A column published last Saturday on theologian John Piper’s Christian theology website, Desiring God, by a Minnesota pastor argues that a “good spanking” should be an option for parents who want to discipline their children.
Sam Crabtree, a small group pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis who authored the 2019 book Parenting with Loving Correction, wrote in response to critics who oppose spanking and other forms of corporal punishment as methods of discipline for children.
While describing spanking opponents as “well-intended” with “valid concerns,” Crabtree argued that there is such a thing as “good spanking” when parents opt to discipline their children.
“... [M]any who oppose spanking sweep all corporal punishment into a single bucket without distinguishing between wise and foolish parental correction, as if factors like timing, dose, implement, and advance instruction make no difference,” wrote Crabtree, a former public school teacher and who serves as chairman of the board of the Bethlehem College & Seminary.
“Just as bad preaching doesn’t disqualify all pulpits, and bad writing doesn’t mean we should banish publishing, and a bad haircut doesn’t mean you should go Nazarite, so bad spanking doesn’t mean there isn’t good spanking.”
Crabtree went on to contend that a “good spanking” involves applying “a predetermined amount of physical pain in direct response to a child’s defiance.”
“Defiance starts in the heart and works its way out into behaviors of the body (tantrums, disobedience, mouthiness, rebellious facial expressions),” he explained.
“[S]o spanking works in the opposite direction: it moves toward the heart by first gaining the attention of the body, commonly via the well-padded buttocks.”
Crabtree then laid out “six principles of good spanking.”
Those principles include understanding “that the perfect loving Father uses the rod,” parents modeling correction through confessing and repentance, not overusing spanking for discipline, applying corporal punishment with “utmost consistency” and limiting the severity of the punishment such as not breaking skin or hitting eyes.
The sixth principle, he explained, is recognizing that spanking “must be accompanied by other tools of parenting.”
“Wise parents don’t start with spanking, but with other measures: rewards, interruptions, ‘the look’ of disapproval, loss of privileges, restitution,” he explained.
The use of corporal punishment when disciplining children has been a source of controversy in recent times, with some countries considering it tantamount to abuse and banning the practice.
In 2018, the health journal BMJ published a study that analyzed data from 88 countries. The study concluded that nations that banned spanking had lower rates of youth violence.
“Whether bans precipitated changes in child discipline or reflected a social milieu that inhibits youth violence remains unclear due to the study design and data limitations,” concluded the study. “However, these results support the hypothesis that societies that prohibit the use of corporal punishment are less violent for youth to grow up in than societies that have not.”
In a 2016 piece for Scientific American, contributing editor Melinda Wenner Moyer wrote that despite multiple studies indicating that spanking is harmful, “some researchers remain skeptical.”
“Studies suggest, for instance, that the effects of spanking can differ depending on the circumstances,” she explained.
“Two studies have found no associations between spanking and mental health problems among kids who were spanked less than once or twice a month; other research has shown that spanking has much less of a negative effect on preschool kids than on infants and adolescents.”
Moyer added that when it comes to the question of corporal punishment for children, there was a “chicken-or-egg question” tied to it: “Are kids spanked because they act out, or do they act out because they are spanked — or both?”
Danny Huerta of the prominent Colorado-based national Christian ministry Focus on the Family argued in a 2019 piece that child spanking could be either “appropriate” or “inappropriate.”
“Used correctly and infrequently as part of a comprehensive parenting toolkit, a spank can be that last resort discipline method you use when you need to create attention and a clear understanding why the behavior should never happen again,” he wrote.
“Used inappropriately, spanking can be dangerous. I’ve found some parents who use spanking as their main discipline tool and, many times, use it when they’re frustrated or angry. I’ve also noticed some parents spank and move on, skipping the important teaching element.”