Spanking Debate: A Generational Divide

Grandparents, parents argue about whether spanking is harmful for kids.

ByANNA WILD via via logo
July 05, 2010, 12:52 PM

July 6, 2010 — -- Laura and Todd Mansfield of Portland, Oregon, are against spanking, and have made a conscious decision as parents not to use it to discipline their two sons, 6-year-old Connor and 3-year-old Drew.

"I'm like, 'How can I do that to my child?'" Todd Mansfield told "Good Morning America." "It does hurt me more than maybe it hurts them, but beyond that, I just didn't want to do it. I knew there other ways."

The Mansfields, who run a radio program called Parenting Unplugged Radio said that after reading studies that show long-term negative effects of spanking, they started using alternative methods when the kids misbehave.

"I do think that spanking can be used as a form of abuse," Laura Mansfield said. "I do think that it can."

CLICK HERE to see Annie Pleshette Murphy's answers to your parenting questions!

But Laura Mansfield's parents have a different view, and their opposing position came to a head when her parents on two occasions spanked Connor and Drew without their parents' knowledge.

The most recent case was when the boys spent a weekend at their grandparents and Drew was caught pulling up his grandmother's flowers in her garden, and both boys got spanked.

"She grabbed my 6-year-old, who at the time was holding a handful of bulbs, and spanked him," Laura Mansfield said. "She then proceeded to chase my 3-year-old and catch him and spank him as well.

The Mansfields were furious and confronted her parents.

"I think she was exhausted and desperate and didn't know what else to do," Laura Mansfield said.

Laura Mansfield's mother did not want to talk about the incident because she said it was out of character for her.

Laura Mansfield's father, Macy Wall, spanked her and her siblings growing up and said he doesn't see spanking as something detrimental.

"I guess our general tendency amongst my contemporaries would be that it's being blown out of proportion, that what the heck," Wall said. "You know, we all got our fair share of spankings growing up. So what's the big deal? We don't feel traumatized. Our friends don't feel traumatized."

But the Mansfields disagree, and feel that both of them suffered as adults after being spanked as kids.

"It creates a fear aspect in it," Todd Mansfield said. "So then I'm making my decisions based on, 'Am I gonna get spanked?' I'm not trying to grow myself as a person."

And they don't want their sons to feel the same way.

"It's bad to do," Connor said. "And you're just hurting people instead of, like, talking to them about it."

The whole family is now in counseling, and the grandparents have come to understand why the Mansfields were so angry. But they say it can be difficult for grandparents who care for grandchildren.

"I guess that's a little bit of the edge that comes with being a grandparent," Wall said. "You've raised your own children. You think you've done an OK job. Your child may disagree with you at some level. But if you trust a grandparent, then, you know, [is it right] putting limits on what a grandparent can do and not do?"

Ann Pleshette Murphy appeared on "Good Morning America" this morning to give her take on spanking.

She said spanking was never okay, and cited research that showed it increased aggression, bullying and lying, adding that it eroded trust and instilled fear rather than respect.

Murphy acknowledged that it was tough to discipline effectively, but said that parents can remove privileges or TV time or any other activity children enjoy, rather than spanking them.

Many parents and grandparents claim that they never spank in anger, but children experience spanking as a sign of anger, Murphy added.

It's important that parents discuss their disciplining philosophy with other potential caregivers, but they also need to teach their children how to behave when they're in someone else's home, Murphy noted.

If parents are aware that a caregiver -- such as grandma or grandpa -- is annoyed that the children aren't behaving, then parents must either speak with the children or be willing to come and take them home, she added.

Anne Pleshette Murphy Answers Your Parenting Questions

After the "Good Morning America" report, we received several questions from viewers for parenting expert Annie Pleshette Murphy. Check out her advice below.

From Carol in Georgia: My 18-month-old grandson has begun to have temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way. How do you begin to use discipline to teach him that this is inappropriate behavior?

Annie Pleshette Murphy:

Tantrums are no fun -- especially for the child having the meltdown -- so an important first step for any and all of his caregivers is to recognize that he isn't pitching a fit as a way of manipulating you.

He doesn't think to himself, "I really want that candy and if I have a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket aisle, my grandma is going to give in and buy it for me, so here goes my bid for an Oscar."

He does think, "I really want that candy!" And when he doesn't get it or when he feels overwhelmed or frustrated, he can't control the tidal wave of emotions that follow. He also doesn't have the language skills to say, "Gosh! That is so frustrating! I really want that candy."

So there are several ways you can try to help him. First, get down to his level or pick him up and hold him firmly and say, "I know you're really mad. I know you wanted that candy. But you can't have it." Then tell him a story or distract him with something else (I used to carry a mini flashlight in my purse that my son loved to play with, which I called my "tantrum tamer").

Do not, under any circumstances, give in. And if you're in a public place, ignore all the people around you.

Just tell yourself, "I don't know these people. I'll never see them again." And focus on your grandson. The other important thing is to try to identify the times of day or the things that seem to set him off.

Sticking to routines, making sure he has healthy snacks and plenty of rest can do a lot to keep the terrible tantrums at bay.

From David in New Mexico: I am a teacher at an alternative school. We try to teach the students tolerance, self discipline, and respect. How do you deal with the parents or what advise could you give me about parents behaving badly? Some parents are contributing to the entire cycle of bad behavior. Could you please focus on parenting skills rather than blame grandparents? I did not spank my own children very often, but when I did, they knew they had crossed boundaries that had already been explained. It was needed and they were not hurt. I was raised by responsible, respecting, loving parents who explained everything no matter how small, but if I crossed those boundaries a spanking was a quick deterrent. I learned not to do it again based on respect as my children are now teaching their children. It is not OK for children to behave badly and for parents to blame everyone else for bad parenting skills?

Annie Pleshette Murphy:

I couldn't agree more that grandparents often get unfairly blamed. In fact, I think everyone loses when we play the blame game rather than focus on working as a team -- whether it's teacher-parent-child or grandparent-parent-child -- to help set clear limits, communicate effectively and follow through.

It sounds as though your parents were clear about boundaries and although I do not support the idea that spanking is the only deterrent that works, I do believe that nothing works if you make empty threats and don't follow through.

It's not really possible to know if you grew up to be respectful and loving because you were spanked or despite it! But you certainly could do the kids (and the parents) at your school a big favor by suggesting some discipline seminars or perhaps circulating information on how to discipline effectively.

Most parents welcome help if it's offered in a compassionate way; i.e., "Johnny is a good kid, but he can really be a handful. Here's what we do at school that I think might work at home. In fact, it would help us to help him if you tried this at home."

Click here to visit Annie Pleshette Murphy's website and here to return to the "Good Morning America" website.

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