Spanking: Child Abuse or Discipline?

Spanking once again made headlines recently in the US, with the release of Hillary Adam’s brutal beating captured on video, and reports of yet another death of a child from “discipline.”

I hear over and over variations of this response: “I got spanked, and I turned out okay.” And “Children don’t respond to reason, you have to show them that their actions have consequences.”


Hitting another person, save for self-defense, is wrong. There is no excuse, no context, no roles that the attacker and victim can be put in, that makes it okay.

I was spanked as a child, and let me tell you what I learned:

I learned that when someone did something wrong, you had to hit them.

My little brother, as a child, was very annoying. He pushed my buttons, and wouldn’t let up. Initially, I’d do what my parents told me to-I told them when my brother was “aggravating” me. They told him to stop. But of course, he didn’t. Eventually I lost my temper and hit him. Crying, he went to my parents.

Thus I got my first spanking.

The next time this situation played out, my frustration doubled. Why didn’t my parents spank my brother? He was doing something wrong, he has to be punished. Well, I decided, if they’re not going to do it, I will. I am his big sister, after all. So I “punished” him. I hit my little brother.

Again, I got spanked.

I was angry. I was confused. Why was I being punished? I only did what they refused to do. My brother was in the wrong, not me. If they only spanked him, I wouldn’t have to. He was wrong. He had to be punished. He was wrong. He had to be punished.

He was wrong. He had to be punished.

I took this lesson and applied it outside of the home as well. When a boy at church grabbed my cousin while she was holding a toddler, I chased him around the field behind the church, sat on him, and hit him.

He was wrong. He had to be punished.

When a neighborhood boy attacked his brother, I in turn, attacked him. To show him what it felt like. To correct his actions.

He was wrong. He had to be punished.

Now, I’m ashamed of my actions. I know now that I wasn’t the righteous meter-out-of-justice that I thought I was.  I was a bully. And I didn’t even realize it.

I was hitting people, just because I thought they wronged me, or someone I cared about.

One of the things my parents taught me was to stand up for what I thought was right, to defend those who couldn’t defend themselves.

That lesson, together with the lesson implict in spanking, turned me into the worst kind of bully: the kind that believes what they’re doing is right. The kind that believes that society stands behind them, and condones what they’re doing.

The kind of bully that Judge Adams is. The kind of bully that implements the Pearl’s “child training” techniques.

About Brittany-Ann
Brittany-Ann is a proud, self-identified feminist with fictional tendencies. She currently writes for and moderates at My Fault I'm Female. She smokes camels, reads Dumas, and navigates a conservative state as "one of them darn liberals."

8 Responses to Spanking: Child Abuse or Discipline?

  1. What a brilliant post! A brilliant, brilliant post that as many people as possible need to read.

    • Brittany-Ann says:

      Thank you!

      I agree. More people need to read my blog. 😛

      But seriously, the more I read about the Pearl’s “child training” techniques, the more revolted and angry I get.

  2. toni says:

    I’m a boy 13 and my parents are very strict and spank me a lot. I get it with the belt or the cane very hard on my bare bottom and legs. It hurts but make me behave better. The worst is that I get teased in school cos my friends laugh when they see the welts. I have to go in shorts all year even in winter and people see the welts on my legs. But my parents say that i have to wear shorts all time.

    • Brittany-Ann says:

      I’m sorry for taking such a long time to respond to you. Your comment blew me away.

      What your parents are doing to you is not spanking. They are beating you. Using weapons on someone (and yes, belts and canes are weapons here.) is assault with a deadly weapon. I’m so sorry that they’re hitting you. It’s wrong, and it breaks my heart.

      Even if they were simply spanking you–thirteen is far too old for spanking. Those who advocate spanking (and I am not among them) do so because they believe the children they spank are too young to be reasoned with–and I doubt very much anyone would tell you that you are incapable of understanding “stop.”

      I don’t doubt that it makes you behave “better.” Spanking worked that way for me, as well. I turned out all right, in the end. But I would say that I turned out despite being spanked, rather than because of it–and my spankings–bare-handed slaps on my bottom–stopped after about eight? Perhaps before then.

      Please talk to a teacher or an adult you trust. I don’t know where you live, so I can’t link you resources that you might be able to access, and I can’t tell you what the law is in your area, but regardless, if you’d like to talk, feel free to email me at brittanyannwick AT yahoo DOT com.

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  4. AlexInWonderland says:

    My older brother teased and hit me for the first 10 years of my life. Anytime I fought to protect myself, I was spanked…my brother was stealthy about his bullying, so he was never punished. My parents later wondered why I never stuck up for myself. DUH!

    Still not a skill I have learned or feel comfortable with, despite the fact that that was a long time ago.

  5. Kagi says:

    So much this. As the oldest of seven in a very conservative fundamentalist homeschooling family, I was the exact same way – had the same responses, the same confusion. Felt the same sense of betrayal. And I, too, left Christianity, because it was so full of similar instances of double standards, hypocrisy, and cognitive dissonance that it almost literally made my head explode – serious mental health issues as a result of the environment I was raised in and the hopeless tangle of messages I received. It is truly an abusive system, from top to bottom. I would say all religion is, but that is probably too much of a generalisation.

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