THE BIBLE VERSUS
(Investigator 131, 2010
or not guilty?"
demanded Mr Laslett (deputy headmaster) of the 12-year-old boys sent to
his office. We were guilty. The cane swished down onto our outstretched
left hands giving each of us "three of the best".
school recess periods was dangerous, but also such fun that we ignored
demands to leave darts at home. When darts were confiscated we brought
new ones. We stopped for a few days whenever caught, then resumed when
teachers weren't watching!
WORLDWIDE SPANKING DEBATE
on whether to spank
unruly children swept the late 20th-century world and involved
psychologists, politicians, religion, legislators, educators and the
psychologist Mary Smith was both for and against:
youth workers and people whose approach to problems of young
delinquents has been wisely practical deplore from time to time the
fact that there is possible under our rules no short, sharp punishment
at the time of the offence, so that the child will realize the
connection between his misdemeanour and public disapproval. In the
long-term treatment, he can sometimes lose sight of the reason for all
good thrashing can
usually be relied upon to do more harm than good, but careful
investigations show that up to the age of about 12 years children do
not suffer harm from the salutary "disciplinary action" (call it a
smacking, if you like) which is sharp and over-and-done with, and is
administered by someone they respect. (The Mail, August 30, 1952, p. 6)
really belongs to
the Middle Ages… Children need correction and often need it as a help
to their training, but it has to be useful to be effective... (Sunday
Mail August 21, 1954, p. 52)
Wright (1971) wrote:
sanctions corporal punishment is the least effective in increasing
moral restraint in the offender… If the teacher is mainly concerned
with deterring others, however, there may be some point to such
punishment. The evidence suggests that others can be vicariously
conditioned by seeing an offender punished.
In 1975 The
that will come as a blow to millions of school children the Supreme
Court ruled teachers in all States may spank misbehaving students, even
if it is against the wishes of their parents.
were winning in Europe:
country where more
than a million students are suspended from school each year on
disciplinary grounds, the new ruling will be welcomed by most
states and in New York City corporal punishment has been outlawed by
school boards, the matter is now expected to be reconsidered.
Court…instructed teachers to set some procedural safeguards — such as
warning children ahead of time, just what misbehavior warrants a
spanking. (October 23)
families whose children were caned at school have been awarded $102,000
by the Government in an out-of-court settlement.
Penelope Leach in Baby and Child opposed all smacking as
ineffective: "Smacked children can never remember what they are smacked
for. Pain and indignity mean that they go away seething with anger…"
agreed to the
award to prevent the likelihood of humiliation by the European Court of
Human Rights, which has already ruled that children should not be
year after corporal punishment was abolished in State schools… (Sunday
Mail, October 9, 1988, p. 18)
Burrows in Good Children (1986) disagreed:
doesn't make them resentful. They're just glad when it's over. The more
protracted, psychological alternatives [e.g. withdrawal of privileges]
are far worse. Physical discipline should only be used to combat
aggression… But instances such as crossing roads or climbing trees
they've been told not to can be corrected by physical means.
punishment with physical abuse:
minutes, a child somewhere in Germany is beaten so badly it has to be
taken to hospital. Eleven thousand children a year are assaulted and
100 of them die…the West German Society for the Protection of Children,
estimates that 300,000 are constantly physically, mentally or sexually
abused. (Wuellenweber, H The German Tribune, February 5, 1989)
department plans to phase out corporal punishment by 1991… In NSW, the
Greiner Liberal Government is planning to reintroduce corporal
punishment as part of its "fair discipline code" designed to protect
the rights of most students who want to work in an ordered environment.
(Sunday Mail, November 20, 1988, p. 4)
chairman of the
National Committee on Violence, Professor Duncan Chappell, has backed
calls for a ban on parents spanking their children, saying Australia
could adopt the model which now exists throughout much of Europe. (The
Advertiser, June 18, 1993, p. 5)
ban parents from smacking their children has been branded as being "out
of touch with the real world". Opposition children's services
spokesman, Mr Rob Lucas, a father of four, said… "The reasonable use of
smacking at home by parents of their children has always been
accepted..." (Sunday Mail, June 20, 1993, p. 9)
South Wales law
introduced in 2000 regulated smacking of children but did not outlaw
it: "Parents will be prosecuted if they hit their children around the
head or neck." (The Australian, October 26, 2000) The article quoted
Professor Kim Oates, chief executive officer of the New Children's
Hospital in Sydney:
that hitting children can cause delinquency and criminal behaviour in
future years… He added that many children seen at the child injury
clinic were victims of: "parents who are reprimanding children but have
a mother who gave
her 9-year-old daughter three warnings followed by "use of a wooden
spoon" for non-compliance was warned by police she could face assault
charges. Australian Family Association spokesman John Morrissey
defended "the right of a reasonable parent to smack…as part of a range
of strategies to discipline." He added that reduction in smacking has
not created a more peaceful society: "Look at Saturday nights…and the
violence that young people are perpetrating." (The Weekend Australian
Inquirer, October 24-25, 2009)
Zealand introduced a
law banning physical discipline in 2007 after three-month-old twins
were beaten to death. The law was so unpopular that Prime Minister Miss
Clark lost the election in 2008. In a referendum in 2009, 80% of New
Zealanders favored repealing the legislation but the new Prime Minister
refused. (The Weekend Australian, August 22-23, 2009, p. 15)
always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it
yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been
trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
Bible teaches that bad
behavior not punished will continue: "Because sentence
against an evil
deed is not executed speedily, the human heart is fully set to do
evil." (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
this confirmed in
adults and children whenever liars keep lying and thieves keep
thieving. There's also scientific confirmation:
toddlers are five times more likely to become teenage criminals… The
decade-long research involving almost 4000 Australian children found
aggression at a pre-school age also was a strong indicator of future
suspension at secondary level [and] of teenage delinquency… (Sunday
Mail, June 10, 2001, p. 14)
bullies who inflict "threats, assault, property damage and humiliation"
often become criminals when older. (The Advertiser, May 12, 2001, p. 2)
into adulthood will bring increasing retaliation by the law, or as
revenge by victims. Therefore judged by likely consequences, "Those who
spare the rod hate their children." (Proverbs 13:24)
up in the heart of a boy, but the rod of discipline drives it
away. (Proverbs 22:15)
discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will
not die. If you beat them with the rod, you will save their lives from
rod and reproof give
wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by a neglected child. (29:15)
pain of the
rod helps focus the attention on the reproof. All over the land in our
schools which have decided to dispense with the wisdom of God, we have
disobedient students who swagger into the Principal's office knowing
that after a few words they will be able to swagger out unrepentant.
But a young bully never sees so clearly as when he looks through teary
"beat" sounds damaging
note that in English we have about 20 synonyms for "beat" ranging from
mild contact to actions that cause physical damage whereas the Hebrew
had correspondingly few words. The severity with which the rod is used
is limited by other principles. The four verses in Proverbs must not be
taken in isolation as if that's all what the Bible teaches.
punishment is for infractions of rules previously taught:
the book of
Proverbs mostly contains proverbs dealing with how to be prosperous,
healthy, secure, respected and long-lived: "Hear, my child, and accept
my words, that the years of your life may be many." (4:10; 3:1-2)
"Folly" or "foolishness" therefore refers to conduct which puts at risk
prosperity, health, security, respect, and life. Most corporal
punishment, therefore, should aim to stop "foolishness" that could hurt
the child or his future.
- Hear, my
father's instruction, and do not reject your mother's teaching.
(Proverbs 1:8; 6:20)
- Do not
turn away from the words of my mouth. (4:5; 5:7)
- My child,
attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding… (5:1; 7:1)
child, from the words of knowledge, in order that you may hear
- Train a
child in the
right way… (22:6)
parents should be
examples of the conduct they expect of children — since the Bible
condemns "hypocrisy". For some children parental example and teaching
may suffice and no hitting is ever needed.
a spanking need
not follow after only one lapse since Christian forgiveness does not
exclude children: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one
another." (Ephesians 4:32) A child's first failure to obey can be
followed by forgiveness plus repetition of the instructions that he
forgot or flouted.
physical discipline is
necessary parents should administer it in a state of calmness.
Instructions to maintain "self-control" (Galatians 5:23), subdue rage
(Proverbs 15:18; 22:24), avoid "abusive speech and malice" (Ephesians
4:29-32), and promote peace (Proverbs 12:20) apply in all areas of
and child discipline is no exception.
applying the "golden
rule" some counselors advise parents to first test the punishment on
themselves. Since biblical "discipline" is meant to enforce conduct
that minimizes future harm, it itself should not cause harm.
that punishment must as far as possible "spare the child's
self-respect", not be given in the presence of brothers or sisters as
that might awaken the "devilish pleasure of looking on".
that protects health and life and is enforced by smacks when repeatedly
infringed, with gratuitous violence that inflicts physical injury, is
to ignore the Bible.
Wilson (1991) opposes
all spanking. The back-cover says: "…we violate our children, and then
are puzzled when they respond by violating others, or themselves. Is
there no way out? Only, he argues, if we relate to them as sensitive,
feeling, thinking, fully functioning persons."
Stephen Juan (1990)
cites Murray Strauss that corporal punishment leads to "physical
injuries" and: "psychological injuries…aggression, lying, vandalism,
delinquency, criminal behavior, retaliation, self-punishment
tendencies, accident proneness, suicidal tendencies, inhibited and shy
behavior, low self esteem, hatred of parents, rejection of teachers,
poor relationships with classmates, unsatisfactory love affairs,
excessive worry and anxiety, guilt, depression, running away from home,
drug or alcohol abuse, and disappearance of a sense of
Strauss, author of Beating
the Devil out of them (1995), was for 40 years a prominent American
anti-spanking campaigner. A reviewer hints that many claims in his book
are wishful thinking: "the paucity of the research hampers his ability
to…link spanking with later depression, suicide, lower earning
potential, and masochistic sex." (www.neverhitachild.org/straus.html)
"ending corporal punishment is one of the most important steps to
achieving a less violent world."
sentiments by Wilson,
quoted above, are nice. But I'm writing about situations where niceness
fails. Children readily turn to harmful conduct if it amuses or peers
approve. Reasoning with them may not stop them, just as it often fails
to stop adults. In such cases we will "violate our children" and
encourage them to "violate others" if we don't discipline. Sometimes
children need to be "controlled and punished" for the same reason as
adults do — when they do not control themselves.
reasoning, teaching and
example always prevent harmful conduct then the world should be free of
adult crime — since adult reasoning skills far surpass that of
children. If, however, crime were never punished, if criminals were
only reasoned with and released, civilization would, I suspect,
disintegrate. The problem is, as argued previously, that evil conduct
not forcibly stopped becomes habitual.
then are psychologists
who oppose corporal punishment getting it wrong? With many behaviors
there are safe and unsafe ways of doing them. If we compare the
casualties of employment with doing nothing, or compare motorized
transport with walking, we might want to ban employment and cars.
Governments, however, don't do that but instead legislate laws that
enhance safety. Similarly with corporal punishment; we need parameters
for safety and effectiveness — like the ones in the Bible.
criminals in prison and asks them "Were you physically punished as a
child" he'll get a high correlation since most parents sometimes
physically punish children. But correlation is not causation. If we ask
criminals "Did you live in a house or other dwelling" we'll get a 100%
correlation between criminality and living in a house.
200,000 US school pupils…were punished by beatings last year, Human
Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union say in a report
Farmer is wrong.
Smacking is so effective that even in countries where it's illegal most
parents smack occasionally. Discipline is better than permitting unruly
behavior until the child hurts someone or waiting until repeated
disobedience tempts adults to explode in anger.
violence and it doesn't stop bad behaviour," said Alice Farmer, author
of the report. (August 22, 2008, p. 9)
a fundamental aid
to training. Many animals cuff, push or bite their young. Humans born
without ability to feel pain, live short lives unless constantly
supervised. They can break bones but not bother with doctors, despite
having normal intelligence, because nothing hurts.
children understand why
they were punished, resentment is short-lived (unless influenced by
anti-smacking "experts" who demonize the parents.)
Proverbs speaks of
a "father" administering discipline, it's OK to sometimes delegate,
such as to a school.
back to that
confrontation with Mr Laslett. The stripes faded slowly and our left
hands smarted for hours, but our dart-throwing at school stopped
Christenson, L.1970 The
Christian Family, Bacon Publishing.
Juan, S. 1999 The
Thrashing They Deserve, In: Only Human, Random House.
Wilson, N. 1991 With
The Best Of Intentions, South Australia.
Wright, D. 1971 The
Psychology of Moral Behaviour, Pelican, p. 240.
132, 2010 May)
A comment on the article The Bible Versus
Psychology on Child
Discipline in #131:
In South Australia corporal punishment has been administratively
stopped in all schools. But the Education Act has not been repealed to
prevent corporal punishment which can therefore theoretically be
The recently reelected State Government has stated that it will repeal
corporal punishment in schools completely. In any case the required
records of punishment have not been kept by most schools and any
corporal punishment not recorded is an assault on the child by the
The gradual collapse of the education system in SA with 1800 assaults
by students on teachers in two years illustrates the need for a
deterrent. Throughout my own school years in the 1960s and 1970s I
never ever heard of any teacher being assaulted by a child.
In the northern and southern suburbs teachers now walk in pairs and
have 2-way radios in case more backup is needed.
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