Taking a belt to your kid

prest0 made a post to his blog (forwarded from an email he received, he did not write this) about how things are different now than they were in the 50s. One of them was this:

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his neighbor’s car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.
1957 – Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.
2007 – Billy’s dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy’s sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy’s mom has affair with psychologist.

The premise is that you used to be able to beat your kids with a belt, it was ok to do so, and it made them better in the long run. I disagree with that. I think that not being able to beat your kid with a belt, no matter how “bad” they have been, is a good thing. I dislike violence in general but I know that sometimes a kid needs a spanking, but hitting a kid with a belt? Really?

There is a history of child abuse in my family. Not in my generation (that I know of), but I have relatives who’ve told me about abuse by their parents. To quote:
“He used to come home drunk and beat the crap out of us.”
“I had defensive wounds on my forearms from one time when she attacked me with a piece of wood.”
“The doctor asked me when I had broken my rib, as my x-ray showed a healed fracture. I don’t remember it happening, he must have broken my rib one time when he was beating me.”

I’ve been spanked. I don’t recall what for, probably for running off at the mouth or something, and I don’t resent it. I don’t necessarily agree that it was necessary, it’s not like I was hitting other kids or damaging property or anything like that, but I don’t resent them for it and I haven’t turned into a violent sociopath because I was spanked. So it’s not like I’m the sort who would coddle a kid who was acting up and other methods of punishment (such as the infamous “time out”) hadn’t worked.

But to take a belt to a child, that seems really wrong to me. Using a belt says “I want this to hurt more than it would if I just used my hand.” It’s a deliberate escalation of the desire to cause pain. To me, that’s abhorrent. If you need to grab a weapon to punish your child, maybe what they’ve done requires a trip to the police station instead?

Opinions?

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52 thoughts on “Taking a belt to your kid

  1. I took an issue with that post, too (redirected from ). I can see spanking in fairly limited and specific situations (most of them involve the recipient in question is hurting or trying to hurt other kids, and the usual stuff isn’t working), but I think (as a non-parent who intends to not have children of my own) that open-hand-on-butt would be pretty much the last resort.

  2. Pretty much in the same boat as you on this issue. My parents (especially my mom) spanked with belts and wooden spoons and handles from hockey sticks, and ever-escalating series of weapons designed to bring the hurt and get us to “shape up”. Not sure how that worked out, really. I remember being spanked but rarely the important part: the WHY. If I can’t remember what I’d done to “deserve” my punishment but only the punishment itself, I can’t say it’s a very good deterrent.

    I spanked Kate a couple of times with a swat to a diapered bottom when she was too little to be reasoned with, and I admit that I did it because *I* was frustrated and lost my cool. I’ve never “had to” spank Kate, and even since she was quite small I’ve been able to talk with her or use other forms of punishment/behavior modification. She’s turning out to be a pretty cool kid with a good head on her shoulders, without physical punishments like spanking, hair pulling, ear twisting, slapping, pinching or any of the other physical punishments.

  3. yeah, i agree with you, my parents used a wooden spoon, which was basically just a wooden spoon used to stir the dinner, but only on rare occasions, call me attention seeking, call me what you will but i don’t believe that i myself am right in the head.

    I don’t agree that only abuse is the cause of people growing up violent, its often a variety of life’s lessons and experiences which contribute to how mentally stable and what your mental status is

  4. I shall never have children but FWIW: Belting is ridiculous and represents failure on many levels.
    My parents say they spanked me once in my whole life, though they forgot what for.

    I’d be interested in knowing what the science says regarding the issue.

  5. Often I think people mistake abusive violence and discipline. Given that we’re all just meat puppets and operant conditioning is well understood, punishment as a form of discipline is necessary; neutering a parent’s ability to physically punish is a grave mistake of our society. However, as you describe, anecdotes of unprovoked violence is abuse. Violence with the intent to cause pain rather than serve as punishment is abuse.

    There’s no room in this world for abuse. However, a society that does not apply physical punishment when appropriate is equally doomed.

    The fact that we no longer condone appropriate physical punishment, I feel, comes from us collectively “erring on the side of caution” as it is too easy for people to cross the line from punishment to abuse. Unfortunately, it’s the risk aversion to letting parents make such a mistake that has ultimately created worse problems.

      • Yes, I agree with you and Sean, which I indicated when I wrote this sentence:

        “Violence with the intent to cause pain rather than serve as punishment is abuse.”

        I was careful to put forth my working definitions for what I considered punishment vs. abuse first, then indicate that I agreed in considering violence with the intent to cause pain (i.e., using a weapon) is, in my mind, clearly abuse and never punishment.

      • Okay, I read your lack of mention of a weapon combined with the last paragraph as denying that a belt or a wooden spoon or what have you is “Violence with the intent to cause pain rather than to serve as punishment is abuse.”

      • “However, a society that does not apply physical punishment when appropriate is equally doomed.”

        See, I’m going to have to fundamentally disagree with you here on the assumption that the sentence you implied was:

        “However, a society that does not apply physical punishment [to children] when appropriate is equally doomed.”

        I think behavioral science has pretty adequately shown that there are many other ways to affect a child’s behavior then causing them physical pain (regardless of intent).

      • There is a distinct issue with the fact that physical punishment is the application of force, and the application of force to those who have no way of fighting back and no legal redress (like, say, children) is always morally questionable at best. (Some times it is necessary, but necessity does not imbue an an otherwise non-good action with goodness.)

      • At a certain age–when children are pre-rational beings–avoidance behavior may be necessary.

        I’d really appreciate a citation to something peer-reviewed that enumerates what other ways there are to affect pre-rational beings such as young children. I’m serious–if you know of such scientific works, I would appreciate a reference to it.

      • Humans exceed the intelligence of dogs and cats at some absurdly young age like six months but typically remain imbecilic in human society for years. I’m not sure animal training techniques apply to kids in the 3-10 range.

      • My point is that we have techniques of pos and neg reinforcement that don’t involve pain, and they work on nonsentient creatures (like animals) and adult humans, I’m sure there are some that work on “pre-rational beings” (as dossy calls them) and don’t involve beatings.

  6. “The premise is that you used to be able to beat your kids with a belt, it was ok to do so, and it made them better in the long run.”

    Um, no. Not that I’m defending child abuse in any way, but that’s not the premise.

    The premise is that, if you do resort to corporal punishment, with or without a weapon, it is not NECESSARILY evidence of child abuse. It *might* be, but it should not fall under any kind of “zero tolerance” policy–which is kind of the point of the original post (which Prest0 did *not* write, BTW).

    JD

    • Dangit, I reviewed my post halfway through and wanted to note that Prest0 just forwarded the list to his blog, but didn’t write it himself. I’ll correct my main entry when I finish with this one.

      {The premise is that, if you do resort to corporal punishment, with or without a weapon, it is not NECESSARILY evidence of child abuse.}

      Well, no, the initial statement was “Billy broke a neighbor’s window, Dad punished him with a belt, Billy grows up normal,” and the followup is that if Dad tried that today he’d be arrested for child abuse. The rest of the entries in the post are basically “this is how it used to be in the idealized good old days, and how it is now is crap.” So I think it’s fair to interpret the premise of the piece as “X used to happen and that was acceptable/good, now Y happens and it that is unacceptable/ungood, can ya believe it?” Which, in the context of this specific scenario, becomes “you used to be able to punish your kid with a belt and that was acceptable, now they call belt-whipping child abuse, can ya believe it?”

      And the tone of my initial post here is colored by his reply of his statements: “I wouldn’t use a belt for something that was an accident, but I won’t say there’s never a time for it either.” No fault to him, I don’t know the guy or how serious/sarcastic he is in general, but I think my interpretation of the premise (colored by his comment) is still fair. It’s one thing to spank your child, it’s another thing entirely to pick up an object to make it hurt more when you spank them, and doing so is child abuse.

      • I think it’s fair to interpret the premise of the piece as “X used to happen and that was acceptable/good, now Y happens and it that is unacceptable/ungood, can ya believe it?” Which, in the context of this specific scenario, becomes “you used to be able to punish your kid with a belt and that was acceptable, now they call belt-whipping child abuse, can ya believe it?”

        That’s you putting your interpretation on it. Remove the “/good” part, and it’s basically accurate–but whipping a child with a belt is not in and of itself a crime worthy of having your kids taken away from you. Ever met a kid who just laughs when their parents spank them open-handed? I have. If the point of a spanking is for the child to understand that negative behavior merits punishment, then the child has to understand that the punishment is actually a bad thing.

        It’s one thing to spank your child, it’s another thing entirely to pick up an object to make it hurt more when you spank them, and doing so is child abuse.

        Are you absolutely certain that there’s never, ever a circumstance under which spanking a child with an object is acceptable?

        JD

      • {Ever met a kid who just laughs when their parents spank them open-handed? I have.}

        A child that laughs at a spanking is one that has been spanked often enough (quite possibly for trivial things) that they (1) don’t consider it a punishment any more, or (2) are doing it to spite their parent.

        To quote Good Will Hunting:
        Will Hunting: He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the kitchen table and say, “Choose.”
        Sean Maguire: Well, I gotta go with the belt there.
        Will: I used to go with the wrench.
        Sean: Why?
        Will: Cause fuck him, that’s why.

        {If the point of a spanking is for the child to understand that negative behavior merits punishment, then the child has to understand that the punishment is actually a bad thing.}

        And if the punishment you’re using isn’t working, you should find a punishment that does work, not simply escalate the punishment. If a kid mouths off and you send them to bed without dinner, that’s fine … but if they mouth off again, you don’t starve them for a week because you don’t think they got it the first time. If you punish your child by sending them to their room the first time, and they persist, you don’t increase the punishment by locking them in the basement. You try something else.

        JD is there something that Keri’s cat Dot could do that would justify you hitting her, hard, with your hand, to hurt her and deter her from doing it again?

        Is there anything she could do that would justify hitting Dot with a piece of wood, metal, or something else, to hurt her more and deter her from doing it again?

        What about Keri? Is there something my sister might do that would justify you hitting her with your bare hand? With an object to hurt her more than your bare hand?

        If it’s not acceptable to hit a grown adult with an object, and it’s not acceptable to hit an animal with an object, why is it ever acceptable to hit a human child with an object?

      • Since you ignored my question, I think it’s fair of me to ignore most of yours and focus on the one I can’t believe you asked.

        What about Keri? Is there something my sister might do that would justify you hitting her with your bare hand? With an object to hurt her more than your bare hand?

        Sean, how dare you ask me if I would ever hit Keri?

        Seriously: HOW DARE YOU?

        JD

      • Sorry JD I thought my answers were clear from the context of my post.

        {Ever met a kid who just laughs when their parents spank them open-handed?}

        No, but I have spent very little time around kids. I have met plenty of teens who shrug off whatever punishment their parents or schools throw at them, though.

        {Are you absolutely certain that there’s never, ever a circumstance under which spanking a child with an object is acceptable?}

        Yes. Going beyond the open hand means the child must have done something criminal, at which point the parent should have the authorities deal with it. Staying out too late shouldn’t result in the belt. Borrowing the family car without asking shouldn’t result in the belt. Lying about going to the movies shouldn’t result in the belt. Getting an F in math shouldn’t result in the belt. Stealing a car? Starting a fight? Those are crimes, and unless you think any hooligan who steals a car should “get off easy” with just a belting, then it’s not appropriate to give your child special treatment for stealing a car. “Sorry my kid stole your car, I’m going to take him home and beat him.”

        As for the outrage in your reply, I apologize, but that’s exactly my point. You wouldn’t hit her. Ever. It’s repugnant. It’s unacceptable. Yet we’re debating the acceptability of one’s your own child with a belt.

        Short of intervening to stop you from hurting someone else, I can’t think of a reason why I would ever pick up a weapon and hit you, JD. Or Keri. Or anyone else. So why are we debating if there’s ever a reason I should be justified in punishing a child with a belt?

      • Yes.

        You wake up early from your nap and glance out the window. Your 6-year-old son is chasing your 5-year-old niece around the back yard. You realize he’s holding a lit lighter–and, to your horror, you see that there’s an open gasoline can nearby. Sure enough, you get outside, and discover that your niece has gasoline on her; your son wanted to play “Fireman.”

        It’s not illegal for a kid to play “Fireman,” so the police don’t have to deal with it. And it’s the first time, so a sound spanking should do the trick, right? He learns his lesson, and never plays with fire again.

        That is, until a few weeks later, when the school calls to tell you they caught him doing the same thing with a classmate. Your son has told the other boy, and, somehow, they both thought that it was funny, rather than serious. Apparently, the lesson your son learned was “Don’t do this where dad can see.”

        Is another spanking good enough?

        Or, let’s say your son is acting up in class, and none of the other kids are able to focus on the lesson. The teacher sends him to the principal’s office; the principal sends him home to you, with a suggestion that you make it clear to him that that sort of behavior is unacceptable.

        You’re obviously okay with the principal paddling your son (as per your response to Preston on his blog). So what’s the difference between using a paddle and a belt?

        JD

      • I’m wondering why I have cans of gasoline accessible to my 6yo child.
        It’s not illegal for a child to pour gasoline on another child?
        A few weeks later, how does your son have gasoline at school so that he can play Fireman again?
        Are the only options for dealing with this problem (1) spanking, or (2) nothing?
        Say you hit your son with a belt. He tries to play Fireman again. What then? Hit him with a bat? He does it again. Barbed wire? Set his hand on fire? If the punishment isn’t working, try another method. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

        And no, I’m not actually ok with a “paddling” by the principal, I glossed over that one while homing in on the belt issue.

      • >Say you hit your son with a belt. He tries to play Fireman again. What then? Hit him with a bat? He does it again. Barbed wire? Set his hand on fire? If the punishment isn’t working, try another method. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

        Oh, thank you! I’d never heard that quote before.

        I’m not advocating not thinking. If one stage of escalation doesn’t work, then it’s time to try something else. Take his toys away. Ground him for a month. Whatever it takes to make it clear to him that it’s dangerous to play with fire–and very, very wrong to set someone else on fire, even if you only think it’s a game.

        The point is that spanking a child with a belt or a paddle TO TEACH THEM NOT TO DO SOMETHING IRRESPONSIBLE is not cause for imprisonment and the intervention of Social Services. As with all things, one has to practice moderation and common sense: You have to find a punishment that actually means something to them–and then administer it only when it is called for, and never, ever more, or to a greater degree.

        But saying “anyone who thinks it is okay to beat a child with a belt is messed up in the head” (from Prest0’s comment thread) is fallacious reasoning. There are times when severe punishment is called for. As responsible, compassionate adults, we should not shy away from that any more than we should *embrace* that.

        JD

      • {But saying “anyone who thinks it is okay to beat a child with a belt is messed up in the head” (from Prest0’s comment thread) is fallacious reasoning.}

        I disagree.

        {There are times when severe punishment is called for. As responsible, compassionate adults, we should not shy away from that any more than we should *embrace* that.}

        Speaking as a responsible, compassionate adult, I can say that I would never hit a child with a belt. And I will freely point out that in the heat of the moment, filled with panic and adrenaline over something a child has tried to do, such as light matches next to gasoline or eat Clorox under the sink, I might hit a child because I was so damn upset and scared and relieved that they almost hurt themselves but didn’t hurt themselves. And I will point out that I would regret it forever afterward. And I’ll point out that many, many parents are NOT responsible, compassionate adults, and leaving the question of “should I punish this child with a belt, or not?” up to each individual parent is going to result in a lot of kids who get hit by belts, whether or not they “deserve” it and whether or not that teaches them a lesson, because a lot of parents are BAD parents and they think the only way to discipline a child is with a beating. If EVERY parent were a responsible, compassionate adult, we wouldn’t have to worry about this. But we have teen parents. And short-tempered parents. And parents working three jobs. And some of them will use the belt because they THINK it works.

        But that doesn’t mean it DOES work.
        And that doesn’t mean it is the RIGHT thing to do.
        And if it’s not illegal to do so, they won’t think they’re doing anything wrong.

      • I really feel compelled to respond to your last three lines. Efficacy can be broken into two types: short-term and long-term. You cannot seriously argue that physical pain doesn’t result in short-term success. In an overwhelming number of cases, it does. If you pound someone enough, they will do what you tell them to do. The quality of the results and the side effects are extremely questionable, but physical pain gets the job done. E.g. the entire history of inquisitorial interrogation in Europe.

        Also, no one cares what you think is “right” unless they are your buds. If they physically punish their kids more than your standards deem acceptable, they are probably not your buds and not reading any of this.

        I’ve stated this a bunch of times in this conversation, but I think you need to address the quality of the short-term effects and the residual long-term effects of corporal punishment when conversing with people on this topic. Because frankly, corporal punishment fucking rules as an immediate motivating force. Put a bunch of kids in strappados and see how long it takes to get them to do what you want. Then again, what happens to strappado kids when they grow into adults? Prognosis: bad.

        To someone with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. You can pound a screw into a piece of wood without drilling a pilot hole and make it hold something together. You just splintered the wood, created a temporary bond, and will probably have more problems later if you try to disassemble it. But don’t tell the person with the hammer that you can’t pound a screw into two pieces of wood, because… you can. And it works, though it’s often a sub-optimal solution, though he or she may not realize it.

      • {You cannot seriously argue that physical pain doesn’t result in short-term success.}

        Sure. In fact, if you break a kid’s arm, that’s going to stop him from throwing rocks for a while, too.

        But what JD and I have been talking about is escalating a hand-spanking to a belt-spanking. That’s going beyond short-term success and trying to turn it into long-term success, which I think you agree is where the “system” of spanking-as-punishment begins to become less effective.

        {Also, no one cares what you think is “right” unless they are your buds. If they physically punish their kids more than your standards deem acceptable, they are probably not your buds and not reading any of this.}

        Whether or not anyone cares what _I_ think is right doesn’t change the empirical state of the ethics of an action. Just because I think stealing is wrong and playing D&D is acceptable doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there who think stealing is A-OK or that D&D is Satanic and wrong. As Wick pointed out in his blog yesterday, Western culture has concluded that murder, theft, and invasion of privacy are wrong, even if individuals disagree.

        {I’ve stated this a bunch of times in this conversation, but I think you need to address the quality of the short-term effects and the residual long-term effects of corporal punishment when conversing with people on this topic.}

        I’ve ignore the short-term results because they’re obvious. A 5-year-old takes a cookie, you swat his hand, his hand’s gonna hurt and he’s not gonna grab a cookie for at least a few minutes. It doesn’t make the 5yo stop wanting the cookie and by no means does it guarantee he won’t try to take one in the future. If your culture follows the code of Hammurabi, cutting off a thief’s hands makes him unable to steal, but it doesn’t make him not WANT to steal. As an immediate deterrent, violence is effective, but not so much as a long-term deterrent.

        In fact, because a child’s behavior is not constant (they waver between good and bad and all points in between), it’s easy for a parent to come to a false conclusion that praising good behavior doesn’t work (because the “good” child eventually does something “bad”) and punishment does work (because the “bad” child veers into neutral territory eventually), and therefore they give up on praise and focus on punishment. And if the main punishment you use is spanking, it’s easy to slide into an escalating cycle where each time the kid is “bad” you hit, and they become “neutral” again, and when they are “bad” again you hit them more or harder because “maybe this time you’ll get it.” Short-term positive effect, long-term negative effect.

        {But don’t tell the person with the hammer that you can’t pound a screw into two pieces of wood, because… you can. And it works, though it’s often a sub-optimal solution, though he or she may not realize it.}

        Again, just because you CAN do a thing doesn’t mean you SHOULD do a thing, whether or not you don’t understand the reasons why you shouldn’t do it. We have many many many many many laws on the books designed to protect people from inadvertently harming themselves or others, whether “harm” means “driving faster than would be safe for a typical driver” or “corporal punishment has little long-term effect as a deterrent and is likely to cause resentment toward the parent and aggression toward others.”

        Because Billy Bob Redneck and Sally VonWaspish didn’t take classes in child development and child psychology before having kids, and don’t know that corporal punishment isn’t effective in the long term, we have laws restricting the sort of physical punishments you can use on a child to protect the children from ignorant parents.

      • And regarding Fireman, I’m not so sure that “trying to burn people with gasoline hurts them, and that’s bad, so I’m going to hurt you to convince you that trying to hurt people is bad” is logical, even to/especially to a child.

        Hell, that could just mean that one morning you wake up on fire.

      • What kind of conclusion is that?

        The lesson is not “trying to burn people is bad.” It’s “playing with fire is dangerous; playing with fire and gasoline especially so.”

        JD

      • Sorry Sean, “object vs. hand” is an arbitrary distinction that has nothing to do with the actual amount of pain inflicted on the child nor the motive of the person doing the spanking. A belt in the hand of my mother would have been pretty mild compared to my extremely strong father’s open hand when I was growing up.

        I suppose there are myriad motives, but the common ones are a) frustration/rage/revenge and b) negative reinforcement with the desire for behavior reform. Both can lead to b) regardless of motive, though if the motive is a), it may be part of a super bad habitual pattern.

        When I was in 5th grade, I lied about doing homework a lot. When my father found out, he punished me in a variety of ways that I didn’t care about. I didn’t care about being grounded, about having toys/games/materials taken away. At that phase of my life, I was literally content to sit in my room in a chair and think. My parents were also poor, and there wasn’t a whole lot they could do in terms of positive reinforcement. It was difficult to motivate me to do much of anything.

        One day, my father found out I had been lying to him about doing homework for months. He ran upstairs, grabbed a belt, and spanked me very hard. Had he used his open hand, or had my mother given the spanking, I doubt I would have been motivated to change my behavior. But I did change my behavior.

        Corporal punishment doesn’t always work, but it does work sometimes, and like any form of motivation, the strength of the motivation affects its efficacy. Increasing strength of motivation is not repeating the same action and expecting different results. Take the classic “Would you sleep with me for $100? How about $1,000,000?” (figures made up on the spot) example. It’s the same motivating force with the strength increased. The same applies to torture, corporal punishment, or the restriction of privileges.

        You can always question the long-term effects or short-term consequences of any particular motivating force, but I think it’s foolish to suggest that strength can’t directly correlate to efficacy. And really, I think you’re better of challenging corporal punishment as a whole — mostly for its potential long-term effects. Distinguishing between objects-as-weapons and the body-as-weapon is the sort of hair-splitting logic that politicians use to distinguish between “torture” and “enhanced interrogation”. Ultimately, all of those tactics can get results but are flawed processes for a number of reasons.

      • {Sorry Sean, “object vs. hand” is an arbitrary distinction that has nothing to do with the actual amount of pain inflicted on the child nor the motive of the person doing the spanking.}

        But it says a lot about the person doing the hitting. “I can’t hurt you enough with my hand, so I’m going to grab this thing to make it hurt more.” Icky.

      • I don’t think it says anything about the person doing the hitting. If I offer my child $10 for every “A” he or she receives and it doesn’t make a difference, what does it say if I offer my child $100 for every “A”?

        You’re omitting or ignoring motive. If the desire is revenge, any form of striking is arguably “wrong-minded”, even if it produces results. If the use of a belt is a measured choice based on balancing efficacy with trauma, I don’t think there’s anything inherently more malicious about it. Had my father used his hand instead of his belt that time when I was in 5th grade, I don’t think it would have been as effective — or effective at all.

      • {I don’t think it says anything about the person doing the hitting. If I offer my child $10 for every “A” he or she receives and it doesn’t make a difference, what does it say if I offer my child $100 for every “A”?}

        That depends if $100 is a significant cost to you or a significant reward for your child. In Harlem that’s a big deal, in Manhattan not so much. :)

        {If the use of a belt is a measured choice based on balancing efficacy with trauma,}

        Exactly, and choosing to use a belt rather than a hand is saying “I can’t inflict enough trauma on this child just using my hand for this punishment to be effective, I need to use something that’ll hurt more.” When you should really be thinking, “spanking didn’t work to deter this behavior, perhaps I need to try a different punishment, not escalate the one that didn’t work.”

        {I don’t think there’s anything inherently more malicious about it. Had my father used his hand instead of his belt that time when I was in 5th grade, I don’t think it would have been as effective — or effective at all.}

        Sure, but your your personal anecdote is not necessarily the litmus test for what is appropriate.

        Does the gender of the child matter? Their age? Is it ok to belt a stubborn 3-year-old boy but not a stubborn 3-year-old girl? How about a 16-year-old boy but not a 16-year-old girl? Your 16yo son but not your 10yo son? Who is qualified to make the decision as to how much pain is appropriate to inflict on a child? What training does a parent receive to determine an “appropriate” level of pain for punishment?

      • Sean, you’re blowing my mind here. Can you not see the similarity in escalation between the positive and negative reinforcement examples I gave? $10 vs. $100, spanking with force = A vs. spanking with force = 2A. $100 may indeed motivate more than $10, just as 2A force may motivate more than A force.

        And again, the belt/hand distinction is absurdly arbitrary. Even if a person uses their bare hand, how do they determine the amount of force to use? How do they determine the number of strikes? Your distinction makes for a poor argument because one person’s bare hand (e.g. my father’s) can inflict much more pain than another person’s belt coming down at full force (e.g. my mother’s). People always have to use their best judgment, and that goes beyond hand = okay, belt = bad.

        Sure, but your your personal anecdote is not necessarily the litmus test for what is appropriate.

        I think you’re conflating propriety and efficacy, and you’re drawing an arbitrary (and weird) line on a sliding scale instead of outright attacking corporal punishment, which I think is much more stable footing.

        Who is qualified to make the decision as to how much pain is appropriate to inflict on a child?

        The easy and sassy answer is “Sean Reynolds”, because you’ve stated emphatically for parents that hand = okay, belt = automatic failure. But seriously… who is qualified to make the decision to motivate a child in any way or ways to any extent? Those who understand the child best are most qualified to make the decision, though the decision they make may not result in entirely desirable effects — and they may not always have the best interests of the child in mind.

        Using money or materials as positive reinforcement can have negative effects on children, as can corporal punishment, as can other forms of motivation. I believe their use always has to be thoughtfully considered and sincerely, soberly, moderately carried out with the child’s best interests in mind.

      • I think hand-spanking is BARELY acceptable under CERTAIN circumstances. Are you arguing that it’s acceptable to use a belt rather than your hand to punish a child? If so, what other corporal punishments are acceptable? Poking them with needles? Near-drowning? Cigarette burns? Choking? Where you _you_ draw the line?

  7. A spank, yes. A belt, no. I agree completely.

    I used to get a slap on the backside as a kid when I was naughty, and it did wonders for me. The western world is becoming a nanny state where you can’t punish (within reason) and we’re suffering because of it.

    • The western world is becoming a nanny state where you can’t punish

      Only if you define punish as “hit”. There are thousand ways to use punishment/reward to condition a child’s behavior, and hitting them is only one. It’s probably the easiest one, but not necessarily an effective one.

      Particularly if you’re hitting the kid for how it makes _you_ feel, not for how it will make the kid feel.

      • Perhaps, but somewhere “don’t take a belt to your kid” gets translated into “we’re becoming a nanny state where you can’t punish” — which is something I really don’t buy into.

        I was born in the seventies. My old man never laid a glove on me, but his household hardly lacked for discipline.

        There’s a broader argument for about society, permissiveness, and lack of discipline in child rearing, but a lot of the people tying that to “Nanny Statists saying don’t hit/spank your kid” are being lazy and unimaginative.

  8. The last time my parents spanked me was with a wooden paddle. I was 9 or 10. We had just gotten busted playing with fire and flammable igniters like WD-40, spray paint, and turpentine. They were pissed, and my dad laid into us.

    If my father had been more imaginative, he could have taken us on a field trip to the burn ward at the hospital. He could have taken us to a burned-down house and told us to imagine that all our stuff was in it – or maybe that one of us had been in it. That would have stuck with me.

    Instead, what I remember most is not “don’t play with fire,” but “Man, that spanking didn’t hurt much at all.” The spanking sure as hell wasn’t effective as a deterrent.

    Now that I’m a parent, I can’t imagine raising a hand to my children except in the direst circumstances. I would hope to be more effective in raising my children and teaching them right and wrong. If I do ever strike them hard – with a hand or worse – I will consider myself a failure as a father.

  9. Got caught smoking cigarettes with the neighbor kids when I was 6. Mom came home, sat me at the table to have a cigarette with her. Then she spanked me…a few times. I am on the level, no trauma, and love my mother without having some psycho complex.

    I live in a hippie-based town. It’s not uncommon for parents to be 30-40, maybe 50 years older than their kids. It’s all about being friends with their children or talking to them in a kind voice in an effort to try and rationalize with a 2 year old mind. I often find kids running around going crazy and the parent is often in their own world not paying attention, as if to give the kids freedom to discover what they want even if it is at the public’s expense.

    I was also taught not to interrupt grown ups when they’re talking. You wait until they’re done talking, or a break in the conversation occurs. This is politeness and courtesy. I don’t even think, in retrospect, that this pertains to kids, but to anyone as a sign of respect. I think the lack of this gives kids a sense of entitlement, but this is my opinion.

    My father never raised a hand, but if he raised his voice-that was a sure sign to cool it. Kind of like the cool teacher you had in school who never loses their temper but eventually comes to a boil. You know they mean business since you don’t see it very often.

    Kids make me itch. I let others bask in their achievements. Good kids, properly raised to be good adults is nice to see. I shit my pants when a 10 year holds a door open for others. I just want to thank their parents for doing a good job. I really respect that.

  10. There’s a radio shrink, Dr Joy Brown, that I think isn’t too bad (she’s a real shrink, for one). She’s got a saying about kids that’s one of the truest things I’ve ever heard.

    A child would rather be praised than punished, and rather punished than ignored.

    I can’t think of a situation where I, or anyone, should need a weapon to discipline a child.

  11. Basic straw man argument. It’s elaborate bullshit. I mean, why not;

    1957. Billy breaks window in his neighbor’s car and his Dad gives him an whipping with his belt. From this Billy learns that the person with more authority can do as they damn well please and make it sound good afterwards. And he learns to not get caught. He becomes a successful businessman because he’s a complete scumbag with no morals who likes intimidating his underlings.
    2007; Billy complains about something painful and humiliating. He could become a gang member whose mother has an affair with the shrink, he could become a Senator or an astronaut, he could become a successful businessman, but nobody knows for certain because 2008-2057 hasn’t happened yet.

    I hate this sort of bullshit, and in this case I have some experience backing my side up.

    My Dad occasionally hit me, and there was a chunk of time that my Mom used to hit me with a yardstick – this ended when the yardstick broke over my neck. This did not make me a better person, and it didn’t even make me a worse person; it just made me a person who had been hurt, and who innately has a lot less trust for authority figures.

  12. This bugs me enough that I was going to keep going. I basically agree with you.

    Okay, it’s been pointed out that a strong adult using their hand is going to hurt a child more than a weaker adult using a belt or a spoon or whatever. That may be true but a belt, spoon, yardstick – that stuff’s remote. There’s no feedback. Hit someone with your hand and you probably know just how hard you hit them by comparison. Are you hurting them? Is it time to stop? Well, if your hand aches that’s a good cue right there.

    And then there’s frequency. This idealization of “the good old days” versus today’s “nanny state” doesn’t go into that detail. Slapping little Billy on the ass once is a very different message than “whipping him with a belt.” Hey, look, this big adult can keep going all day, whaling on this little kid! Oh, boy, I can envision society getting better by the second!

  13. The problem I have with your stance is that there is no wiggle room. For you, hitting your kid with a belt is always wrong, no matter what. Unfortunately, the world isn’t a binary place, where things are always right or always wrong, with no gray area.

    Your stance is actually slightly childish. Psychologists have studied the development of morals in children, and until a certain age (13 or so), children think in very black and white terms. For example, children are asked, if stealing is wrong, is it okay to steal if you’re starving? Most children respond that stealing is always wrong, and therefore stealing when you’re starving is unacceptable. It’s a binary issue for children, black and white, with no middle ground or gray area.

    I think it is a good thing that our society is moving away from corporal punishment as the standard method of discipline for kids. However, I believe that spanking, even with a belt, remains a viable option at times. While I would definitely NOT use that as my primary motivator when disciplining children (any more than I would use hand spanking), I would not be able to make a blanket statement that, “I will never use a belt on my kid.”

    You responded to JD’s “fireman” example by asking why your child would have access to gasoline. Do you have a lawnmower? And if I recall correctly, you and Jason melted a plastic trashcan in your teen years by pouring (white?) gas into it and lighting it on fire. How did you get that gas? Mom and Dad didn’t give it to you, so how did you get it? Kids get into trouble. That’s life. They do stupid shit, and they don’t understand the consequences. Hyrum admits to all sorts of shenanigans from his childhood, and I guarantee you his parents had no idea what he was up to.

    Perhaps 80 years ago belt spanking your kid was so prevalent because kids doing stupid shit could kill them. Kids had access to guns, farm machinery, factory machinery, large tools like axes and knives. There were no safety locks on cabinet doors or medicine chests. Think of Red’s sister who drank lye and died. So when your parent catches you with the lye bottle and yells at you to not touch it, and then you grab it again, I can understand when that parent grabs a belt and beats the snot out of you. The parent is literally trying to save your life. These days, society has made growing up a much safer endeavor. Medicines are safety sealed to keep little kids out. Drano and bleach have child-proof openings. Electrical outlets have little plugs to keep kids from sticking sharp, metal objects in them and electrocuting themselves. Kids are much safer now than they were 100 years ago, so the trouble they get into is much less likely to kill them (aside from that proverbial running into the street). This means that extreme forms of punishment can fall by the wayside because it’s no longer a matter of life and death that your kid obeys your every command.

    I agree that belt spanking and spanking in general aren’t good first choices for parenting. Our parents rarely spanked us, and we turned out just fine, thank you. But I don’t think you can make a blanket statement that “all belt spanking is bad” because people in your comments section have admitted that they were belt spanked, and that the belt spanking was probably the only thing that would have gotten them to modify their behavior.

    Finally, your statement that you call the police if your child’s behavior is so far out of line is unbelievable. I think everyone on the planet would agree that belt spanking a kid, while not a good first choice, is a thousand times better than sending your kid to juvenile detention. Juvie scars children and can ruin their lives. Literally. Belt spanking? Not so much. I don’t know any parent who would willingly call the police if their kid did something (minor) wrong, particularly if the “something wrong” went unnoticed by the rest of society. Hell, there are examples of parents covering for murders and rapes their children committed. Your expectation is just completely unbelievable and unrealistic.

    So, I agree with your sentiment that “belt spanking is bad” in general but I can’t agree that “belt spanking is always wrong.” If killing somebody isn’t always wrong, how can spanking a kid with a belt always be wrong?

    • Damn browser crashed when I was halfway through my reply.

      Wiggle room: Actually, some things in this world ARE always wrong or always right. Raping someone is always wrong. Feeding a starving person is always right.

      My child development courses actually indicate that children don’t think in absolutes like you say. The example I remember is “Hans’ wife” … Hans is a poor man with a sick wife and can’t afford the medicine she needs. Even though “stealing is wrong,” some of the young children suggested he steal the medicine anyway because he was trying to help his wife. Anyway, saying my stance is childish is irrelevant to this discussion.

      If spanking with a belt is a viable option for parenting, what about other forms of corporal punishment? Whipping? Caning? Cigarette burns? Electrocution? Starving? Suffocation? I’ve clearly drawn where I think the line should be (“hands only, and only under certain circumstances”) … where do you think the line should be? If Boy Fireman still doesn’t “get it” after two or three beatings with a belt, what’s next? Burn his hand? Set his dog on fire? As someone else pointed out, once you go beyond your own hand you don’t have immediate feedback on the amount of damage you’re doing and it’s very easy to cause significant injuries that (in retrospect) would be “too much” for the activity requiring punishment.

      Gasoline: No, we had an electric mower. And even if we had a gas mower, why is the gasoline kept in an area where the 6yo can get to it? Perhaps it’s stored under the sink with all the cleaning chemicals? Or maybe next to the loaded gun in the bedroom? That’s an issue of irresponsible parenting … and so we punish the child for gaining access to something dangerous the child shouldn’t be able to reach in the first place?

      As for Jason and I, yes, we were little pyros. At age THIRTEEN. We weren’t SIX. We were old enough to realize it was stupid, took reasonable precautions (though even then I was very, very wary), and did it anyway. If we were caught, do you really think a beating would have been the deciding factor in me not doing it again? At that age, Dad was twice my size, and him belting me would have just proved that it’s easy for someone twice your size to beat you, and that I should be careful to not get caught if I decided to melt stuff again. It wouldn’t be a disincentive to DO it, just not to get CAUGHT. The punishment would be ineffective.

      Hyrum’s shenanigans: Yes, he was crazy and did some dangerous things when he was younger. I’d also be REALLY surprised if he was doing them unsupervised at age SIX. It’s one thing to let your teenager run around with his friends and not know where he is at all times, it’s another thing to let your 6yo do the same. And do you really think a good belting would stop Hyrum from doing what he wanted to do? Or would he just be smarter about what he did so he wouldn’t get caught again?

      You say that I can’t say that all belt spanking is bad because “people” in their replies here say that the belt was the only thing that got them to modify their behavior. Look again … it’s just one person (baby_goat) saying that. One person’s experience does not justify the rule.

      As for calling the police, let me clarify. If a 13yo breaks a neighbor’s window, I don’t think you should send them off to juvie. I would talk to the neighbor, pay for the broken window, and tell them I was going to discipline the kid. Then I’d take them to the police station and explain what my kid did and ask the police to show them what would happen if he did get arrested (fingerprinting, the cell, etc.). It’s possible to show a child the negative consequences of something without actually forcing them to experience those consequences (like taking Boy Fireman to the burn ward, you don’t need to hit him or set him on fire to show him that his behavior has very negative consequences). Now if my kid stabbed or raped someone … no simple apology to the victim is going to be enough.

      Again, and I’m bringing this up only because none of the three “sometimes a belt is OK” people have answered this: why is it okay to hit a child with a belt as punishment, but not an animal or an adult?

    • And a followup: you and JD may think using a belt is appropriate for the reason of “because my kid was playing with gasoline,” as long as the belt option is on the table it means that some parents are going to think it’s appropriate to use the belt for any of these reasons

      * being out past curfew
      * seein’ that Jenkins boy
      * spilling red wine on my Vera Wang dress
      * getting knocked up again
      * failing math class
      * cussin’
      * takin the Lord’s name in vain
      * fighting in school
      * disrespectin’ yer mother
      * knocking up that little tramp at the trailer park
      * drinkin’ my last beer
      * dancing
      * playing those Satanic D&D games
      * talkin’ to them coloreds again

      There is no peer council or judicial council for establishing beforehand what sort of corporal punishment is appropriate for a child’s offense. Our country allows the death penalty for crimes A, B, and C, but not X, Y, and Z, while another country (say, Iraq) is fine with death penalty for X/Y/Z, even though we think it’s excessive, cruel, and injust (X = felony theft, Y = adultery, Z = blasphemy, for example). If you are ok with using the belt in response to a/b/c but not x/y/z, and another parent is ok with using it for x/y/z, perhaps we DO need some sort of national standard for when the belt is appropriate? For example, never? Because as long using the belt is legal, there are going to be many times where kids are getting belted for what you think are trivial things, and using the belt is only going to cross the line into a crime when a child ends up in the hospital or morgue. And unless you’re willing to vote “yes” on a medieval-esque “rule of thumb” law that defines a list of things for which a belt IS an appropriate punishment, you either have to ban it outright or accept that it’s going to be legal for parents to belt their kids for things you believe are trivial.

      • Sean, you’re assuming that someone who is going to beat their kid for “talkin’ to them coloreds” is going to CARE that beating your kid with a belt is illegal. Also, people who beat their kids for trivial things are abusive to begin with; making their abuse any MORE illegal isn’t going to make them use their hand instead of the chair leg. Banning it outright” isn’t going to prevent bad parents from beating their kids.

        Also, I’m not talking about beating the shit out of a kid for doing something trivial. I’m talking about 3 or 4 smacks on the butt with a folded-over belt when the kid does something that could seriously harm himself or someone else. Hey kid, I told you never, ever to touch my handgun, but you did, and even though nothing bad happened, I’m going to smack you on the butt with this belt 4 times so you understand that THERE WILL BE NO NEXT TIME. And then I’m going to get rid of the gun, because clearly my 9 year old is smarter than I am. (Not that I own a handgun, it was just an easy, extreme example I could come up with.)

        And I wouldn’t beat an animal because they DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY. All they know is that you are being mean to them, and they can’t understand that it’s because they peed on the rug, especially if the peeing happened more than 5 seconds ago. Positive reinforcement works best with animals, and it does with kids, too. However, you can’t tell Johnny, “Hey kiddo, great job not burning down the house while I was at the bank. Here’s $100!”

        Regarding whipping, caning, cigarette burns, etc. All those leave permanent scars on a child, physically and emotionally. They are abuse, plain and simple, and are very different from spanking. If you leave a mark on your kid with a belt, then you’re doing it wrong, and it IS abuse. Four smacks on the clothed butt with a folded belt, however, shouldn’t leave a mark, and should only drive home the point that whatever the kid did wrong, he must never doing it again. Also, I’m not talking about grabbing the kid in rage, I’m talking about “Go to your room, and I’ll be up later [when I no longer want to strangle you] to discuss this with you.” The point isn’t to whip a child like he’s a runaway slave from Atlanta in 1847, it’s to drive home the point that certain actions must never, ever be repeated. Stuff like playing with Dad’s handgun. Or feed his baby sister Vicoden. Or putting the cat in the dryer and turning it on.

        It’s funny to me that neither of us were ever belted, and yet we feel educated enough to make a judgement on the moral implications of using a belt on a child. Frankly, neither of us are parents, so we can’t make a fully educated decision about this. And since neither of us knows how it feels to be spanked with a belt, we doubly don’t have the right to make this kind of judgement call, or to require others to bend to our wishes. I can only decide that using a belt is not something I intend to do to any kids I have, but that under certain extreme circumstances, I could see it happening.

        The goal is to educate my children enough (ie, teach them right from wrong early enough in life) that they never choose those extreme actions that would make me consider using a belt on them. Little Jimmy would never NEED to get belted by me, because he’d know that putting the cat in the dryer and turning it on would kill the cat, WHICH IS WRONG. I mean, we were never belted as kids because we never stepped so far out of line that our parents would have considered it.

        Again, Sean, I’m not saying that belting a kid isn’t bad. I’m just saying that I’m not able to make the statement that spanking a kid with a belt is always child abuse. It would never, ever be my first choice, I’d have to think long and hard about it before I did make that decision, and I’d make sure I wasn’t angry when I did it. Until we’re parents, I think we have to hold off on making this kind of blanket statement. The world becomes a whole lot less black and white and a whole lot more shades of gray when you have kids. Like I told Chris Pramas when he blogged about the bus stop fight, sometimes doing the right thing for your family isn’t the same thing as doing the right thing in general.

      • Belting

        As someone with two kids (one of which has Tourette, OCD, ADD and several other behavior issues) I can say I have never hit them. I say hit, because that is all that punishment is: hitting. There is absolutely no reason to hit a child for punishment—it simply does not work and there is absolutely no proof scientifically, emotionally or evangelically to prove otherwise. Does it cause a child to have issues later? Depends on the level of abuse.
        I was hit as a child. My father was a big imposing man and I can still see his upperlip tighten into a white line of building anger as that belt cleared his belt loops. Fly swatters, wooden spoons or anything that could be swung and not break was used. Am I an angry person. Not really. I usually only get angry at stupid people (which, unfortunately, I am surrounded with…but I am coping well).
        Don’t hit. It does not work.

  14. I guess I’ll offer up some personal experience in this area. First, the short summary: I come from a family where both my father and mother used a belt on occasion to punish me and my older brother. I know that the threat of a whipping with a belt served as a definite deterrent to my misbehaving…particularly for whatever action on my part landed me in that situation. I think the punishments generally made me a better person in the long run. I don’t remember every little incident that landed me in trouble. And I think that’s okay. At the time, I knew and the punishment made me alter my behavior. I know my older brother would completely agree.

    The longer version: The belt didn’t show up as a punishment option in our family until a very specific time in our lives as children. And it was never the only option. In fact, it was seen as the last resort if earlier punishments using other methods didn’t alter our behavior. Before the belt ever came out, we were always told to stop whatever we were doing and not do it again. If we continued or repeated the behavior, we might face a hand spanking at younger ages, but never the belt. Only when we got older (and more able to endure simple hand spankings), the belt became the punishment of highest escalation. And it didn’t last forever, either. There came a point…which I can very distinctly remember…when my brother endured a belt whipping without uttering a sound or reacting at all…which was an intentional defiance of my mom. And when she saw that, she no longer used the belt on him. A short while after that, she no longer used it on me either.

    Why did that happen? Was it because my mom suddenly gained a conscience and believed whipping with a belt was wrong? No. Did she merely discard that form of punishment in order to dream up something even more painful for us…like caning, burning, etc.? No. I believe she came to that conclusion because, much like Sean has made the case, children reach a point in their lives (probably around age 13 or 14 or maybe 15) where a belt doesn’t just lose its effectiveness as a form of punishment…but it starts to border more on a form of abuse with no application to teaching discipline anymore. And in a child’s earliest years (like age 6 or 7 or maybe 8), the belt is too harsh and definitely could constitute abuse.

    But it’s those in-between years where I think the belt is still an acceptable choice. And the minute a child outgrows it, a parent has to move on to something else. There’s plenty of options around those ages as well. Grounding becomes a much bigger deal (even moreso if you ensure a child hasn’t outfitted his room as one big entertainment center). Taking away certain privileges or a child’s allowance are also good options. They tend to get attention during those teen years much better. But hopefully, if your parenting and measures for disciplining your children paid off, a child becomes a bit more self-disciplined from that point on…and you don’t need to resort to those things any longer at all.

    My two-cents,
    –Neil

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