80% of born-again believers say physical punishment of children is OK. But neither Bible nor social science supports spanking.
Journalist Jonathan Merritt with high-profile online magazine The Week cited the research findings of SMU psychologist George W. Holden about the controversial practice of corporal punishment in the context of the Adrian Peterson case. Merritt’s story, “Christians have no moral rationale for spanking their children,” published Sept. 23.
Holden, an expert in families and child development, is a founding member of the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, endhittingusa.org.
Holden was recently elected president of Dallas’ oldest child abuse prevention agency, Family Compass.
Most recently Holden’s research, “Real-time audio of corporal punishment,” found that children misbehaved within 10 minutes of being spanked and that parents don’t follow the guidelines for spanking that pro-spanking advocates claim are necessary for spanking to be effective.
Other recent research, “Parents less likely to spank,” showed that parents who favor spanking changed their minds after they were briefly exposed to summaries of research detailing the negative impact of corporal punishment on children. Holden, who considers spanking a public health problem, said the research indicates that parents’ attitudes about spanking could economically, quickly and effectively be changed to consider alternative disciplinary methods.
Holden’s earlier research, “Corporal punishment: Mother’s self-recorded audio,” provided a unique real-time look at spanking in a way that’s never before been studied. In a study of 37 families, mothers voluntarily recorded their evening interactions with their young children over the course of six days, including incidents of corporal punishment.
By Jonathan Merritt
As everyone living above ground knows, Minnesota Vikings’ star running back Adrian Peterson has been indicted on child abuse charges. The NFL star hit his four-year-old son with a “switch,” creating welts on the child’s legs, scrotum, and buttocks. In response, the outspoken Christian athlete invoked the Almighty, tweeting a picture from a popular religious devotional, Jesus Calling, with a quote about the perils of “habitual judging.”
Peterson isn’t the only Christian who thinks good parents should hit their children, or even that their faith commands it. Eighty percent of born-again Christians believe that spanking is acceptable. This is 15 percent higher than the general population.
But the wrong-headed belief that hitting children is not only a good thing but a “God thing” is rooted in poor and partial readings of the Bible, as well as ignorance about modern social science.
This false gospel of spanking preached by many belt-swinging believers is harmful to children. It must stop.
An article on the “Focus on the Family” website written by evangelical author Chip Ingram says, “The Bible’s word on discipline clearly demands that parents be responsible and diligent in spanking.”
I grew up in the evangelical South in a pro-spanking family. When my fellow Christians talked about protecting parents’ “rights to discipline their children,” they would often quote Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”
That settles it, right?
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