(Investigator 131, 2010 March)


"Guilty 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".

Throwing darts during 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!


Debate on whether to spank unruly children swept the late 20th-century world and involved psychologists, politicians, religion, legislators, educators and the Bible.

Australian 1950s child psychologist Mary Smith was both for and against:
Magistrates, 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 the fuss.

A real 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)

Caning 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)

Derek Wright (1971) wrote:
Of all 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 News (SA) reported:
In a decision 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.
In a country where more than a million students are suspended from school each year on disciplinary grounds, the new ruling will be welcomed by most educationists.
Although in several states and in New York City corporal punishment has been outlawed by school boards, the matter is now expected to be reconsidered.
The Supreme Court…instructed teachers to set some procedural safeguards — such as warning children ahead of time, just what misbehavior warrants a spanking. (October 23)
In the 1980s anti-spankers were winning in Europe:
LONDON: Sixteen families whose children were caned at school have been awarded $102,000 by the Government in an out-of-court settlement.
Ministers 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 beaten.
…the settlement…comes a year after corporal punishment was abolished in State schools… (Sunday Mail, October 9, 1988, p. 18)
Child-training expert 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…"

British author Lynette Burrows in Good Children (1986) disagreed:
Spanking 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.
Many associated corporal punishment with physical abuse:
Every ten 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)
And into the 1990s:
The education 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)

The 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)
A proposal to 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)
A New 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:
We have found 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 lost control."
In 2009 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)

New 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)

Now, discipline 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)
The 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)

We see this confirmed in adults and children whenever liars keep lying and thieves keep thieving. There's also scientific confirmation:
Aggressive 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)
Similarly, schoolyard bullies who inflict "threats, assault, property damage and humiliation" often become criminals when older. (The Advertiser, May 12, 2001, p. 2)

Such patterns continued 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)

Folly is bound up in the heart of a boy, but the rod of discipline drives it away.  (Proverbs 22:15)

Do not withhold 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 Sheol. (23:13-14)

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by a neglected child. (29:15)
One Internet Bible supporter writes:
The 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 eyes…
If "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.

Firstly, corporal punishment is for infractions of rules previously taught:
Secondly, 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.

Thirdly, 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.

Fourthly, 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.

If 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 life, and child discipline is no exception.

By 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. 

Christenson (1970) advises 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".

To confuse child-training 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.


Noel 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."

Dr 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 self-responsibility".

Murray 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." (

Strauss believes that "ending corporal punishment is one of the most important steps to achieving a less violent world."

The 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.

If 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.

How, 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.

If a psychologist studies 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.


The Australian reported:
More than 200,000 US school pupils…were punished by beatings last year, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union say in a report released yesterday…
"…beating kids teaches violence and it doesn't stop bad behaviour," said Alice Farmer, author of the report. (August 22, 2008, p. 9)
Alice 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.

Pain is 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.

If children understand why they were punished, resentment is short-lived (unless influenced by anti-smacking "experts" who demonize the parents.)

Although Proverbs speaks of a "father" administering discipline, it's OK to sometimes delegate, such as to a school.

Finally 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 permanently. Effective!


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.



(Investigator 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 reintroduced.

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 teacher.

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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