Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Now where did I put that damn rod again?

Here's a provocative little story that has gotten almost no play in American broadcast media, at least that I've seen, since it surfaced over the weekend. The tenor of the storyand its inherent shock-to-the-system natureis best captured by this unflinching (though perhaps mildly ironic) headline from, of all places, the Tehran Times (which isn't a bad "paper," in my experience): "A Smacked Child is a Successful Child."

Chew on that for a while. Somewhere Dr. Spock just lost his heavenly lunch.

Now, it's important to establish that the subject study makes this claim only for children age 6 and under. The results for those spanked after age 6 were mixed. And when the "smacking" continues into the teenage
years, the overall success prognosis was very poor. Still, the tabulated results of the study of some 2600 participants clearly suggest that kids spanked at an early age are far more likely to excel in school, do volunteer work, and so forth and so on.

I know what some of you are thinking: Hold on here, what exactly do they mean by "success"? Are we just talking about outward trappings? Following orders, doing what's expected of you in some numb, robotic way? Or are we talking about being happy and well-adjusted? Can you really call it "success," after all, if this kind of stern treatment molds a young adult who does all the right things but harbors so much inner rage and self-loathing that he or she can't enjoy any of that superlative achievement?

Sorry...the study's author, psychologist Marjorie Gunnoe, is way ahead of you. She didn't merely consider objective measures like college attendance and volunteerism. To quote the first linked news account above, Gunnoe also assessed a participant's "optimism about the future, antisocial behavior, violence and bouts of depression." Those who'd been spanked as young children measured significantly higher on all positive emotional scales.

As many of the news stories about this controversial study observe, parenting historically was rooted in the biblical admonition of "spare the rod, spoil the child." It was assumed that kids needed correction
, even regular corporal punishment, in order to be molded into pliant, right-thinking adults. Fast-forward to Benjamin Spock. The Spock ethic, enunciated in his landmark book, Baby and Child Care*, unfolded as a wholesale reproach to classic theories of parental authority; it produced slogans like "kids are people too" and ultimately gave rise to the school of thought that, for better or worse, has been labeled "permissive parenting." It's no coincidence that Spock's stock really took off during the same rough time period, the late 1950s and early '60s, as the self-esteem movement. Both were founded on a "just make nice and everything will get better" conception of social interaction that sounded plausible enough on its face: Who likes to be hit or berated by others? Why, that's just plain commons sense; it's intuitive. But as FSU's Roy Baumeister has argued persuasively in the case of self-esteem, intuitive doesn't necessarily = correct.

So much of the self-help movement is rooted in "core principles" that have never been tested in any meaningful way. We just assume them to be true because they "sound right."

There are some red flags here. For one thing, Gunnoe teaches at Calvin College, which remains at least philosophically beholden to Calvinism, which takes a dim view of man's essential nature and promotes a commensurately austere approach to ethical behavior, self-denial, etc. Gunnoe herself appears to be as active in the realm of Christian faith as she is in the realm of psychology. Secondly, it is hard to tell from the material I've read just how far into adulthood Gunnoe tracked her 2600 study participants. (I may give her a call later, if I get a chance.) This is important because, as suggested above, it would be nice to know whether all those spanked, successful 6-year-olds who go to college and get good jobs and volunteer in the community and find wonderful mates later suffer some horrific midlife breakdown due to the repressed demons within.

Still, it's food for thought.

Interestingly, I couldn't help remarking at the fact that British law permits the spanking of children as long as you don't leave visible bruises. Talk about psychic gymnastics and philosophical compromise!

* originally the Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946).

41 comments:

Jenny said...

Hi, Steve. This gets right to the heart of that little family conflict I alluded to in another comment. "Core principles" that "sound right" fueled what has now turned into alienation between one family member and most of the others. While I admire someone who can take a "principled" stand, taking it to absurd levels that lead to this kind of thing (isolation) just brings the underlying principle being upheld into question.

RevRon's Rants said...

I had an aversion to the idea of spanking my kids, due to my own abuse at the hands of my father. I ultimately discovered that there is a broad range between absolute permissiveness and abuse, and there were a few occasions on which I did spank my kids (The old adage that “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” has never been more true).

I don’t think that they were damaged by my infrequent attempts to “drive behavioral points home,” and any unresolved guilt I might harbor about my parental efforts is based more in the things I think I should have done, but didn’t, rather than the things I actually did.

Before becoming a parent, I was fascinated and thrilled by the work of A.S. Neill, as documented in his book, "Summerhill." Whether my fascination was borne of a sense that his approach was indeed better, or the fact that his approach was a repudiation of my own father’s behavior is a topic in its own right. I believed – and still believe – that children deserve the right to express themselves with minimal restraints, but also came to realize that sometimes, pure logic or respect for a parent’s desires are woefully inadequate factors in controlling preadolescent behavior. Sometimes, you just need to ‘splain things in a language that resonates with the child’s priorities: engage in unacceptable behaviors, and reap unacceptable responses.

Neill's ideas were and are uplifting and show promise, IMO, but I can't see the workability of absolute democratization of the parenting or educational processes. Just too much responsibility for a child to handle.

Liz Ditz said...

On-topic: The popular parenting seminar, Love & Logic advocates parental firmness and explicitly repudiated spanking a number of years ago.

Off-topic: an academic pharmacologist on the drugs James Ray was taking
http://scienceblogs.com/terrasig/2010/01/james_ray_sedona_testosterone.php


As mentioned at the outset, one of the biggest reasons investigators were interested in any drugs that might have been in Ray's possession was that there may have been psychoactive substances that could have impaired his judgment or that of followers/clients in the sweat lodge at the retreat. Ray was reported by several eyewitnesses as being aggressive and aloof, and even unhelpful when medics arrived at the sweat lodge. Dan Harris at ABC News asked me if I thought that Ray's pharmacopeia might have contributed to his state of mind.

RevRon's Rants said...

According to the Love & Logic approach, all a parent need do to effectively guide their children's behavior is to, [quote]...repeat, as many times as necessary, "I love you too much to argue." No matter what argument the child uses, the parent responds "I love you too much to argue." [end quote]

When dealing with a preadolescent child, the parent has to offer guidance and establish boundaries in a manner within the framework of the child's logic. And during the earlier stages, say through the age of about 6 or so, that logic is pretty well stuck in the realm of cause & effect: if you do something significantly undesirable, the response to your behavior will be undesirable to you.

A swat on the butt will produce 2 things: anger and the desire to not experience it again. And the anger will pass much more quickly than will the frustration a child feels when presented with concepts that are too sophisticated for his/her comprehension, and will, IMO, be less traumatic than the feeling of shame at having disappointed/let down the parent. This from one who got his share of both.

I can just see Hoponono (SP) being marketed as the ultimate parenting tool. Yep... that'd work, and they've already got the highly popular seminars going on. :-)

Bob Collier said...

I smacked my daughter once when she was two, and she looked up at me and said very sternly, "Don't you dare smack me!" So I looked down at her and thought for a few moments and said, "Okay. I won't." And I never did ever again. Today my daughter is a lawyer and one of the most wonderful people I've ever known. Is that because I didn't smack her? Well, there were many other factors in the mix as well.

I suspect there are many other factors in the mix as well in the results Marjorie Gunnoe came up with. A finding of her research is apparently that there is "not enough evidence to prove that smacking harmed most children." How so? Could it be because isolating the precise effects of spanking from other factors in a child's life is too difficult if not impossible? Which leaves us with intuition. Does it seem like a good idea to physically assault a child? Darn it. Where's the science in that?

Meanwhile, apologists for spanking will probably take away from the research the idea that it's now been 'scientifically proven' that spanking children between the ages of two and six is good for them.

Even though the results of the research came from answers given in a survey. Could there be any way of gathering information more subjective than that? It's about as 'scientific' as sticking a pin in a horoscope.

I think there's less to this research than meets the eye and I agree with Penelope Leach.

Steve Salerno said...

But Bob, is it possible you're missing the takeaway here: that that one spanking is what gave her the resolve to be successful? So maybe it's not because you didn't spank her thereafter; it's because you did spank her that once. ;)

RevRon's Rants said...

"Does it seem like a good idea to physically assault a child?"

As usual, there's a BIG gray area between smacking a child's bottom and "assaulting" the child. I can count on one hand the spankings I gave my kids, none of which was done in anger. The kids turned out pretty darned good, too. Whether that is a result of my parenting or in spite of it is for others to judge, if that's what they're inclined to do.

I think it comes down to a lot of factors: the child's nature, the parent's history and temperament, and the individual situation. Barring obvious examples of abuse, I would no more judge another parent for their parenting than I would expect them to judge me for mine. I might disagree with their methods, but I think we each have to raise our children the best way we know how. And as far as I know, there's never been a universally accepted parents' manual (and it's doubtful there ever will be one).

LizaJane said...

A smack on a diapered bottom is a far cry from a beating. It's not necessarily effective, and the few times I've resorted to it I've ended up wracked with guilt, feeling like an idiot, and apologizing for it.

But, it's also not necessarily harmful in the long term. My explanation that mommy was wrong and I didn't handle that well probably did more good than the little spanking did harm. Hey, they see mom apologize (which is more than I ever saw from my own mother, who is physically incapable of apologizing to anyone for anything).

There's a huge difference between a beating and a spanking. How old is the child? Are you "smacking" an infant (G-d forbid) or are you swatting the highly padded bottom of your back-talking, disobedient 2-year-old? Have you physically INJURED the child, or just embarrassed her? Was there fair warning and logic to it that the child could follow, or did you just fly into a rage, unprovoked?

I don't agree with corporal punishment, but I don't think it's always necessarily a crime or even a huge, devastating mistake. There are so many variables, you can't simply say, "Yes, it's fine" or "No, it's always inherently wrong."

I think that kids who learn consistent discipline from the outset don't often NEED a spanking. My three little angels, for example. Perfectly pleasant dinner companions, and I take full credit (it's hard work!). Threats of isolation/separation ("go to your room") work fine, because I've been all about the follow-through since day one. I didn't just say, "One more time and we leave." We actually LEFT.

But a child swatted a couple times with good cause is probably less likely to grow into a maladjusted, socially incompetent adult than is one who's been convinced by his parents and teachers that he's the center of the universe. I think THOSE kids are more likely to end up the societal deviants -- or at least white-collar criminals. They'll probably be perfectly happy, but not much fun for the rest of us to interact with.

Anonymous said...

"But a child swatted a couple times with good cause is probably less likely to grow into a maladjusted, socially incompetent adult than is one who's been convinced by his parents and teachers that he's the center of the universe. I think THOSE kids are more likely to end up the societal deviants -- or at least white-collar criminals."

True, but this is not a case FOR spanking.

I am not knowledgeable about all the research that's been done that supports/disproves the value of spanking, but Project No Spank looks interesting. (www.nospank.net) Scroll down to "Research".

I wholeheartedly agree with the mission statement's position that children should not be excluded from the legal protections against assault and battery that adults have. In my lay opinion, it's never necessary to hit a child. Hitting, in probably too many cases, can and does end up crossing a line by an upset or out-of-control adult and becomes outright abusive.

Some adults have good self-control and spank sparingly, "fairly", etc. But that's not a case FOR spanking.

Elizabeth said...

An occasional spanking may not ruin a child's life, but, really, what message does it send to the kid?

And if in doubt, ask yourself: would you, as an adult, like to be subject to corporal punishment? For turning in that work assignment late, for example. Or surfing the Web during work time, or any other infraction, domestic and/or work-related, for that matter.

I didn't think so.

Then why assume that what we personally find harmful and objectionable should be acceptable for our kids?

Bob Collier said...

The headline of the article, Steve, is it not, is "Young Children Who Are Spanked Grow Up More Successful". The accuracy of that simplistic assertion is debatable enough, but it seems to me also that there's an issue with what constitutes "successful".

This article also turned up at the forum of the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children (aTLC), an organisation to which my newsletter is affiliated, and a comment on that point was, "In other words, they are better conditioned to the cultural trance of obedience and conformity."

The article is clearly aimed at conventional parents (I'm not one of them - can you tell?) and I think it's pretty much what they want to hear. Mainstream society values compliance in children. Parents who have "well behaved" children score bonus points and that makes it excusable for a parent to force compliance and call it "discipline" while all the while it's a symptom of their own lack of discipline.

In my view, if you spank your child and feel bad afterwards, that's the biggest clue you're ever going to get as to whether it's the right thing to do or not, whatever Marjorie Gunnoe and her pop quiz 'research' has to say about it.

Did I see Jordan Riak's Project No Spank mentioned? Now there's a guy who's destroyed every pro-spanking argument there is in his time. I'll ask him if he's seen the article.

Not that every parent who has smacked their child is necessarily pro-spanking, of course, or that the smack has necessarily done harm. If I might get a bit New Agey for a moment, I see a child's development as like a stream. It's the forward movement - the flow - that's important and that won't be impeded by a few leaves, twigs or even rocks along the way. Thank goodness, or we might all be in trouble.

(By the way, it wasn't a spanking I gave my daughter, it was one smack on the back of the hand.)

Steve Salerno said...

Bob: But again, really, I have to say that your argument here makes my point: that there is a difference between an entrenched philosophical position based largely on feelings (e.g. anti-spanking, pro-self-esteem, vaccines-cause-autism or thousands of others) and evidence that favors or disfavors that position. I can sit here all day long and say "I hate the idea of spanking a child" (which I do, personally); that has nothing to do with what the (counterintuitive?) research says.

I'll give you another, far more controversial idea: Suppose someone did a massive study of children who were victims of incest, and that study demonstrated that such children went on to become far more successful adults than the average. No matter how much we detest the idea of incest in concept, we'd have to acknowledge the scientific weight of those results....wouldn't we?

RevRon's Rants said...

"In my view, if you spank your child and feel bad afterwards, that's the biggest clue you're ever going to get as to whether it's the right thing to do or not..."

I think that this statement is reflective of the kind of New Age oversimplification that gave rise to political correctness, among other distractions. It is inevitable that parents (or anyone else) will occasionally do things that "feel bad," but which are nonetheless the right thing to do.

For example, I have a very deep love for the animals who are part of my family. They are more than just pets; they are my friends, my children. I am very aware of my position as steward, caretaker, friend, and in some ways, father to them. Yet over the years, I've been in the position to have animals put down, far more times than I wish to remember. When the choice was made and the action taken, I was torn apart emotionally, to the point of blubbering and sobbing for hours, and feeling empty for days, weeks...

Yet in hindsight, I know that I made the right choices, even though those choices left me feeling bad, because I ended the suffering of loved ones.

I've also seen to it that my children (human) were immunized against disease, even though it hurt me to hear them scream when they were given injections. Did I feel bad? Certainly. But I knew that the minor pain they suffered would effectively protect them from far greater pain. And in those few instances when I spanked my children, I certainly felt bad, but felt that my actions could well prevent them from engaging in behaviors that could leave them ostracized by others later in life.

They have grown up, not as automatons who conform to every nuance of "expected" behavior, but as happy adults who learned early on that some behaviors simply aren't acceptable. Some people obviously feel that they are in possession of the one true Grail of parental wisdom, based upon something they've read or their own experiences. What they generally overlook is the fact that their measure of "success" is based upon their own limited sample, and that their chosen methods might not be globally applicable (unless the sample population is caught up in a "cultural trance of obedience and conformity.").

Dimension Skipper said...

I just found your rod here, Steve.

(And the rest of you... just bite your tongues. Shame on you for reading anything suggestive into that statement!)

:^)
_____________

BTW, I watched This Emotional Life* on PBS over the last three nights (2 hours each night). I thought it was mostly very well done. My one minor quibble was only that, personally, I could have done without some of the bits of celebrity musings, but thankfully they were NOT the focus of the show and kept very short.

Of course, certain stories hit closer to home than others, but most were fascinating on one or more levels. Personally, I found the second night with its focus on fears, anxiety, and depression to be the most riveting, especially the story of identical twin teen sisters, one of whom suffered from severe treatment-resistant depression and the other did not. The PTSD segment was fascinating too.

Anyway, my point is only that some folks around here may find it of some general interest. More specifically the very beginning of part 3 (hour five overall) generally addresses the SHAM phenomenon/culture.
_____________

* All three two-hour parts are to be consecutively rebroadcast on my over-the-air DTV WHYY subchannel 12.3 beginning this coming saturday at noon. So if anyone missed it on TV you may still be able to check it out soon, but check your local listings, of course.

It also is available for viewing online through the official website. The three two-hour parts are entitled...

1) "Family, Friends & Lovers,"
2) "Facing Our Fears," and
3) "Rethinking Happiness."

...and the links to each are very obvious on the site.

For whatever it's worth, I recommend it.

Dimension Skipper said...

P.S. I want to add that Part 3 of TEL later goes back to the self-help topic, showing a nurse with cancer who looks into the self-help stuff, but hasn't gone for it hook, line, and sinker. Dr. Phil is also shown, interviewed and discussed.

Just wanted to add that for anyone who may take a look at it online and then think the topic is over once they break away from it after the early segment. (If that angle is all you happen to be interested in at the moment.)

Dimension Skipper said...

...and there's more after Dr. Phil too, moving into AA-type programs and the efficacy and reasoning behind positive psychology. Self-help in various forms is actually a large chunk of the entire episode. (Sorry to be repetitive, but again I didn't want people watching a little and then bailing thinking that was it based on any misrepresentation I may have made.)

Elizabeth said...

Suppose someone did a massive study of children who were victims of incest, and that study demonstrated that such children went on to become far more successful adults than the average.

Sigh. I give up. This theme in your posts/writings is, honestly, worrisome, Steve. And don't start with your excuse of questioning "the givens," because yes, there are some givens that are unquestionable, and -- gasp -- already scientifically researched at that, as suprising as it may sound to someone who fashions himself as a perennial skeptic and devil's advocate in one.

Yes, studies on mental health of victims of incest (and other forms of abuse) have been done, and whole books have been written -- they are not difficult to find, should you be ever interested in actually investigating the issue rather than throwing out shocking pronouncements that have no grounding in reality. You may want to start with work on trauma and its impact on developing brain, for example. People like van der Kolk or Alice Miller have written extensively on the subject.

For an easier read -- frankly, not that I expect you'd pursue it or take it seriously -- you may want to see Vachss' article here.

Steve Salerno said...

Damn, Eliz, I'm just saying "suppose." I don't have your background in the topic, so, yes, I threw it out there as a shocking hypothetical--because it's the shocking ones that bring people up short and get them to think.

However, let me remind you that prior to Roy Baumeister and others, everybody felt the same way about self-esteem: How could it be bad? And wouldn't more of it, by definition, be better?

As it turns out, in a word, no.

LizaJane said...

Anonymous and Elizabeth: I agree with you that saying "a" is not necessarily wrong doesn't somehow make "b" right. But I'd thought I'd been pretty clear in stating that despite not thinking that all spankings equate to abuse, I also think they are unnecessary and stupid, and the few times I've done it I felt like a blooming idiot and apologized.

I agree that with or without the support of research, spanking is a stupid way of showing a kid how to behave.

That said, Elizabeth, children aren't miniature adults (that's why we no longer allow them to hold jobs, and generally don't turn to them to make potentially life-altering decisions).

There are important differences between the brains and bodies of adults and those of kids. So, the fact that adults wouldn't like something (or something would or wouldn't work for them as positive or negative reinforcement) is a poor argument in general, even if it happens to work for this particular topic (spanking).

RevRon's Rants said...

"I agree that with or without the support of research, spanking is a stupid way of showing a kid how to behave."

So long as you realize that this is your *opinion,* rather than unassailable fact, the dialog can continue. What might be "stupid" methodology for you might just as well be appropriate and effective methodology for others. Lacking the omniscience required to pass such global judgment typically renders the passing of such judgment as "stupid" as some of the behaviors one decries. Just a thought...

RetroGrouch said...

I'm wondering if this study is inadvertently using "Spanking" as a proxy for a more complex set of behaviours and relationships that could, say, include saying "No", refusing to negotiate and loving your child unconditionally. I'm speaking as a father of 3 emotionally successful and adventurous kids who were definitely but grudgingly spanked.

Elizabeth said...

LizaJane, no argument with the first part of your statement.

You go on saying,

children aren't miniature adults

That's right.

There are important differences between the brains and bodies of adults and those of kids.

Yes...

So, the fact that adults wouldn't like something (or something would or wouldn't work for them as positive or negative reinforcement) is a poor argument in general, even if it happens to work for this particular topic (spanking).

This I don't agree with. Yes, children are different -- and one way in which they are is their vulnerability to outside influences and a lack of experience and context to understand what's happening to them and why. That should be -- and is, in most advanced societies today -- an added reason to treat them with extra care and responsibility (and, btw, God knows, and so do my kids, how often I have personally failed at doing that).

Stress in childhood that stems from abuse (and yes, I do agree that an occasional spank may not not yet translate into abuse, but even that depends on the circumstances) permanently alters our kids' brain function predisposing them to emotional problems that are often incurable. That too would be one additional reason, among many, to treat children with kindness, respect and love.

Physical violence -- and really, that's what corporal punishment is -- has nothing to do with kindness, respect and love.

It is always -- always -- an out-of-control reaction of a frustrated adult (to whom the child looks up for protection, love and guidance) who should have known better, and yet who lashes out on the small, helpless and confused kid the way s/he would (usually) never lash out at another adult in his/her life.

And let's face it, this kind of reaction is never necessary, although often "expedient" from the POV of an adult -- because it distracts the child, temporarily stops the undesirable behavior right then and there, and unloads the adult's anger. (On somebody small, helpless and vulnerable.)

The sad truth is that, by and large, we treat our children as vessels for our own frustrations and unresolved issues, too often perpetuating what was done to us in the name of child rearing -- you know, "for our own good."

The frequent argument we hear from those who dismiss the harm they do to their kids by mistreating them is, "Well, I was raised this way and I turned out OK." There is an obvious contradiction in it that usually escapes the mind of the person who makes such a statement.

And for anyone who still believes that this self-serving lie is true, I would recommend an eye-opening book by Alice Miller For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence. If you can stomach only one book on parenting and/or psychology in your life, that is the one I would strongly suggest for you. (Not you, LizaJane, specifically, but the generic and general "you.")

Elizabeth said...

(...) the study, by Marjorie Gunnoe, professor of Psychology at Calvin College in the U.S. state of Michigan, found there was not enough evidence to prove that smacking harmed most children.

So the study does not disprove the hypothesis that "smacking" does harm children.

She said: 'The claims that are made for not spanking children fail to hold up. 'I think of spanking as a dangerous-tool, but then there are times when there is a job big enough for a dangerous tool. You don't use it for all your jobs.'

Gunnoe's goal was to prove that not spanking kids is not all that good. A curious agenda, IMO.

Besides, "a job big enough for a dangerous tool"? What a deceptively clever way out of the responsibility for the possible implications of this research. What "jobs big enough" specifically she has in mind, I wonder?

Professor Gunnoe questioned 2,600 people about being smacked, of whom a quarter had never been physically chastised. The participants' answers then were compared with their behaviour, such as academic success, optimism about the future, antisocial behaviour, violence and bouts of depression. Teenagers in the survey who had been smacked only between the ages of two and six performed best on all the positive measures.

I would like to know how she established the age of the respondents during their "smacked" period. Personal recollections? If so, how and what did they remember? Corroborations from parents?

The measures of success she used are fairly superficial -- and as you yourself noticed, Steve, she's still talking about teens, under the supervision of the very same adults who "smacked" them. Let's follow them into adulthood and see how they'll fare then. Especially as parents, when the tough reality of child-rearing combined with their own past experiences may create adjustment problems for some of them (the lucky ones, IMO).

In addition, she does not discuss (at least not according to this brief synopsis) any possible factors that may have played a role in the "less successful" and "un-smacked" kids' lives: were they perhaps victims of benign neglect? One does not have to "smack" a kid to be a lousy parent. Not to mention that we don't know how accurate (and honest) were their recollections of their own past. Denial is a strong force in our lives, especially when it comes to issues of childhood abuse.

There are so many variables involved here, as they always are in psych studies, that showing a correlation between two or more phenomena does not necessarily establish a causation (i.e., that "smacking" before age 6 creates more successful teens).

And so there is quite a jump from Gunnoe's findings to "A Smacked Child is a Successful Child." The author of this title deserves to be smacked. That should qualify as "a job big enough." IMHO.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Good points all.

RevRon's Rants said...

"And let's face it, this kind of reaction is never necessary, although often "expedient" from the POV of an adult -- because it distracts the child, temporarily stops the undesirable behavior right then and there, and unloads the adult's anger."

Sorry, Eliz, but I can't agree (at least in my own experience as a parent) that a) spanking was never necessary, or especially b) that it was *ever* done to "unload my anger."

One of my children was very headstrong, and even at an early age, would push to see how far she could go. At the same time, there have been situations where even a hesitation to respond to parental direction could have had disastrous consequences. "Stay away from that snake," or "Don't go running to the street" are a couple that come to mind (memories). And there were a few times when the fear of getting a spanking was the only thing that kept one of my children from doing something dangerous. On a couple of other occasions, a swat on the behind provided the motivation to behave appropriately when nothing else was working.

I am truly sorry that your own experiences as a child were so traumatic. I was the target of just the kind of abuse you decry, and it left me dead-set against the use of corporal punishment. When I became a parent myself, I did find it necessary on rare occasions to spank my kids. Hated doing it, and NEVER did it in anger. And I don't regret it now.

We each have to decide what is acceptable behavior, both on our kids' part, and on our part as parents. As I'd said before, there just isn't a parents' manual that is universally applicable. Beyond some very clear boundaries, it's a day-by-day judgment call, and each of us has to make those judgments. We run into trouble when we attempt to make our own judgments applicable to everyone else and to every situation.

Did I ever fail my kids? You bet. Do I have regrets as a parent? More than I can name. But looking back on their childhood, the few times I swatted their butts just don't make it to that list of regrets. And since there wasn't anyone else there to observe the situations, I don't feel that anyone else's judgment of the situations is particularly valid... not even people whom I like and respect.

Steve Salerno said...

Let me throw in something else here. Yes, we all strive to be ideal parents. And it would be nice if we were. But I think that if there is disenchantment with a child, it may, just may, be better to express that disenchantment with a "nonviolent spanking," if you will (i.e. a smack or two that's delivered in an almost businesslike, this-is-just-something-we-have-to-do manner), than via the sort of constant passive-aggressive sulking or sarcasm or name-calling that too often characterizes the relationship between parents and disobedient or otherwise intractable kids. I have known a number of parents who "would never dream of hitting" their kids, but who sublimate that anger or desire for correction into a subtle but malignant disdain that, in my view, may be far worse.

RevRon's Rants said...

I remember a time when, shortly after my divorce, I was at my mom's house, and my daughter committed some relatively minor infraction (don't remember the details). She told my daughter that what she had done was "unforgivable."

I took my mom aside and reminded her that she had said the same thing to me on occasion as a child. I told her that I had felt ashamed, and that sometimes, I still felt that shame, and that I chose not to subject my daughter to that shame. My mom never again uttered that word.

As it turns out, the rage I felt - and too often expressed - in response to my father's browbeating (and physical beatings) has all but passed, but the shame still creeps up now and again. The paddlings I received didn't leave scars as deep as did the implication that I was flawed beyond redemption.

Ironically, even those hurtful implications fall short of being "unforgivable." I think that *how* we act toward others - especially our children - is sometimes even less significant than *why* we act.

Elizabeth said...

Yes, Steve, abuse takes different forms, and sometimes the non-spankers can be the worst parents of all.

It still does not justify using physical punishment on a child (and I speak as a mother of a very intense and headstrong kid, who did it herself and profoundly regrets it today, hoping I would never ever do it with my grandchildren, should I have any; too bad this wisdom comes so late for some of us and with such a price).

Ron, I hear you. I strongly recommend that when you have a moment of spare time (who knows, it may happen), you read Miller's "For Your Own Good" -- if you haven't yet. It's probably the most important book written in psychology (the most important, IMO) and should be a mandatory reading for anyone who has children, plans to have them, or has been a child him/herself.

I can promise one thing: you won't regret it.

RevRon's Rants said...

Eliz - Will you spank me if I don't read the book? :-)

Elizabeth said...

(Gasp! Beyond here, there be dragons.)

Ron, I think this is not exactly the kind of spanking Steve's post was about, but maybe I missed the point entirely. (Happens to me quite often ;).

But since you are impeccably incorrigible, as usual, some kind of punishment seems in order.

Tell ya what: I spank you after you read it, OK? (If you still insist on it -- which I doubt you will. :)

WV: unkiddi. Dear lord...

Elizabeth said...

Let's extend this reasoning, on the "usefulness" of corporal punishment, to adults.

Gunnoe talks about using this "dangerous tool" for "jobs big enough" without defining what they may be.

One could argue that punishing/reforming criminal offenders, or even everyday adult transgressors, is too "a job big enough," from the societal POV.

Why then not resort to public flogging for, say, petty vandals? It's done in Hong Kong -- and what a successful society they have! Low crime rates, civic-minded, or at least law-abiding citizenry, clean streets, etc. Singapore is similar. So they are successful, at least by most measures similar to those used by Dr. Gunnoe, I suspect.

Saudi Arabia also flogs its citizens left and right for such awful crimes like being seen in public with members of the opposite sex. And they have fantastic records on civic obedience and other measures of societal "success." Why, we have measures to prove it.

In our society, it is OK to hit children, but not adults -- and we have the highest crime rates in the world. In Saudi Arabia, etc., it's OK to physically punish adults -- and their crime rates are low and societies orderly. In the US, it's quite the opposite. So perhaps we are doing it all wrong.

Perhaps, "for our own good," we should start emulating those countries and sanction beating adults, rather focus on justifying violence against kids. Hey, if it's good for adults and the whole society there, why shouldn't it be good (and effective) here?

P.S. BTW, I'm not saying that there is no socially sanctioned violence within family against children in the above mentioned societies. I'm exaggerating the arguments on purpose, however, to make my points (the main one being that violence against children, "smacking" included, is unacceptable).

Bob Collier said...

Steve, you wrote: "I can sit here all day long and say "I hate the idea of spanking a child" (which I do, personally); that has nothing to do with what the (counterintuitive?) research says."

Does a self-reporting quiz qualify as research? It seems to me it was more like the kind of thing you get on Survey Monkey, isn't it?

Quite apart from the "curious agenda" that Elizabeth commented on.

Steve Salerno said...

Bob et al: Well then what qualifies as research in these highly nebulous, highly subjective, highly-colored-by-human-perception arenas? Do we hire a team of 2600 shrinks and dispatch them to follow 2600 children--carefully divided into control groups etc.--from birth well into adulthood, spank some of them and not the others (and with varying degrees of frequency and force), and see how they all fare?

You know, there are people who take issue with the Framingham Heart Study, too, and that's measuring (mostly) objective criteria. I don't know the answers here, Bob. I just know that it seems worthwhile to at least ask the questions, and confront the oft-repeated "givens."

Elizabeth said...

Note to DimSkip: I watched This Emotional Life, though not the first part, and enjoyed it overall, but was a bit underwhelmed by its somewhat superficial and "made feel-good for TV" quality.

The curious choice of cases to illustrate psychological problems, for example, was at times annoying (to me). The depressed twin's story was interesting, but all I kept thinking about was: How much does ECT (electroshock treatment) three times a week cost and who the hell can afford it?

Of course it helped enormously in this case that the family was upper middle class (at least), with means to afford this treatment. For the rest of us, I suspect, it's a do-it-yourself ECT (i.e., a fork in the electric socket on an as-needed basis).

The whole series (and I haven't yet seen the first part, so maybe that one was different) looked a bit like a feel-good ad to me, showing us remarkable, but not typical, examples of recovery from mental problems and overcoming adversity. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and that certainly was useful, informative and inspirational; but it glossed over, IMO, the less rosy reality of most people's lives -- i.e., people who do not have the means, material and other, to pursue therapies and options they have shown there.

On a more upbeat note, two of my favorite highlights: showing that ECT generates growth of new neurons in the brain at a faster rate than antidepressants; and Martin Seligman backpedaling, ever so sheepishly, from the seemingly unbridled awesomeness of the positive psychology, by admitting that we don't have much research to support it.

And, oh, the unemployed guy from New York, who was subjected to positive psychology "treatment," with his healthy and down-to-earth skepticism about it throughout was also among my favorites.

Dimension Skipper said...

Eliz, Thanks for bringing up the point of insurance coverage (as I suspected you might). I pretty much had almost those exact same thoughts re how some folks have access to such treatments and others don't. I so wish they would have at least mentioned it as a short segment somewhere along the line, but I'm not surprised they didn't.

The idea of equal availability of insurance coverage for such things seems to be a topic to be avoided in such programs, probably because they don't want to come off as "taking sides" politically and thus generate undue controversy. And yet so often (usually?) insurance is one of, if not THE, most crucial factors in determining course of treatment for almost anything, especially mental disorders.

My hope, though, is that if such major programs can at least shine more light on mental health issues as real honest-to-goodness medical issues, then maybe many years down the road (sigh) the insurance stuff will eventually get hammered out. If they'd address it directly in such programs, then maybe it could go a little faster, but what can you do, you know...

As for the rest of it, I didn't get the impression of it being too "feel good" any more than such topics often get presented as such. They DO have to try to be a little bit entertaining and maybe as broadly relevant as possible. Not many people want to watch depressed people sob for two hours.

I can see how someone may look at it that way as too "feel good," but I just didn't happen to. I thought of it all more as a potentially enlightening overview about various conditions and philosophies and probably beneficial for people to watch if they don't have a lot of experience dealing with family/friends who may have ever been in similar situations. I really wasn't expecting anything more than that going in, so that may have colored my reaction too.

I thought the first part was the least interesting to me personally, but that was more due to my own biases and situations, not through any particular fault of the program. It still managed to hold my attention. Others may very well find it to be the most fascinating part.

I specifically recall the two guys dealing with PTSD in the "Facing Our Fears" part... one eventually seemed to be helped, but the other still struggled despite his treatment, they said. I was particularly struck by thw brief comments from the one's wife which showed how it was affecting HER and yet she had to be focused on HIM for both their sakes for the time being. There were other instances where they did that, showing the collateral damage of such illnesses. I wish they could have done a separate segment on that angle as well.

I thought they did stress (enough for my taste) how much work treatments (in general throughout) can sometimes be as well as the inevitable trial and error of other courses, particularly with medications. But beyond the immediate necessary work there lies the further "work" of battling for coverage. People who are ill aren't necessarily in the best condition to handle that on top of everything else.

But there again, like you, I wish they would have used that as an opportunity to show how insurance coverages (and lack thereof) can significantly contribute to the course of action (or lack thereof). Heck, they could have easily done a fourth two-hour part on insurance issues alone!

And they did point out (without dwelling on it) some of the potential dangers of the ubiquitous self-help industry so I think there were some examples of not just pie-in-the-sky, everything's rosy, let's present a current trend as science.

Dimension Skipper said...

One other point springing from TEL, but very SHAMmy...

I'm not too familiar with the self-help names myself and I was flabbergasted by Louise Hay's (whom I'd never heard of before, believe it or not) "inner ding," dismissal of science, and saying that (supposedly in her view) illnesses (physical or mental) are entirely a result of one's thoughts. She "chooses" to think good happy positive thoughts so she's well (and claims to have healed herself from cancer, though it's undocumented, of course).

Ok, right. So apparently she must now be immortal, I guess? Although, she doesn't seem to have figured out how to stop aging in appearance. Not that she looked bad for her age or anything, but it seems to me that she ought to be able to do something to arrest aging in general if she could just choose the right thoughts.

I don't know how anyone could watch that interview segment with her and take her (even for the tiniest bit) seriously. If she's lecturing and promoting these views then THERE'S a dangerous person! She was cartoonish. I'm very tempted to say that anyone who does take her seriously may very well deserve whatever consquences they may get and that's not a view I usually adopt.

Minor addendum point...

There was another bit where the nurse who was looking into some of these alternative approaches (but not convinced enough to give up chemo) was quoting about some of the authors she's read while looking for alternative answers and among them she listed William Dyer. I'm pretty sure she meant Wayne Dyer, unless there's another Dyer out there writing similarly themed books. I was a little surprised they kept that in, but I guess the mistake (still assuming it was, anyway) was irrelevant to the point she was making at the time.

Bob Collier said...

Steve, you wrote: "I just know that it seems worthwhile to at least ask the questions, and confront the oft-repeated "givens.""

I agree. Question everything.

The problem as I see it with studying the behaviour of human beings is that objectivity is probably impossible. Somebody has to notice something and go "Hmm..." and what we notice is usually confined to what's important to us personally - reticular activating mechanism and all that - and this can often lead to studies that are no more than the pursuit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I'm reminded of an encounter I had about six years ago with a "social scientist" whose research had shown that working mothers spent as much quality time with their children as stay at home mothers. Note, first of all, the insertion of the word "quality", so already we're in the land of subjectivity and potential bias because this was not going to be a matter of a stay at home mother's clock time in the company of her child or children vs. a working mother's clock time. As is usually the case with these things, the report mentioned only the number of participants, how they were organised and a brief summary of what was studied and nothing of the actual research criteria - how the study subjects were chosen, who they were and why that mattered, what exactly was measured and how it was measured, etc. If a mother was at home with her child but was doing the laundry, for example, was that deducted from her quality time? What about if she was having a conversation with her child while she was doing the laundry? Did that count as quality time or not? Who knew? There would have had to have been somebody there with a camcorder to get a reasonably accurate picture. More likely, there was a quiz question: "How much time each week do you spend on doing the laundry?" My answer to that question would be something like, "I haven't got a clue. Would you like to come and stay at my house for a week and time me?" No need for that, a rough estimate will do. 0-5 hours? 6-10 hours? Or maybe they asked a time and motion guy to suggest how long it would take a mother to launder the family's clothes if there were two adults and one child (age 0-5, 6-10, 11-15?), or two adults and two children, one adult and one child, etc. Who knew? Nobody. That information wasn't in the report. So I wrote to the lady who'd conducted the study and told her that, as a full-time at home parent at that time, I disagreed with her contention that a mother who was missing from the home for part or most of a day could spend as much quality time with a child as a mother who was with the child 24 hours day. Perhaps she assumed stay at home mothers spent their days doing the housework in a state of oblivion or farmed their children out to daycare or something like that. I've no idea. Anyway, she wrote back and gave me some extensive psychobabble to reassure me that science was safe and well in her hands, and I wrote back to her asking if she would run me through her research methodology. I never heard from her again.

What qualifies as research? Was it Albert Einstein who said, "Of course we don't know what we're doing. That's why we call it research."? Maybe we ought to allow research to be whatever anybody wants to call research but be in the habit of pondering on the meaning of the results - as we're doing here - rather than accepting them at face value.

Elizabeth said...

Bob, you've brought up two pet peeves of mine in one issue. :)

A lot of psych research (though certainly not all) is of questionable quality and value (IMO). I was reminded of it again watching This Emotional Life, when certain "discoveries," via research, had been mentioned.

Positive and strong social relationships strengthen our sense of well-being!

Depressed people worry more!

Research finds out that 100% of humans die!

Groundbreaking, all.

I'm paraphrasing, but not too wildly, and mocking it here to make a point. As in, really, you had to research THAT?

But this view of mine goes against the Question everything dictum, I suppose, because there are some things that are so patently obvious that researching to rediscover them "anew" is ridiculous -- at least in my mind (LOL, I know, I know.)

Again, that's why I maintain that there are the givens which are, well, given and beyond questioning -- unless you have nothing better to do and/or are an academic in social sciences and must continue boosting your resume by reinventing the wheel.

The second pet peeve of mine is this nonsensical quality time. What a bunch of crock.

First of all, as you point out, exactly how do we define and measure it?

Second, from the POV of a child, the distinction of quality vs. quantity in the relationship with the parent is largely* bupkus.

A child needs a safe and predictable presence of a responsible and responsive parent (but that does not mean one directly focused on the kid 100% of the time), with whom s/he can form a secure bond. And that -- forming the essential emotional bond -- requires continuous time together, "quality" or not.

Mothers in less civilized societies do not go out of their way to do special quality time with their infants and toddlers: they carry them around, going about their daily business. This is what the child needs -- having the same parent(s) around, who may be cooking, doing the laundry, working in the field, etc. as long as they are with or near the child and responsive to him/her when needed. That's the quality from the POV of the child.

The quantity is quality,* especially in early childhood. Unfortunately, we rarely ask children what they need and prefer, although if we really paid attention to them, we would be able to notice it right away.

And that's, btw, one of those givens that we fuss about and question endlessly until we finally rediscover it anew and accept as freaking obvious, which it is and has been all along. But, hey, to realize this, we need reams of scientific research, of course -- thus all those questionable, if not laughable, IMO, studies around.

*I mean responsible parenting here, and not being with a child 24/7 while, say, drugged. Which, unfortunately, happens too -- and that would be one instance when that distinction between quality and quantity time matters.

Bob Collier said...

There is actually a Human Givens Institute:

http://www.hgi.org.uk/

My favourite psych research was a study of "executive dysfunction" that, when translated from psychobabble into plain English, amounted to an assertion that "executive dysfunction" is caused by an inability to make decisions.

Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

initial gut response...that's a pretty pathetic way to measure the future success of a kid (maybe it depends on the kid.)
A.S. Neill had a few truly marvellous insights, did he not?
You could just tell he was on the kids' side...
And maybe that's the real core of the issue.
Of all the kids I've ever raised (some my own, some not) I only ever slipped once...spanked a kitten-torturer...and that was just out of pure grief, really. He stopped the behaviour cold dead not because of the bottom-whacking, but when I had the good sense to point out to him how ridiculous the results of his terrorism looked. (the kitten survived, quite nicely.)
I dunno....some parents just don't have much of a sense of humor.
Sometimes I think that's where the real problem resides.

If raising kids was really all that deadly serious, I don't think we would have had a hope in hell of surviving as a species. (and I have a real bad feeling that the jury's still out.)

....still can't remember who I am....

Bob Collier said...

In my inbox today, more research on the subject:

Children Who Are Spanked Have Lower IQs
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090924231749.htm

Are we being told that a lower IQ is a prerequisite for success, I wonder?