Everyday my sons Kiye and Kole commit a spankable offense. Whether it’s talking back, being off task at school, or breaking something in the house, at 7 and 5 years old, they are always doing something. But wait, why are these spankable offenses? Is it because these are the incidents that I was spanked for? Is it because all of my friends and family spank their children? Is it because I have to spank them to get them in order to prepare them for their lives as Black Men? Or is it because the Bible tells me so?
Whatever the reason, I know that now more than ever, I really need to think about my goals and intentions in raising my children and I want my community to do the same. Do we want to raise children who do right because they fear us, or do we want them to develop the critical thinking skills needed to make good decisions? Do we want them to behave when we’re watching or make good choices because they are global citizens who care about their impact on the world. Do we want to break their rebellious spirits or do we want to help them channel their convictions in ways that benefit themselves and our community? Do we want to raise children that learn to stay in their place or do we want to raise those that make places for themselves in higher education, corporations, government, or their own entrepreneurial pursuits. If our answer to any of these is the later, we must Think Before We Spank.
A recent research article reviews studies representing 160,927 children over the last 50 years. The findings of this research gave concrete evidence that spanking can cause life-long detrimental effects on children. These effects include anxiety, depression, limited cognitive ability, and parental resentment. What other parenting practice do we continue to participate in that has known damaging impacts?
We don’t drink or smoke while we’re pregnant, we put our kids in car seats, we feed them balanced diets, we make them do their homework, and we limit screen time. So why do we continue to hit them when we know the possible results. Maybe it’s because we don’t know the possible results, because if we did, of course, we would stop. The gamble that they could suffer these consequences is not even worth it.
We are decades older than our children, which means we should be able to come up with some way to get them to comply with our rules aside from having to hit them. We teach them every day that violence is not the way. Plus, being so much bigger than them, hitting them is really an unfair fight that in no other circumstance would be okay.
I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that many people reading this will say, “I got spanked and I turned out alright.” Yes, this may be true, but I challenge you to reflect on these questions. How did it feel to be hit by the person you loved the most? Was there anything else they could have done to help you modify your behavior? Could they have talked to you; modeled the behavior they wanted you to display; created logical consequences; rewarded your positive behavior; taken away privileges? Was spanking absolutely necessary for you to become the person you are today? Is it completely necessary for your children, for your grandchildren? Is there anything else that you can do? I believe that there is.
In an effort to help caregivers fill their toolkit with effective discipline tips and strategies, the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect and Ascensions Psychological Services will kick off the “Think Before You Spank” campaign during Child Abuse Prevention Month in April. This campaign seeks to empower parents through free workshops on effective discipline, free effective discipline literature, and a website that will provide parenting resources and workshops provided by agencies throughout D.C. For more information please call 202-889-4344 or visit us at thinkbeforeyouspank.com. With so many other systems and strategies currently failing our children, the changes that we make at home can make a world of difference.
Dr. Satira Streeter has served as a Clinical Psychologist in Anacostia for the past 13 years. She is also the current chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect where she continues her work as a child and family advocate.