In a January 10th interview, Kelly Clarkson defended her decision to spank her kids, saying in part: “My parents spanked me, and I did fine in life, and I feel fine about it, and I do that as well. That’s a tricky thing, when you’re out in public, because then people are like, they think that’s wrong or something, but I find nothing wrong with a spanking.” The following is my response to those remarks.
You love your kids. I don’t doubt this. You would give your life for them. Like the rest of us, you’re doing the best you can with the information you have, and you have the added pressure of having your every decision critiqued by the general public. I can’t pretend to know what that’s like.
I understand what you are saying here. I do. You are simply doing what your parents did, and probably their parents too. Those patterns run deep, and they require a lot of effort, self-reflection, and often painful realizations to break. Your parents loved you after all, so why would they do something that hurt you? The fact is, they just did the best they knew how to do, with the information that they had at the time. But we’re not our parents. And we have more information now.
You say you’re “fine”, which is one of the most common refrains that I hear from those who spank their kids. But – and I say this in the most gentle way I know how – you’re believing a lie. You’re not fine if you think it’s okay to hit children. That’s what spanking is. It’s hitting. And it’s hitting someone smaller and weaker than yourself.
The great thing about the passage of time is that we can learn from the generations before us. Our parents did (and didn’t) do all kinds of the things that we now know more about, and can ideally learn from and do differently. We didn’t wear seat belts. Or bike helmets. People smoked through their pregnancies. They were encouraged to wean after just a few months, or even weeks. Just the other day I was thinking about piercings (I’m currently in the process of healing my latest one), and how the old school of thought told us to twist the jewelry every day. Now, of course, we know that this actually impedes the healing process, and that the best thing to do is to just keep them clean and leave them alone.
When we know better, we do better.
There is a big movement right now admonishing moms to stop judging each other, and instead just recognize that people do things differently. To a large extent, I agree! I don’t care if you make your kids a homemade balanced breakfast, or if they eat a Pop-Tart in the car on the way to school. I don’t care if their bedtime is at 7:00 or 11:00. I don’t care if they spend their free time watching SpongeBob or reading Moby Dick.
The thing is though, spanking is not a parenting issue. It’s a human rights issue. Children, like all humans, have the right to be free from violence, especially in their own home. They have the right to autonomy, to decide who does and does not touch their bodies, and when, and how, and for what reason. Hitting your children not only teaches them that it’s okay to solve problems by hitting, but it specifically teaches them to hit people who are smaller and weaker than themselves. It also seriously blurs the lines of consent, and lets them believe that, well, sometimes it’s okay for people to touch private areas of their bodies, as long as the person doing the hitting is unhappy with their behavior.
Hitting a spouse – or a friend or a neighbor or a stranger in a bar – is assault, and a serious offense. There are even animal cruelty laws to protect animals. 46 of the 50 states have enacted felony penalties for certain forms of animal abuse. The fact that there are no such laws to protect children does not make it right. Your right to parent as you see fit never supersedes your child’s right to be free from harm in his or her own home. Because make no mistake. No matter how you frame it, spanking is still hitting. And hitting in any way, shape, or form (other than in self defense) is violence. And it’s wrong.
The ironic part? Parents that spank do so because they think it’ll improve their children’s behavior. But study after study shows that spanking actually has the opposite effect. Spanking makes a child less likely to listen, not more. It also contributes to later aggression, anti-social behavior, and mental health problems. This is real. This is not an opinion, nor is it just empty words. Spanking is harmful, on every level, and the best of intentions (and absolutely, I believe that most parents are well-intentioned) doesn’t change that.
Our kids need our protection. They need our support and our guidance. They need us to be living examples of what it means to be respectful and patient and kind.
More than anything though, they need our love.
And hitting should never, ever be conflated with love.