Of Spanking and State Violence

[TRIGGER WARNING. This is a very frank post on violence.]

So, last week Jill at Feministe has a post up on the first real-time spanking study.

Time Magazine reports:

[I]n the course of analyzing the data collected from 37 families — 36 mothers and one father, all of whom recorded up to 36 hours of audio in six days of study — researchers heard the sharp cracks and dull thuds of spanking, followed in some cases by minutes of crying. They’d inadvertently captured evidence of corporal punishment, as well as the tense moments before and the resolution after, leading researchers to believe they’d amassed the first-ever cache of real-time spanking data. […]

The parents who recorded themselves represented a socioeconomic mix: a third each were low-income, middle-income and upper-middle-class or higher. Most were white; about a third were African-American.

Researchers broke down the data, detailing each spanking or slapping incident, what led up to it, what type of punishment was used and how much, how a child reacted immediately and then several minutes later.

“The idea is this data will provide a unique glimpse into what really goes on in families that hasn’t been available through traditional methods of self-report,” says Holden.

About a year ago, I got a request to talk about spanking on Racialicious, from the perspective of a black parent wondering why other black parents were so quick to put their hands on their children.

Renina has written about this in the broader context of policing masculinity with violence. She said:

In this video I just watched today a Black Uncle whoops his presumably 13 or 14 year old nephew with a belt for “Fake Thugging” on Facebook. He then forced the young man to put the video on Facebook. #triggerwarning.

I have long been reluctant to talk publicly about Black parents beating Black children, however, it needs to be done. Honestly, its one of the things that I have been scared to write about and I don’t scare easily.

bell hooks has said Black feminist’s lack of writing about how some Black parents, spank, whoop and beat their children is one of the ways in which Black Feminist have failed Black families. We analyze domination between men and women and Black folks and White folks and even global violence but we don’t closely analyze how parents dominate children.

Conversations around spanking, particularly in progressive spaces, take a very hard line around corporal punishment. Renee, of Womanist Musings, has written dozens of posts about why spanking is wrong. Some of the commenters on Jill’s post (somewhere back in the 100s) brought up differences in what is considered culturally acceptable. Most of Jill’s commenters came to an agreement dominating the thread – there is never, ever a reason to discipline your child physically. But most of these conversations assume certain things. That these are interactions solely between adult and child, and that generally, the household is in an atmosphere of peace. What isn’t raised is the reality of raising children in environments where random street violence or drug use is commonplace.

One of my favorite movies – we’re talking top 10 of all time here – is I Like It Like That, written and directed by Darnell Martin. There are a thousand and one reasons for why I love that film so much, but the scene where Chino (one of the protagonists) finds out his son has been dealing drugs and taking new clothes from the local drug dealer is one of them. The beginning of this has been removed due to copyright claims from Sony, but the action starts after Chino finds out that Lil’ Chino is dealing drugs, strips him of the shoes and jeans, and spanks him with a belt in the middle of the street. The sign Chino is holding Lil’ Chino up to is a memorial to his deceased brother, a cop who was killed by drug dealers.

Chino stops beating the kid who deals drugs (note – AFTER knocking the gun out of his hand) because he hears what the kid is saying. Through his tears, the kids is saying “he can’t hit me man – he’s not my father.”

Chino lets the kid go, and leans against the wall with his dead brother’s mural. He slams his fist against it – shame, rage, anger, frustration all play on his face. He walks away and the camera cuts to Lil’ Chino under the stairs, scared and remorseful, waiting for his mother.

This isn’t the end of the scene, but I want to stop here and talk about the fear and consequences in families struggling to raise their children against a backdrop of violence.

The assumption of peaceful environment probably makes sense. I grew up in a mostly peaceful area – you weren’t fighting for your life all the time, like my cousins had to. But at the same time, it was kind of unfathomable to me to not learn how to fight and defend yourself. I lived in DC around the time when they were warning parents to make sure your kids weren’t wearing brand name clothes (anyone else remember that?) because there were way too many crimes happening over Northface Jackets and Timberland boots. I couldn’t afford these things anyway, but wearing no brand names was a step to reduce the likelihood of violence happening to you, even if it didn’t reduce it completely.

So that’s one aspect of the question. Despite some parents desire to be peaceful, their children are still operating in a violent world. So even if you raise a home that is nonviolent, how do you keep violence away from your door? How do you teach your children to respond to a violent world? The idea that violence begets more violence is a true one – but at the same time, blocks and neighborhoods can be taken over by very small groups of determined and violent people. Suddenly, all the neighbors live in fear of a handful of people. That public spankfest Chino initiated in the video above would be really welcome in communities I know and remember, though some would probably cringe to hear that said aloud. But I think it’s important to reflect on the place that violence has in our lives, and ways in which we navigate its boundaries.

I’ve heard quite a few of the grown folks talk about gun violence by discussing the way fights used to work. A certain type of fight is prized above all others – the one on one show down kind of fight, just fists and stamina. The way they tell it, there was no need for gun violence since conflicts were resolved through fisticuffs. I don’t think reality was ever that neat or honorable. But earlier this year, I watched kids from a nearby high school gang up repeatedly on their classmates, 6-on-1, 8-on-1. Everyone in the neighborhood was concerned. On three different occasions, a child cut up my block, running for his life, pursued by an angry gang of classmates. Other times, the fights started a few blocks from school grounds. Each time, adults had to figure out how to intervene. We would all come out of our houses. Some neighbors took the initiative to call the police, which we all had mixed feelings about, but all of us together couldn’t have broken up a group of 30 or so kids. With smaller groups, a few of the adults would go out yelling. Sometimes I would come downstairs with my dog, who is a good visual deterrent, and who accidentally broke up a few of these when we were out on walks. But all spring, the violence kept increasing. Quite a bit of it made the news. I am not yet a parent, but I wonder about this often. How do I teach my child to exist in this world? And how do I teach them to defend themselves in environments like this?

But then, I need to flip the question around. For every child that is targeted by bullies, there are the children who are acting as the bullies. Or the young drug dealers. Or the young adults that got set in their ways and have grown up to be the drug dealers. So when you are raising a child, and they head down that path, I often wonder: what do you do when words don’t work?

I was raised by, with, and around black men. My father, uncles, cousins, grandfathers and their friends rarely ever disciplined us girl children – that was a task left to mothers and aunties. But the boys? The boys got in coming and going.

My cousin used to have to wake up at 7 AM on Saturday to cut the grass, and help do yard work. This was part of my father’s hopes to impart discipline, and he would often say things like “Real men take care of their responsibilities.” (This was probably a way to compensate for the fact that my cousin’s father was on and off drugs and in and out of jail for most of his life. It is very easy to start repeating destructive patterns.) I’ve overheard story after story from all of my grandfathers talking about their time in the drug game, why they got out, and why it isn’t worth it. I saw my uncles teaching them to play football, basketball, fishing – anything to keep them away from the streets of South East, Washington DC in the crack era and it’s aftermath.

So discipline wasn’t all physical. Large parts of it are modeling, intervention, appealing to reason. But sometimes, kids don’t want to hear it. And it’s one thing to ask an eight year old to heed what you say – yet another to ask a willful fifteen year old to do the same.

So what should parents do, when words fail and their children are on a collision course with the criminal justice system?

This problem becomes particularly necessary for communities in crisis. I wrote about NAACP’s report on Misplaced Priorities for the Root, noting:

In 1988 President George H.W. Bush created the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which was elevated to the Cabinet level during the Clinton administration. The policies championed by ONDCP actually opened the floodgates for nonviolent offenders to become institutionalized, a trend that resulted in the war on drugs taking an outsize toll on black and Latino communities, as well as impoverished communities around the nation. “Misplaced Priorities” reveals:

    While Americans of all races and ethnicities use illegal drugs at a rate proportionate to their total population representation, African Americans are imprisoned for drug offenses at 13 times the rate of their white counterparts. […]

    According to “Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America’s Prison Population,” if African Americans and Latinos were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50 percent. […]

There are a variety of reasons for racial disparities in the prison system — the NAACP cites disparate sentencing for crack- and powder-cocaine offenses and a greater focus of public spending on imprisonment than on subsidizing drug-addiction treatment. “Misplaced Priorities” also notes that low-income whites are starting to suffer also from the rise of incarceration culture; it is estimated that one in 10 low-income white males will also be incarcerated, some because of the rise of methamphetamine.

I am an adult now. Most of my friends (luckily) made it to adulthood with me. One was incarcerated. Most are now in the military, or working various jobs. Some have families. But it is always amazing to me how many of my black male and Latino male friends have had terrible, terrible interactions with police. Most of them were not doing anything in particular – when I was sixteen, my friend was harassed for sitting on a park bench with a discarded cup underneath it and was threatened with incarceration – he chose to end the issue by throwing the cup away, even though he did not place it there.

My other friends have drawn police interactions from speaking too loudly in public places; have been arrested over disputed traffic stops; have been dick checked* for drugs in their neighborhood since the officer claims they saw them throw drugs in the bushes after giving a friend dap. One of my friends was almost extradited to New York on someone else’s warrant for arrest. He was searched after running a stop sign, caught with a joint in the car (clearly, his fault), sent to lock up, tagged with the wrong name and social security number, spent 72 hours in jail begging everyone to believe him and to go check his ID in his wallet back at the precinct , hauled off to court anyway, and held until finally, some prosecutor decided to just run the check and found out he was not the person on his ID cuff.

And this doesn’t even start discussing all of the other things that happen. Women and transpeople in my neighborhood (many of the transkids are black teens) have also felt harassment from increased police presence and patrol. (This is why our neighbors has varying opinions on calling the police to intervene in the violence I referenced earlier.) DC also has a curfew in place for teens, meaning anyone who looks young on the street after midnight can be stopped and asked for identification. (This has happened to Renina.) We just have so many more encounters, and with every encounter is the chance that your life will alter forever. (R.I.P Oscar Grant.)

So the question for parents in these environments is a terrifying one – how do I prevent my child from being caught up in these huge systems, being caught up in this life that will ruin them?

To some, spanking is a cut and dry issue. Some will never, ever believe its necessary. Some people will never, ever believe you can raise a decent person without spanking. But its that scene from I Like It Like That that cuts the closest to how I understand why some parents choose hit their kids. Sometimes, you need your child to fear you because they cannot understand the consequences of the life they are choosing. I watched this happen time and time again, particularly with the men I knew. There was discipline, there were beatings, but then there were also those beatings with the undercurrent of fear behind them. Fear that you are going to lose control of your child to this other, evil, more seductive world. Fear that despite your best efforts as a parent, your child is heading down a path that leads to prison, drug addiction, or life as a drug dealer or street thug.

I know parents who regret not taking harder lines with their children. They watched them spend decades on drugs. They watched them screw up their own kids, throwing multiple lives down the toilet. They wonder where they went wrong, if they could have changed something.

I don’t think these parents are thinking “I should have kicked his ass when I caught him with weed back in the 8th grade.” But I have watched the desperation in the eyes of those who see that the streets are more alluring than the boring ass life of working hard at school and finding a job, and I can understand why people would turn to violence when words and logic aren’t enough.

I’m not saying I condone physical punishment. But I am not yet a parent, and I’ve never been confronted with those kinds of issues. I still carry scars of a parent’s abuse from my childhood, and spent the last decade on my own learning not to hit people. Not to solve problems with violence. Forcing myself to swallow all the things I want to do and say, because I’ve learned that a lot of what I internalized as normal is wrong.


If the choice ever came down to putting my hands on my child because I am fighting for their life? I’d probably do the same thing I’ve seen all my relatives do.

I’m ultimately not inclined to use any kind of violence other people these days. I know how seductive and easy that starts to feel, the exertion of control through physical means. And I know how easy it is to just allow yourself to react and react and react. So my solution is not to do it at all.

But I’m not going to take some Leave It to Beaver style moral high ground. I’m going to be raising black children, and I need to make sure they survive. If my child is on the path to start having run ins with the police, they’re going to have to go through me first.

Because unlike the criminal justice system, I care.

The problem, though, still persists. Violence is (at best) a temporary solution, and it carries with it a very high potential to slide over from discipline to abuse. So remember, the clip above? Lil’ Chino’s auntie, Alexis, is the one who takes the child and begs Chino to stop hitting him. She’s the one trying to reconnect Lil Chino with his mother. And she’s the one trying to advocate for not hurting the child – based on her own history as growing up with a father who didn’t want to accept that his little boy wanted to be a girl.

The story of Alexis is an interesting counterbalance to Lil’ Chino’s. Later in the story, after Alexis fights with Lisette about rejecting her son, she decides to confront her mother and father about her life, and how she has chosen to live as a woman. Her father comes to the door – and delivers a punch in the eye. Lisette is horrified – but Alexis points out that she was treating Lil’ Chino in the same way their parents treated them. To the viewer of I Like It Like That, stories of violence are told in complicated, complex ways. Should Chino have spanked his child on the street? Should Chino have spanked a child not his own, who was luring other kids to deal in the drug trade? In some ways, it was interesting to see how quickly that tough-kid facade fell away when Chino didn’t back down – which ruined his reputation with the other neighborhood kids. But by the same token, if we can accept that violence, the violence involved in trying to “save” a child, then how can we condemn Alexis’s father for trying to beat his queerness out of him? And if we say we accept no violence at all, how should Chino have solved the drug dealing problem? And, would he have been able to solve the situation without losing his son or becoming a casualty, like his brother?

Violence is a way of asserting power. Violence is also a method of communication. And this is what makes this conversation around spanking so complicated. The questions around spanking mirror the questions we have around use of force – and how we cope (both on a personal and a societal level) with the messiness of life.

*Edited to Add: A dick check is when police check your genital area for drugs. Occasionally, officers will do this in public, as a power thing or a humiliation tactic. It is normally done after someone is incarcerated, similar to the cavity check. Yes, the friend this happened to filed a complaint. No, nothing came of it.

About This Blog

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at team@racialicious.com.

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  • Ardilia

    This is a really interesting discussion of the issues involved in deciding to spank kids. In my family there was not serious danger of violence on the streets, but there was domestic violence witnessed by the whole family. My father beat my mother when we were young and later beat us when we visited him. So after getting away from him, I think we kids viewed any amount of parental violence toward kids as abusive. In fact my mother often tells a story about when my brother was about 4. He told a police officer that some police had arrested his dad when he was little and when the cop started to say how sorry he was my brother told him, “he was spanking my mommy.” My little brother was actually trying to THANK the cop for the police who arrested his daddy. I just think this story really demonstrates how viewing violence effects kids perception of corporal punishment. My brother made no distinction between what was done to us and what happened between our parents. Later in our lives my mom came to some tough situations with my brothers and drug use, etc. and did at times use corporal punishment. But I think the perception of that punishment as aggressive vs. assertive as mentioned upthread was definitely influenced by the things we witnessed as little ones.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/muzetta Krista Boone

    How about adults modeling not hitting? Violence between two adults is considered bad and so should violence against a child. Yes, I do see the spanking issue as cut & dry.

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  • David

    What you’ve written is really making me think.  My parents only spanked me once.  Then again, they were very lax with discipline, and I have struggled with my own internal discipline as an adult because of that.  I think that not disciplining a child is a form of abuse just as harmful as beating them.

    The take-home point for me in what you’ve written is when you talked about the other things that good parents do besides discipline (spanking or something else).  I really think a lot of how kids react to any discipline depends on their perceptions about why they are being disciplined.  Kids can tell when a parent disciplines them because he’s angry or doesn’t want to be bothered.  And there can be a place for some of that, provided the parent takes time to meet the child’s needs later.  And while I don’t think children perceive spanking as fair when its happening, I believe that as they grow older they gain more perspective and can place spanking in the context of their overall interactions with their parents.

    So I guess I would say that the bigger question isn’t whether to spank or not, but to make sure than any discipline is done in the best interests of the child and done in the context of a much larger context of love and concern between parents and their children.

  • Nina

    I really appreciate this post. Particularly this line here:

    “Sometimes, you need your child to fear you because they cannot understand the consequences of the life they are choosing.”

    I have been parenting in one way or another since I was a child myself. And then I taught in two drastically different environments (South Bronx public school, upper-crust New England independent school) and saw parents and children grapple with the complexities of discipline. However, days before I have my own first child, I have been annoyed about how corporal punishment has been treated as such a simple issue. Thank you for bringing some depth to the discussion.

    After reading this post, I was reminded of my niece.  She cannot comprehend the consequences of her actions (no matter what she is told or shown), and at 14 is making choices that have consequences far beyond regret or embarrassment. Every day she threatens her very own survival. And while she could easily be a suburban teen (or an heiress, for that matter) making the same choices, her race, class and environment up the ante in so many frightening ways. Now, I’m not saying that corporal punishment can solve any piece of this problem, or that a healthy fear of an adult could save her, but somehow it needs to be communicated that she is not capable of making major decisions and needs to learn to think critically so that one day she can. Unfortunately, talking to her is not doing it. Watching her friends get hurt isn’t doing it either. While I appreciate the literature out there that condemns treating children as property, I think we have to acknowledge that children need to be protected. And more important than that, they must be prepared to function in society. They must understand that even when they won’t be held accountable for their actions as children, they may still face consequences. And the “punishment” may not always match the “crime.” This rings even more true for children of color and poor children.

    The sad truth is that many parents don’t wish to dominate or control their children, but are painfully aware that they cannot control their children’s circumstances and try to control children as an alternative. Yes, some families are able to move. Others can make major sacrifices like sending their children to military schools and boarding schools. But that isn’t the case for all parents in poor neighborhoods. And for some of the parents I dealt with in the South Bronx, moving there was an escape from more dire circumstances…like sex trafficking. 

    So maybe it’s not about instilling fear, or brainwashing children into complete obedience, but somehow convincing them to trust you more than their friends, TV, random celebrities, hormones or their own instincts/intuition/impressions. But whatever it is, the answer is so much more than “hit” or “don’t hit.”

  • Anonymous

    This is a wonderful nuanced and balanced perspective on spanking.  I was raised by an abusive single mother.  She engaged in more verbal abuse than physical abuse.  But, I must admit that the fear of possible physical violence kept me from making poor decisions as a teenager.  Decisions like leaving the party when the crack pipe came out, or leaving the party when  the number of boys outnumbered the girls.  Or making sure that I visited Planned Parenthood for protection because my mother had made it clear that a teenage pregnancy would get me kicked out of the house.  I was afraid of her violence but I can clearly see that that fear contributed to my making better choices. 

  • cat

    I feel like this attitude that it is okay to beat the bad kids (not so much in the OP, but here in the comments), fails to take into account that the vulnerable kids tend to be the ones labeled as bad.  Children with disabilities, poor children, and children of color (black boys in particular, but black girls more than white children as well), generally get hit the hardest by corporal punishment in schools as well.   I fail to see how children who are already subject to violence and being told they are bad for who they are will benefit from having even more of that at home.  My grandfather (a white man married to a Native American woman) always said that his extra abuse against my darker skinned uncle (the only one of the kids who could not pass as white like the mother) was because my uncle was bad, disobedient, etc.  I have met my uncle (a bookish soft spoken man with a ph.d. ) as well as my father (an abusive crackhead), and I don’t believe that for a second.  I, as the gender nonconforming kid with aspergers, also got to be the chosen “bad child” of my family.  But if we turn out okay, in spite of all of their crap, it is never because we weren’t really the problem all along, it is because we were properly beaten.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZYWRQJYVTIXAL33U354TAEU5IQ Ami

      I think there’s a lot of truth to this too, that it’s possible some ppl see in hindsight what they want to :  Kids who didn’t “turn out okay” could have if only the punishment was more severe, or the physicality was increased.. those that do prove that such punishment was necessary :

  • http://molecularshyness.wordpress.com jen*

    Both my sister and I were spanked, only with a hand, only on the bottom – unless in the car, then on the leg – and each of us probably weren’t spanked after age 9 or 10.  My sister resents it and doesn’t believe in spanking, I on the other hand am fine with it, and believe that more than anything it depends on the demeanor of the child.

    I am not a parent, but from my observations I have seen many different types of kids (as have we all, I’m sure).  Some are quite sensitive and respond to a sharp look or tone with tears and contrition.  Others are more headstrong and defiant, regardless of the remonstrance.  (My sister is the headstrong one, of the 2 of us.  Oddly enough, there really was no discipline method that worked on her.  She was defiant in the face of it all.  Thankfully, the moral teaching she got took hold, and while she is passionately anti-authority, she is also passionately moral.)

    Anyway, I agree that there should be some understanding and conversation on this issue.  Possibly one of the biggest issues we have right now is that some of us look at how hard/harsh a hit may be, while others look at any hit as being scandalous.  I think it behooves the parent to pay close attention to the attitude and temperament of each child, determining the most effective discipline/punishment individually.  Easier said than done, I’m sure, but I think it’s a practical goal.

    Living in the South, I know very few people who were not raised with corporal punishment.  In turn, most of the parents I know, use similar methods on their children (although many of them are much less harsh all around than their parents were).  Since the Bible belt coincides with this area, I think it’s also appropriate to mention that corporal punishment is mentioned in the Bible, and the Bible is often used to support it.  Certainly, it is not mentioned as something that MUST be done, as some would interpret it, but KJV wording of Proverbs 19:11 is rather harsh.  I’d say that influence is very real as well, and not something to be overlooked.

    I was only ever spanked by my parents.  And I remember when my parents told me that they had signed the form giving “paddle permission” at school.  (I’m so old that when I went to Kindergarten in public school, we prayed before lunch and the principal had a paddle.  But it was the 80s.  I’m not THAT old.)  Just knowing that my parents had signed that form kept me in enough fear that I made sure I was never in enough trouble to go to the principal’s office.  We all know someone who seemed to never become disciplined, who either ended up not making anything of themselves or went down a really bad path and ended up hurt, dead, or in jail.   Most of the people I know like that suffered because their parents really didn’t pay them much attention at all, or were never available/dependable for them.  Some of them were spanked, some of them weren’t.  So, who knows?  

  • Jonne Austin

    Latoya, I want to send this to everyone!  Very good post.  I’ve gotten into so many arguments with people over this.  I read the study JunePearl is talking about (it is in NurtureShock… An excellent book).  Basically what I can take away from the study and from my own experience is you do what you have to do the best way you know how.  Just don’t fail your kids.  I am so tired of others policing parents.  No one seems to notice that the kids are in the middle and they are losing out.  If a parent chooses not to spank, more power to them.  IF they choose to spank, more power to them.  Do you and I will do me.

    My mother spanked us.  Hell, my grandparents spanked us.  My mother, a single mother who was living in a low income area near Seattle, was determined not to let us fall to the streets.  She didn’t have much time as she was a single mom and had to work to put food on the table, so museums and all that stuff were not on the table.  There was STILL a world all around us that was determined to be hard on two young black children.  My mother tells me until today that she had to be hard on us (like Chino up there) because it was her against the world for US.  I don’t begrudge any of the spankings.  IF anything, the times she yelled or ignored me as punishment hurt MORE. 

    The hegemony mentioned by other posters is very real and I always gather a condescending, “holier than thou” tone from anti-choice to spankers.  The reality is that will not make me or anyone not spank their kids.  And the study shows that culture is VERY much at play and spanking isn’t a black and white issue that can be easily put away in the “parenting ur doin it rongz” category.  If these people want people to stop spanking, they need to be open minded and REMEMBER the world is full of grey areas.

    One fact that never changes is EACH child is different.  What works for ONE child, may not work for others.  It was not spanking my son that almost had the school overrun him as if he were a criminal.  That was with us trying all sorts of approaches.  The minute I did what I was comfortable with, NOT WHAT OTHERS SAID was right or not right, my eldest stopped having problems at school and was able to learn the best way.  Will his siblings need it?  Who knows.  I know I am OPEN to everything and accept that there is no ONE way to discipline my children.  Whatever happens, I will not lose them to principalities on the outside. 

    • Anonymous

      Just don’t fail your kids.

      Yeah.  I kept trying to put myself in my Dad’s shoes while writing this (since I don’t have kids) and ultimately decided that for me, that’s most important.  If my child is alive, safe, sober, and free, that’s what is most important to me. Other people may answer differently. But I don’t want to be one of those people crying over their wayward children.

  • Kitadiva2

     It has been my experience that my parents, my peers parents and the parents that I know of today who occassionally pop/ spanks are not trying to beat their kids into submission.  Usually they have tried to get thru to the mind with different conversations, punishments, timeouts etc. and the last resort is the behind.  I can change my tone and body language as I talk to a child all day about coming when I say come here, I can put them in time out etc.  but in dangerous situations – say running down the street towards on coming traffic parents just want them to stop and come when called.  If remembering that pop on the behind is the only way to get that 2 yr old to stop and come immediately, then so be it.  Sometimes obedience is what a parent needs to happen NOW – not after a convo, a time out, etc., etc..   Reasoning, time out etc. does work for all situations nor does it work for all kids.     There is no one size fits all parenting manual  for every child.   

    • Anonymous

      There is no one size fits all parenting manual  for every child.  

      Agreed. And kids can be so, so different. My dad is like bewildered – he often says that both my sister and I (as mischievous and high energy as we were) were a cakewalk compared to my brother.

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  • http://mondaysbaby.com Monday’s Baby

    Thank you for putting this nuanced, thoughtful post out there, Latoya.

    In recent years, having worked with elementary-age children as a school-based physical therapist, having read books by bell hooks and others who decry corporal punishment, and reflecting on my own upbringing, I too have come to think hitting children is wrong.  Children are one of the most vulnerable and least protected classes of citizens. The shape of their lives is dependent upon the actions and decisions of others. And the older I get, the more I realize that many people who are in charge of taking care of children and adolescents are far from emotionally healthy themselves.  

    I think many parents hit their children out of mix of mostly negative and some positive emotions: fear, a desire to protect, anger, frustration, desperation, and lack of knowledge of and trust in other methods of discipline.  My mother was the one who most often hit, spanked, and beat me as a child.  Even when I was little, I knew that her anger was disproportionate in relation to my misdeeds. It turns out that my mother spent much of my childhood in varying states of depression. The beatings closed me off to her and made me resentful.  So, while I may have “minded” her better as a result of getting beat, our relationship was and continues to be damaged.  My father beat me twice at my mother’s behest.  He didn’t touch me when he was angry and told me calmly why he was spanking/beating me (with a belt) before and after. They hurt, but not as much as the physical punishment from my mother.  A few months ago, he asked me if he had ever beat me (he has some difficulties with memory these days).  I told him yes and he apologized and said he shouldn’t have done it. We had and continue to have a close relationship. So, in my personal experience, corporal violence doesn’t always have to be damaging.  It depends on how it’s done, I suppose. But ultimately, I don’t think it gets different results than using other ways to teach children right from wrong, etc.

    Also Latoya, you said you wondered if beatings/spankings could be used as a last resort for  children who are adolescents.  I’d argue that by the time a child is 10-11, physical punishment is not very likely to help.  You really have to start when they’re young by instilling discipline and communicating with them (not being a friend, but talking and listening to them).  As Renee said earlier, consistency, modeling, and discipline (not physical punishment) are the most effective deterrents to behavior that can be dangerous.  When kids are adolescents, I think that making sure you know where and what they’re doing at pretty much all times is going to be the best way to keep them out of trouble and to make sure they know that they have to abide by the house rules as long as they live there.  That’s really hard if you’re working all the time.  Hence, corporal punishment can maybe work temporarily, but might not make long term changes in behavior.  I saw that play out with my older brother. My parents had rules for him to follow, but when he wanted to break them (stay out late, underage drink, have sex with girls) he would just stay at his paternal grandparents’ house. They were much more permissive.  Hence, he didn’t have consistency.  And my mother physically fought him more than once.  It didn’t change his behavior.

    • Anonymous

      Children are one of the most vulnerable and least protected classes of
      citizens. The shape of their lives is dependent upon the actions and
      decisions of others. And the older I get, the more I realize that many
      people who are in charge of taking care of children and adolescents are
      far from emotionally healthy themselves. 


      I speak from the perspective of an abused child.  It’s one of the reasons I included that (intentionally vague) paragraph above about unlearning damaging emotional behavior.  I’ve had to work through a lot of stuff to get to a place where I’d be comfortable bringing a child into this world. Trouble is, there’s no parental screen. We all kind of take what we are given, and hope our parents want to raise us to the best of their abilities.  And our current systems are terrible to kids – I watched my friends enter the foster system and get completely broken up and sent away. So I never got CPS involved with my drama. I just left home.

      I’d argue that by the time a child is 10-11, physical punishment is not
      very likely to help.  You really have to start when they’re young by
      instilling discipline and communicating with them (not being a friend,
      but talking and listening to them).  As Renee said earlier, consistency,
      modeling, and discipline (not physical punishment) are the most
      effective deterrents to behavior that can be dangerous.  When kids are
      adolescents, I think that making sure you know where and what they’re
      doing at pretty much all times is going to be the best way to keep them
      out of trouble and to make sure they know that they have to abide by the
      house rules as long as they live there. 

      I dunno.  I think it is way too late if you didn’t start when they were young.  But if you did, and there’s an attitude change abruptly, I would wonder where it comes from.  And it’s hard to know where your kids are if they lie to you. I just don’t think it’s as easy as trying to force someone to live by house rules when there are other places to go, and they’ve decided something else for their lives. But hey, that’s my experience talking. The mileage of others will vary.

      • http://mondaysbaby.com Monday’s Baby

        Raising children is a huge responsibility that takes untold time, patience, and other resources.  That’s why, at what would be advanced maternal age if I were to get pregnant today, I still don’t have my own yet.

         think it is way too late if you didn’t start when they were young.  But if you did, and there’s an attitude change abruptly, I would wonder where it comes from.  And it’s hard to know where your kids are if they lie to you. I just don’t think it’s as easy as trying to force someone to live by house rules when there are other places to go, and they’ve decided something else for their lives.

        That’s tough.  My mother kept me on a pretty short leash. I had places I was supposed to be: school, a part-time job, and home primarily.  She made sure I was home by calling between certain times and making me answer the phone.  Of course, this was before technology such as (cheap) mobile phones and call forwarding.  I try to avoid gender essentialism, so I really hesitate to say if it’s tougher to keep boys “under the roof” so to speak.  I do know that even though I acted out a bit, I was very focused on getting good grades and going to college. I’m sure that made it easier.  

        I do think that it’s natural for kids to push against the (house) rules when they’re adolescents, but if you give them consequences and you have their respect, they may be more likely to listen to you. Again, I don’t have my own children, so a lot of my thoughts are based on observing family, etc.  

        If I did have a child, who as you said “decided something else for their lives” then I  might likely tell them to leave my house and go live that life. If they were bluffing, they’ll stay or come back shortly.  If that’s what they really want, then they’re going to go that way no matter what you do.  I have believed for many years that you get your heartbroken in relationships and learn how to deal with it because ultimately, if you ever have children, they will one day break your hear in one way or another.

  • http://twitter.com/lovely_linguist Jessica Isabel

    Thank you so much for writing this! I read that post on Feministe a few days ago and had similar reservations. I’m starting to see a pattern: I see something overly-generalized and hegemonic on Feministe, then I come over to Racialicious and find a counter-argument that makes me feel more comfortable. That’s a little sad, isn’t it?

    • Anonymous

      Different spaces suit different needs and different people. And as a blog owner, I’ll say the tone of your space and who you attract changes over time.  Lauren, just down thread, was the Feministe founder – things change. 

      But yes, the commentariat over there is different than our core people.  (Though I notice some overlap.)

  • igglanova

    Outstanding post.  As with many things, it seems as though the myriad social ills that progressives wish to ‘fix’ are so tangled with deeper issues that the only way to affect positive change is to change the entire social landscape.  That is, to eliminate racism, class warfare, etc. before tackling comparatively smaller issues like corporal punishment.  It’s a helluva long haul.

    Before I go, though.  I’ve read that discipline methods such as corporal punishment erode the relationship children have with their parents, which in turn causes them to take more cues from their peers than parent figures.  In this way, physical discipline contributes to the beginning of a problem (e.g. kid falls in with a ‘bad crowd’), and the problem may escalate to the point where violence seems like the best solution.  That could cause people to think that violence is justified, when in fact it caused the problem in the first place.

    Dunno where I’m going with this, really.  I don’t want to demonize people for doing their best in a shitty system.  But just because something can seem like the only or best solution doesn’t mean that it really is.

    • Anonymous

         I’ve read that discipline methods such as corporal punishment erode
      the relationship children have with their parents, which in turn causes
      them to take more cues from their peers than parent figures.  In this
      way, physical discipline contributes to the beginning of a problem (e.g.
      kid falls in with a ‘bad crowd’), and the problem may escalate to the
      point where violence seems like the best solution.  That could cause
      people to think that violence is justified, when in fact it caused the
      problem in the first place.

      Fascinating.  And entirely plausible.

  • Anonymous

    Great post.  I think there is an age (early teen years) when kids are so vulnerable to the lures of “exciting” peer environments.  And what that environment is like makes a big difference.  In my life I have thought of the “desperate” act of parenting being moving – taking the kid out of a particular school; moving to a different neighborhood, or even state.  And yes, I would do that to protect a kid who was going down the wrong path.  But I expect (and hope) to have the MONEY to take those kinds of “desperate” parenting actions, but that’s a significant privilege.  Maybe it is possible as Renee suggests to insulate yourself from the dangers of the teen peer environment with very good, consistent parenting in the early and grade school years.  I find it interesting that most pro-spanking commenters on the Feministe thread were in favor of spanking for younger children, whereas Latoya is talking about spanking more as a desperate parenting action to save older kids from the streets. 

  • SamRK

    Now what I’d really like to see is some young teenage kids living in those violent situations asked to read this and giving their opinion. They’re living it after all and maybe the best way to protect them is to really let them know what they need to be protected from – not in the way an adult tells a kid, but in the way an adult honestly opens up about their questions and concerns about our world

    • Anonymous

      There are teens reading. They will speak up if they care to.

      They’re living it after all and maybe the best way to protect them is to
      really let them know what they need to be protected from – not in the
      way an adult tells a kid, but in the way an adult honestly opens up
      about their questions and concerns about our world

      Maybe. I remember not fully grasping a lot of things until I lived through it though.  Kind of like you can understand all the lyrics to a song, but not really feel it until much later. Some things (like money and credit) are strangely tangible and intangible – it’s one thing to manage your money well with a part time job living at home. It’s another thing to run your own household.  The gap between those things was something I didn’t fully understand until I had moved out. I budgeted enough money in theory – practice was a different thing all together.

      But I won’t condescend to kids living through it.  I’m just saying that “experience is the best teacher” phrase stuck around because it’s true.

      And, thinking back to my friends and I in similar situations…it’s very easy to think you’re making a minor decision when you are making a major run. I don’t think the guys I wrote about here made a conscious decision to be incarcerated for 15 or 20 years. They knew they were making a few bad choices, but I don’t think they knew how bad. Court docs basically say they went along with a friend, things got out of hand, and they all got charged as accessories. So, there’s that…

      • http://www.hitcoffee.net Sheila Tone

        I just found out that one of my male clients (a dad) got a third strike for violating a restraining order against his kids’ mother and is probably going to prison for life, and it’s really sad, because I liked the guy.  He was always polite to me and as an attorney that’s all I really care about.  What I remember most is trying to give him a talk about avoiding violence, especially sparked by jealousy.  I made my stock joke:  “You know what *my* husband says when he “catches” me *me* talking to another guy?  (shrug) ‘Better him than me.'”

        The guy said, “Yeah, but that’s your world.  In my world, I take that attitude, I catch a frying pan to the back of the head.”  Etc.  His point being that it’s not so easy being peaceful outside the peaceful kingdom.  Although the topic of that talk wasn’t specifically child abuse, these folks were before the court (and dealing with me) because their domestic violence was found to constitute child abuse.  And he and his kids’ mother just couldn’t seem to get their life together, and their child-rearing together, in a way the law found appropriate enough to let them raise their children without interference.  Yet they really seemed to care about their kids.  It was sad, and they are not uncommon. 

  • Renee


    What is a dap?

    I don’t know, I have mixed feelings on this. I have seen parents who generally will resort to corporal punishment as a last resort but will verbally berate their children in ways that are just as harsh and/or harmful as physical violence. I also know and understand that parents are human and that they often will lash out at their children due to a combination of things…being overworked and tired, frustrated by their children’s perceived disrespect combined with the pressures of poverty and daily life. Human beings are by nature emotional and it is often easier to react in an immediate and visceral way than to take the time out to understand where a particular emotion is coming from and to reason with someone. I also understand that there are differences in the type or level of corporal punishment that can be carried out.

    I am bothered by the fact that if I am at work and a co-worker’s behavior provokes a visceral reaction in me I cannot respond in a physical manner towards him, her or hir. I will lose my job, never mind being charged with assault and obtaining a criminal record. Yet, if I were to visit the same type of violence upon my own flesh and blood my reaction will be looked upon differently. However, I am more disturbed by the fact that for many of us of African descent in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, our histories are riddled with violence that was born of slavery. The threat of physical violence was a way of terrorizing us and controlling our behavior. I truly believe that threats such as “those who don’t listen will feel” which is a popular saying in Jamaican society, are rooted in this. bell hooks has written of the desire of some parents to “break the will” of children who are viewed as being too “strong minded” and one doesn’t need to strain to hear to identify a correlation between this mentality/behavior and the ways in which the violence of racism is used to undermine, control and police the behavior and existence of people of color. Violence begets violence, and I think that we are doing ourselves a disservice by failing to interrogate the effects of our visiting it on our children as well as the ways in which it affects us as the perpetrators of it, never mind the what it means for us to be continuing on with these patterns of physical violence in our diasporic communities. 

  • http://www.hitcoffee.net Sheila Tone

    Thank you for a great post.  The statement about the mistaken assumption that the household is an “atmosphere of peace” is spot on.  I work in dependency court (that’s the legal arm of child protective services), and I’m really tired of seeing so many black kids — often trouble-making, sexually active teens — taken away from parents for getting “whupped” with a belt or smacked with a hand when they misbehave.  My community is less than 20 percent black yet half my clients are black.  I’m not saying I agree corporal punishment is a good technique, but this is just crazy.  The general public thinks “child abuse” means broken bones, severe injuries, starving kids, but that’s almost never what people have done to get dependency court involved in their lives.

    • Anonymous

      I’m really tired of seeing so many black kids — often trouble-making,
      sexually active teens — taken away from parents for getting “whupped”
      with a belt or smacked with a hand when they misbehave.

      Oh yeah…don’t get me started on how black kids enter the foster system.  State systems are overtaxed as it is, but there are some definite race and class dynamics that make everything worse.

      • http://www.hitcoffee.net Sheila Tone


        Here’s a good paper from an NYU professor, Martin Guggenheim, on the subject.  I’ve heard him talk and he’s good.  His best line:  “They’re not really ‘Nobody’s Children,’  they’re “Nobody *important’s* children,”  and that’s why the system gets away with what it does.

  • Big Man

    I appreciated this post.
    Spanking and whipping is a complicated issue. There is a balance between perpetuating violence and failing to instill proper discipline. Some parents don’t feel they need corporal punishment. I use it. I will deal with the consequences of my choice.

    • http://www.hitcoffee.net Sheila Tone

      But dad, I’m warning you:  If you live in California, at least, they’ll take your kids away for that.  Really.  All it takes is one call from anyone, no matter how spitefully motivated. 

    • Jonne Austin

      Bravo!  I feel the same way. 

    • Anonymous

      There is a balance between perpetuating violence and failing to instill proper discipline… I will deal with the consequences of my choice.

      I appreciate that admission. And the willingness to accept what comes with making this choice. 

    • cat

      No, your children will deal with the consequences of that choice.  My parents don’t deal with the emotional damage left by the abuse they did to me, I do.

  • http://sooncome.blogspot.com/ JunePearl

    It is so thrilling to read this. So much so, that I’ve finally come out of lurk mode after reading this blog for over 3 years. The writing is nuanced and the author clearly respects the complicated nature of spanking v. abuse enough to have a real talk about it.

    I remember in college reading research on spanking as it related to parenting. When we talked about types of parenting, the three classifications were “Aggressive”, “Assertive” and “Passive”.  Aggressive parenting and Passive parenting were more likely to lead to children with more issues than Assertive parenting. Here is where things go interesting: White children who were spanked were more likely to see their parents as using Aggressive tactics in parenting. But Black and Asian-American who were spanked were more likely to see their parents as using Assertive tactics in parenting.

    Now, I’ve always wanted to look deeper into the research, and analyze it from a class angle, which I think would have made all the difference. Additionally, the same for looking at the immigrant status of the families tested. In the study, the Black and Asian-American children stated that they knew their parents were protecting them and preventing them from getting hurt worse by outsiders. However, the White children stated that they felt their parents were being hurtful. So the spanking was looked at as a part of societal training for the children of color, whereas the spanking was looked at as individual functioning for White children.

    This is not a simple topic. The people who say “I’mma beat my child, I don’t care what they say”, and the people who say “Spanking is violent and violence in any situation is always wrong” are doing the entire topic a gross disservice.

    • Jenny Islander

      I wonder whether part of the issue is where the parents got the idea that spanking was a disciplinary tool in the first place.  IME, the child training systems that assume bad intent in children and define any inconvenient behavior as an attempt to grab power from the parent are written by and marketed to whites.  These systems generally define innocuous behaviors as signs of future depravity and the solution as: spank, spank, spank!  Children are the enemy in these systems and they must be defeated utterly, for their own good of course.  Kids do pick up on this adversarial mindset even if they can’t put it into words. 

      • Anonymous

        the child training systems that assume bad intent in children and define
        any inconvenient behavior as an attempt to grab power from the parent

        Those sound absolutely horrid.

        • Jenny Islander

          If you are curious, start with ezzo.info.  I strongly recommend not doing so if you can’t afford to be distracted by anger just then.

          • Anonymous


            an “infant management plan” for babies from birth to six months of age to get the baby sleeping through the night by around 8 weeks, to prevent the new family member from encroaching on the closeness the couple enjoyed in their pre-baby days, and to begin to instill a sense of discipline in the baby.

            It’s a baby. A BABY. An 8 week old baby can’t do anything on its own except cry and poop. What the hell?!? Encroaching on wha? I am so, so afraid to keep reading…

          • Jenny Islander

            Ezzo is on the light and sweet end of the spectrum.  Have you heard of what was done to the Schatz children on the advice of Michael and Debi Pearl?  No matter how adversarial the system is, there will be some system that is more adversarial still.

            These child training systems grow in communities that are saturated by fear.  Typically, IME, they are created and followed by white fundamentalist Christians, although Ezzo has reached a wider audience by filing the religious serial numbers off his Growing Kids God’s Way materials and rebranding them as On Becoming Babywise, –Toddlerwise, etc.  (And consider the implications of those compound words.)  These are people whose  immediate ancestors threw out centuries of study of the Bible, plus scientific inquiry, logical thought, and plain common sense.  They tell one other constantly that the framework they set up instead is the only way to be safe now and in eternity, and furthermore, that it will guarantee a perfect, untroubled life if only it is followed to the letter.  Everyone must march in lockstep.  If intuition or the evidence of your own senses disagree with what you are supposed to do, they’ll just have to go.

            But what do kids do?  They fuss.  They fail to see how important you are.  They tell inconvenient truths.  They need.  They cling.  They mess up your schedule and ask you questions to which there are no pat answers.  They cry out in the night when you are supposed to be asleep so that you can get up and do important things tomorrow.  They make messy mistakes in the course of learning how the world works, and they keep touching your stuff with sticky little hands.

            They get trained not to do those things anymore.

            Back more on topic: Each child training system is touted as the only way to produce good children.  IME, all of them assume a certain level of privilege.  Ezzo, for example, assumes that every child is going to sleep in his or her own room with a door that locks on the outside, that every baby will have his or her own crib, and that every mother will feed her child in a high chair.  If you don’t have these things, then you can’t train your child to do what Ezzo wants your child to do and you are part of the problem with civilization today.

            And but so anyway, this hole goes a long way down and the stuff at the bottom is horrific.

      • http://feministe.us/blog/ Lauren

        I’m thinking it has to be more about social norms around discipline, like how spanking in one community looks different than spanking in another community. Kids know (or learn) when something is wrong or not normal, especially within their own communities of friends and family.

        I was spanked, open hand on bare bottom until I was about four or five for behavior that I was repeatedly told not to do. The worst was when I was told not to draw on the walls and continued to do so without reservations for weeks despite all other punishment. That was a big one. Spanking was normal in my family, and it was more the threat of spanking that kept me in line as a little kid than the spanking itself, which was really about shame and aversion. On the other hand, I had a friend whose family was heavily involved in a religious community who endorsed “spankings” for errant children and wives.  These were full on beatings, often done old school-style where the beatee was required to cut his or her own switch, but because they were administered by a church patriarch (the father), this wasn’t considered abuse. These “spankings” continued through the children’s teen years and obviously for the wife through her marriage. These two things aren’t even remotely similar.

        But I also suspect that while there is a lot of pearl-clutching around corporal punishment in privileged communities, it’s used far more often than people are willing to report, so.

    • Anonymous

      That’s fascinating.   And the Assertive/Aggressive divide really speaks to how much of this is *personal* perception.  For some kids, being spanked was a terrible experience that made them fear or hate their parents.  For other kids, it wasn’t that serious.  The trouble is you don’t really know. What one kid takes in stride, another might be devastated by. It all goes back to how parenting isn’t an exact science, because kids don’t pop out of a mold.

  • http://www.womanist-musings.com/ womanistmusings

    I am raising my children in a small town that is not really violent though violence of course does happen here.  I just believe we need to instill in our children from the very beginning that we as parents are not going to be played with.  Discipline along with conversations about responsibility and respect need to occur on a consistent basis. Children need guidelines and intervention. I know in many cases I am privileged because I work at home and spend endless hours with my children and so my case is very unique but I think the side effects of spanking make it absolutely useless as a form of discipline. 

    Black parents in particular need to be proactive.  This means teaching our children what it is to be respectful men and women through example.  More can be learned from positive interaction than the discipline after the fact.  It means giving them responsibilities that we expect to be completed.  Neither schools or society expects anything positive from them and that is why parents absolutely must create standards that are non negotiable.  It lets them know that even if the world around them is filled with racist assholes that they at least have one person on their side that cares.

    I don’t need to spank to be tough on my kids and one look is often enough to correct behaviour on their part.  But should they decide to get brave and push me, I always have windows that need washing, toilets that need scrubbing etc., I like this solution because it gives them the skills they are going to need to live on their own and works as a deterrent.  So in the end I would say the best approach is to be a good role model and mean what you say every damn time, because if you give them an inch they are going to take MILES.

    • http://feministe.us/blog/ Lauren

      This.  Thank you.

      Despite my reservations on the prior thread at Feministe, I think modeling and consistency are some of the best tools that any adult that spends time with kids can use to influence their patterns and behaviors.  But that doesn’t mean you get to be “pals” either — kids need boundaries, and kids need to learn that it’s healthy to maintain and respect others’ boundaries, and kids need to learn that there are consequences when they do not maintain and respect others’ boundaries. Period.  In the community I live in where there is an assumption of environmental peacefulness, there’s real emphasis on being friendly and fun with your kids and bargaining with them on the rules at the expense of one’s ability to maintain family discipline.  Since our kids are on the edge of puberty, I have yet to see how it plays out.  But I’m keenly interested in how my “strict” (comparatively) parenting style will fare against the fluff.

      • Anonymous

        Despite my reservations on the prior thread at Feministe, I think
        modeling and consistency are some of the best tools that any adult that
        spends time with kids can use to influence their patterns and behaviors.

        Total agreement here.  Not a fan of the whole “do as I say, not as I do model” – but I think the issue is exactly that. What are your tools?

        • http://feministe.us/blog/ Lauren

          Well, it’s a little complicated.  This is going to get long and I’m going to repeat a lot of what Renee and others have said about consistent, positive parenting.  And I will put everything in parentheses noting that my boy has been an only child (so far, I’m pregnant with #2) who has always been pretty well behaved and also adult-focused.  I also went to school for education, so even though I was a out of control teen mom hussy (Jerry! Jerry!) I had a pretty formalized parenting philosophy early on.  Latoya, I’m really empathetic to your dad’s worries about your younger brother — I was an out of control kid and my parents tried to move mountains to get me in line, and some of that included boarding schools and corporal punishment, so. So to preface, all kids are different, parents are different, and your environmental and social circumstances make a huge difference in how the child’s and parent’s personality traits will play out.

          First, the kind 0f hardass stuff: I’d say first thing is knowing what’s important to you as a parent. Having a mindful, over-arching idea of what is ultimately the most important thing to you as your child’s guardian will often guide you when the small, annoying answers aren’t presenting themselves.  Secondly, consistency. If you must be inconsistent in your rule enforcement, let your kids know this is an EXCEPTION and not to expect special treatment under otherwise normal circumstances. Next, I offer choices but I don’t bargain. The rules are the rules, and while it’s great when your kids understand why rules are enforced as they are, it’s not necessary to always bargain or explain around them. Sometimes kids just have to do what their parents say, because mom says so.

          The flufflier stuff:  I’m extremely affectionate. We exchange lots of hugs and I love yous. I like to praise a lot, but I do think it’s important to praise for a reason. Sometimes that reason is a good report card, and soemtimes that’s a good attitude, or helpfulness, or witnessing kindness or another trait I’d like to see repeated. As a parent it’s easy to get bogged down in “no”s. I also think it’s important that kids (well, everyone) feel special and lovable and clever to someone, and it’s wonderful if that someone is a parent or grandparent or sibling or SOMEONE in a caregiving capacity. I make sure I spend uninterrupted time with the boy every day, even if that’s only 15 minutes, and we talk or play a game or go for a walk, whatever. And finally, if I feel like I’ve done something poorly as a mom, I apologize.

          So I think it’s a must to validate your kids’ feelings, let them know you’re a reliable source of love and care and information, and that you also mean business.  That’s the esoteric stuff.  For The non-esoteric stuff is the usual taking away of things and privileges, yes, sometimes yelling, and sometimes (don’t judge) shame.  My parents had the resources to keep me contained in some pretty expensive ways, but I’ve seen friends parent wild-ass teenagers with a combination of empathy, exasperation, and a hammer to nail the windows closed and a screwdriver to remove the door from the teen’s room, as well as all the things in it.

          But all of this, all of our assertions about what is “good” parenting and “good” discipline are ideals that we enact when we’re at our best. There is a “best” communication model, a “best” educational or therapeutic model, even, among spankers, a “best” spanking model. Speaking as someone who white-knuckled it through many (many) years as a young, single parent, and who still battles depression, we’ve got to allow room for parents to screw up without labeling them monsters (a la the Feministe thread, where many of the loudest voices admitted to having lots of opinions but very little caregiving experiences or even reflections). Fear, fatigue, and desperation make parents do things on a spectrum from neutral to terrible even when the kids are being normal, noisy, needy kids.  That’s not to say what happens when the parents are strained and the children are at risk of harm or exploitation as well.

          tl;dr But thank you for this response post and for an excellent discussion. I’m very free with the “Likes” on this thread.

    • softinvasion

      this just occurred to me, but isnt it somewhat counterproductive to create a psychological association between “punishment” and “necessary life skills” in children through discipline? 

      i agree with your points definitely, just being nitpicky.

    • Jonne Austin

      This is interesting that you mention being privileged and the forms of punishment you use.  My mother spanked.  We lived in a one bedroom apartment and apartments for years.  There was no way for us to clean windows without being on a ladder (and most likely hurting ourselves).  Cleaning was normal for us. It was not a punishment and in many ways, I found it enjoyable.  I like to clean.  That would not have been punishment for me.  We had to clean the toilets every week before she got home.  Chores were what we had to do.  Not punishment. 

      With her having to work at KFC after being laid off and being gone for most of the day until 9 or 10 pm, there was no way for her to police us.  What did work, however, was the understanding that if we did something like say, leave the house and hit the streets with the bad kids or have people in our house doing all kinds of things the other kids were doing, we’d be spanked. 

      I can say without equivocation that had my mother not done what she did, I’d not be where I am today. 

    • Anonymous

      I don’t need to spank to be tough on my kids and one look is often
      enough to correct behaviour on their part.  But should they decide to
      get brave and push me, I always have windows that need washing, toilets
      that need scrubbing etc.

      Hi Renee. 

      Thanks for speaking up – I made sure to link to your stuff…I hate when we all get lumped together (i.e. “Well black people think…”) which is why I linked to a lot of different opinions.

      For this, well…this is why I wrote the piece I did.  Ultimately, your type of parenting requires that the child respect the parent enough to obey.  If the child chooses to do something else, you then have to think of something else.  What if your child refuses to scrub the floor one day? 

      This is the situation my dad is facing.  My younger brother has started to exert his own will in dangerous and self-destructive ways.  And he is at a complete and total loss.  I can see why he’s confused – in many ways, he was a much better father to my brother than he was to me and my sister.  But my brother is just a very different kid.  My brother’s mother has elected to transfer primary custody to my Dad since she feels like she can’t control him; the problems mount.  This is what I am talking about when I say logic and reason aren’t enough.  At best, my Dad knows he’s got about 3 more years to try to get him on the right path.  I know military academy is an option being debated, in spite of the expense.  But its tough, because all children are different.

      If I based my opinion on spanking solely on my sister and myself, I would be 100% non spanking.  But we are ourselves, and every child is different.  So I don’t know what the answer is. But I don’t think I could forgive myself if my child was being self-destructive and I didn’t do everything in my power (as I define it, anyway) to stop it.

      • Kjen

        “But we are ourselves, and every child is different.”
        So, often it feels as if these conversations about parenting never take into account that that the child has their own personality and will to act- instead they focus only on the parent’s actions. As if youth have no say so/decision inputs in what type of adult they will become.
        But I don’t think there is anyway to gurantee 100% that certain parenting techniques (i.e. “all they need is a whooping” or “all they need is loving reinforcement”) will keep your child on the straight and narrow. I think sometimes we put too much emphasis on a parent’s ability to control the outcome/what sort of adults their childen will become.

  • http://feministe.us/blog/ Lauren

    Bravo.  Thank you.  Reading the original thread at Feministe, there were so many hegemonic assumptions about “spanking” and what it means, how it looks, that the discussion lost all nuance. I’m not a proponent of spanking in particular, but I bristle at demonizing parents for using the tools at their disposal to guide their kids to thei best of their abilities in the particular contexts they live in.  Not all spankings are beatings, not all spankers are monsters, not all spanked children are traumatized for life.

    • Grace

      Well said. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to the conclusion that, unlike how I was raised (in a black family), spanking isn’t the be all and end all of discipline. However, I don’t think it’s “useless”, as womanistmusings says. I think it should be a last resort in general, and that the older a child gets, the less it’s needed. I work in retail (for now), and I’ve seen many a 2, 3, or 4 year old who could’ve used a good pop or spanking. But I think the fact that some kids do well with spanking and some do well without, some do bad with and some without is just proof that, as long as you aren’t abusive, there’s no right or wrong way to discipline and raise kids.

    • Anonymous

      I bristle at demonizing parents for using the tools at their disposal to
      guide their kids to thei best of their abilities in the particular
      contexts they live in.  Not all spankings are beatings, not all spankers
      are monsters, not all spanked children are traumatized for life.

      Agreed. I’ve been on both sides of the spanking/abuse coin (one parent was a spanker, the other parent was an abuser) and I can understand a lot of the whys now as an adult.  But perhaps, it helps that the abuser also admitted that they were in the wrong…

      I can understand the urge to protect children. The problem is we all have different definitions of protection.

  • David White

    Great post.