I am going to confess something to you right now. I have spanked my children. It has almost always been when I am severely angry with them, and I have always felt terrible about it afterward. I am trying extremely hard not to lay a hand on my child in anger, or even as a stern method of punishment. Regardless of what studies may say or not say, I know in my heart that it is wrong. Whenever I am too rough with my children, I apologize to them. Whatever they did that was wrong, was not as wrong as what I did from my position of power.
But of course the studies do back me up on this. The most comprehensive study yet was released recently, showing, over a 50-year period, that children who were spanked suffered the same negative consequences as children who were physically abused, just to a lesser degree. Hitting them with your hand=bad. Hitting them with something else=really bad. Attacking them to the degree that you are leaving marks and wounds=standard child abuse. So the studies have confirmed what my soul already knew; spanking your children may momentarily correct bad behavior, but in the long run it teaches children violence and damages more than just their bodies.
“But I was spanked,” you say, “and I turned out just fine!” Did you, though? Did you turn out just fine? I was spanked, and I did not turn out “just fine.” I turned out as someone who, in moments of weakness, feels justified in hitting small children. I have more violence in me than I would like to admit. And despite what movies and television will have you believe, violence is not okay. If you hit another person, it is called assault. You can go to jail. Unless, of course, that person is a small child with little legal protection. Why is this okay? Does that make sense? That we should be allowed to strike the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society with impunity? When you take a step back to think about it, it is preposterous! It is cave-man mentality. Why do we hit our kids? Because we can. Because we are bigger and stronger than them. We teach them that might makes right, and thousands of years of societal progress are set back. And we should have known, because honestly it’s right there in the Bible.
King Solomon was very wise. We know this because the Bible tells us directly. However, he was not perfect. He was human. He made mistakes. Not everything in the Bible is a direct instruction for us to take literally. Does David’s affair with Bathsheba mean that we should go out and start murdering people so that we can sleep with their wives? No, of course not. This is a classic “what not to do” story. And if you look closely enough, you can find another one.
The research that was released says that “The more [the children] were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and to experience mental health problems. They were also more likely to support physical punishment for their own children, which highlights one of the key ways that attitudes toward physical punishment are passed from generation to generation.” And that is exactly what the Bible says will happen as well.
Solomon is generally believed to have written the book of Proverbs, which contains many of his little nuggets of wisdom. It’s not so much a narrative as it is a book of advice. It’s like he went to a wedding shower and filled a whole shoe-box with life hacks written on scraps of paper, and he has a few things to say about his parenting style. For one thing, he loves spanking. Solomon says things like “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him,” and “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” So we’ve got some thoughts about spanking from Solomon. He’s very in favor of it. Just like David was in favor of adultery and Peter was in favor of denial. And if the Bible had left it at that, we might be confused into thinking it was actually advocating corporal punishment. Except then the story continues, and things turn out just like our recent 21st century study say they will.
You see, Solomon’s son Rehoboam became king after Solomon, and things didn’t turn out so well. Not such a great guy. “And the king [Rehoboam] answered the people roughly, and forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” Huh. Sounds like he is exhibiting anti-social behavior and supports physical punishment to the extreme. In fact, his own people tried to assassinate him! “Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the men subject to taskwork; and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.” Not a happy ending.
So was this cruelty entirely due to all of that rod-beating that was clearly going on? I couldn’t say. But one thing the Bible is telling us quite clearly is that Solomon’s parenting style did not work. His time of ruling as a king was great, and much of his advice is quite helpful to this day, but what he said about raising his children was flawed, and that is spelled out for us in no uncertain terms. And now, as I find often happens with wisdom from the Bible, science has caught up and proven it to be true.
Remember, love is patient and kind. Love does not hit or attack or spank. Also remember that all parents fail at being patient and kind. It happens. The important thing is to recognize it when it happens, apologize to your children, and try again the next day. Be a better parent than Solomon. And be a better parent than you were yesterday.