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"LEADER" Online: Spring 1998

On spanking: out of the monkey house

by Michael Popkin, Ph.D.
Founder and President, Active Parenting Publishers

Okay, I’ve had it with playing Dr. Nice Guy as I politely explain that there are better ways of disciplining children than spanking. So now I’m taking off the gloves and telling parents that the next time they resort to using their hand instead of their head, they are operating with the same degree of intelligence as apes in the zoo.

I know it sounds harsh, but I’m serious. When my wife and I took our children to the zoo a couple of years ago, we were mesmerized watching our playful primate relatives do their ape thing in one great extended family. Evidently one of the young apes was getting on mommy’s nerves because she made a savage-sounding grunt and backhanded him across the compound. Another sibling made the mistake of challenging papa gorilla for some food and received the forehand version of the same parenting tactic.

Who said parenting is difficult? Certainly not the advocates of this "grunt and smack" school of parent education. And the best part of this technique is that spanking is easy to learn, easy to use and you don’t need to speak a single language to master it. No wonder it’s so popular.

Now if it only worked. Sure spanking does work to get a desired behavior in the short run, but unlike our primitive cousins, human children do not accept spanking as a fact of life. They resent it. And they get even. They misbehave. They resist authority. They violate our family values. They have trouble in school. They do a hundred little things to make their parents’ lives, if not miserable, at least more frustrating. And when they succeed, if their parents’ response is to spank, yell and punish them some more, the revenge cycle escalates. When this cycle of "you hurt me so I’ll hurt you back" continues into adolescence, tactics such as alcohol and other drugs, pregnancy and crime can have life-and-death consequences.

The good news is that just as we learned a long time ago in education that rapping a student on the knuckles with a ruler when he missed a math problem was not a great way to teach math, we also have much better methods of discipline available for teaching positive behavior and attitudes as parents. Skills such as natural and logical consequences, "I" messages, active problem solving, time-out and encouragement have been taught to millions of parents through Active Parenting programs. They may take time to get results in the short run, but they improve the relationship so that there is less need for discipline in the long run.

All in all, spanking is a holdover from a much more primitive time. Today’s parents can do so much better for themselves and their children. All it takes is a little parent education and a willingness to let go of some old habits for a new and better style of parenting. After all, we’re not monkeying around here. We’re about nothing less than helping parents prepare the next generation of children...without going ape.

Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 1998 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.