education are less equipped to deal with their children in a logical, intelligent way. As a result, they lose their tempers more quickly, turn to violence and frustration more easily and, most importantly, teach those same "skills" to their kids.
Or perhaps it is simply the fact that the same intellectual incuriosity that leads these families to turn to violence to address their issues is also present in other areas of their intellectual development. Smart people don't hit their kids? Perhaps they don't need to. I would suggest that contrary to what the NPR headline suggests, it's not the kids who are made dumber by being hit.
I've written about my feelings on corporal punishment before. ("Spare the child", July 2006) It was a pretty comprehensive statement on corporal punishment, so I don't think I need to say it all again. But I think the last few paragraphs bear repeating. My feelings haven't changed one bit, except that I believe them more strongly than ever.
"You know, I was spanked as a child, and I grew up to be perfectly healthy and have raised my kids just fine."
Did you? You think? You were, as a small child, routinely subjected to violence by someone probably five times your size so that you would be subject to their demands? As a result, you grew up, had some small children of your own, and then proceeded to beat them into submission as well?
We have a different definition of "perfectly healthy", you and I. We have a wildly different idea of what it means for an innocent child to be "just fine".
You may think that I believe that if you as a parent spank your children, I automatically believe that you are a bad parent. I don't, not necessarily and not without knowing what kind of parent you are as a whole. Nor do I think your children are necessarily going to grow up to be damaged.
But I do think you are wrong. And as much as you might feel sorry for my kid for having me as a father, I guarantee I feel more sorry for yours.