To Spank or Not To Spank

 Video: Pastors spanking remarks ignites controversy.
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The great spanking debate continues to rage in the United States.

Pastor Silas Coellner, a newly promoted middle school vice principal in Massachusetts, recently stoked this debate with an online sermon that advocates spanking.

 Video: Pastors spanking remarks ignites controversy.
Massachusetts pastor under fire after controversial spanking comments

While Pastor Coellner doesn't advocate spanking at school, his comments about the importance of spanking a child when that child is still crawling got our attention. The U.S. already stands out as one of the few high-income countries to allow by law spanking of our children in the home and school, acts that if done to another adult would be criminal assault.

Other countries work to curtail this type of punishment through programs to educate or support parents and promote alternatives to spanking. Research suggests that such alternatives are favorable ones; being spanked has been shown to increase the risk for childhood behavior problems, impact development, and lower IQ. It increases the propensity for the child becoming violent by teaching a child that hitting is appropriate conflict resolution. Numerous studies, show that children who are spanked are more likely to be victims of child abuse and more likely to become adults who abuse their partners and children.

We don't advocate for abandoning discipline; we advocate for discipline that is appropriate to teach a child the important lessons of growing up: being safe, respecting others, telling the truth, et cetera. Discipline should teach, not crush the heart of defiance or inflict pain‚ as advocated by Pastor Silas Coellner.

Spanking very young children is particularly aberrant and abhorrent. An infant's ability to understand the messages will be limited. There is nothing an infant can be taught with pain that they cannot learn from the firm voice of a loving parent. The societal response to parents adhering to Pastor Coellner's advice will be problematic for them. A recent UNC survey of 345 health and medical professionals revealed that 97.5 percent of them consider spanking an infant under 14 months to be child abuse.

Spanking Infants Is Child Abuse, Professionals Say

Those who follow the advice of Pastor Coellner to spank children when they reach the crawling stage "and you can see that heart of defiance," would be child abusers in the eyes of most legal and medical professionals. Among those who regard spanking a child to be appropriate discipline, Pastor Coellner is nearly alone in recommending that parents strike infants. His statement that "If you don't discipline them, they hate you" underscores an impoverished insight into the purpose and modalities of discipline. Infants are not developmentally capable of willful misbehavior. If they misbehave, it is most often due to random behavior or exploration of the environment. If that behavior is unsafe, children can be guided simply by a firm "no."

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