Spankings and Judge William Adams

I watched a video I shouldn’t have of that Texas judge William Adams beating his 16 year old daughter Hillary. I had to delete and rewrite that sentence a few times since I wasn’t sure whether to use the word “beating” or “spanking.” I ultimately decide to write the word “beating” because I don’t think you can call it a “spanking” anymore when the recipient is a teenager. I don’t really watch videos of child abuse so I don’t have a baseline to compare this with. The stereotype I had in my head about child abusers was of raving lunatics slurring their words and breaking glass.

Maybe it happens like that sometimes but in the brief part that I watched before I had to turn it off, Judge Adams seemed relatively calm about what he was doing. He dropped the F-bomb a few times, but he didn’t seem like he was in a wild rage. I’m not saying this to justify his actions, but it did seem like from his point of view, he was methodically administering good, old-fashioned discipline. Of course the blogosphere has made this video a dig on fundamentalist Christianity (which I’m not sure is fair; fundamentalists don’t use the F-word like Judge Adams was doing).

I feel very conflicted about spanking. I’ve had to do it when my sons’ behavior crossed over into a level of defiance too egregious for time-outs. I imagine that I’ll do it again. But when is it truly necessary? And how do I tell the difference between needing to assert my manhood and providing a necessary correction as a parent that will help my sons grow one day into solid men? I don’t want to have to pay exorbitant psychiatry bills, but I do want my boys to have at least some superego in their heads holding them back. If my father had never been my oppressor (which wasn’t often), I don’t think I would have become a person who demands excellence of himself.

Every time I spank my sons, I make sure I tell them that I love them beforehand and afterwards and explain why I feel it’s necessary. It makes me feel terrible when they cry. I can’t deny that there’s a “You will do what I command you” thought inside of me that comes from a place of sinful pride. At the same time, I really do want them to be capable of doing what they’re told immediately without talking back in certain situations, because that’s what life requires sometimes. I don’t think you can do that unless you’ve been trained how to do it. When I was a high school teacher, I knew many students who had never been taught them how to show respect to an adult and it got them in all sorts of trouble.

But one thing that really bothers me about spanking is the way that it’s become a litmus test in some conservative evangelical circles of whether you follow God’s law or Sigmund Freud. Fundamentalist Christian author Michael Pearl has a ministry called No Greater Joy built upon the promotion of corporal punishment that’s very popular in Christian homeschooling culture. Several children like Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz, and Hana Grace-Rose Williams have been beaten to death by parents allegedly as a result of the tactics promoted in Pearl’s book To Train Up a Child. It makes me sick to think that spanking is something Christians would use to define themselves. At the same time, I’m offended when people completely conflate spanking with child abuse as though you cannot possibly spank your child out of love. I’m also turned off by the mentality that every childhood problem can be medicated.

In any case, I’m not a proud advocate of spanking or anything. I’m just trying my best to help my sons become strong, sensitive, confident, humble men. There are a lot of tactics I use as a father to that end. Much of it is instinct. I make tons of mistakes. I try to weed out anything I do out of my own emotional insecurity. It’s terrifying to be a father, but God is helping me. What do you think about spanking? Thanks for whatever insights you have to share.

24 thoughts on “Spankings and Judge William Adams

  1. And I agree that Morgan is sincerely trying to do what’s best for his children, and exploring this issue in a thoughtful manner. I applaud his honesty. This issue is fraught.

  2. When I was ten, I read this little story in the “Humor” section of McCall’s or Redbook or one of those magazines:

    The little girl had been misbehaving all day. Finally, her exasperated mother told her to go out and cut her a switch. After 20 minutes or so, the little girl came back, her lower lip trembling, and said, “I couldn’t find a switch, Mommy. But here’s a wock you can thwow at me.”

    Children know what the point of spanking is: To inflict pain. Might as well throw rocks as lash a child’s legs with a switch, or smack their buttocks. If the child in that story understood that her “discipline” was supposed to teach her a lesson, she’d have come back to her mother with a Bible, or a textbook. Not a weapon.

    Here’s another story. A friend of mine read one of her poems at a poetry reading, and in the poem, she mentioned that she spanked her toddler son too much. I asked why she’d been hitting her child. She rolled her eyes, and said, “It’s *spanking*, Rachel — not hitting.”

    Several months later, she related this story. She and her husband and their son were leaving church. I guess someone had smacked a kid during the service, or something. Her son looked up at her and asked, “Mommy? Why do mommies and daddies hit their kids when they KNOW it hurts them?” She was stunned. And she never hit him again.

    Here’s my point: We call it spanking. Kids call it what it is: Hitting. The deliberate infliction of pain on someone less powerful than we are. The action is the same, and would result in criminal charges if directed toward any person over the age of 18.

    Kids are not always angels. They can be infuriating. They can drive you mad. But it’s our job, as adults, to set limits and control our own tempers. And yes, to discipline them. Which means teaching them — not cowing them into submission because we’re stronger, but to show them that actions have consequences, and that we all have to obey rules to get along in our community.

    One of those rules is not hurting others.

  3. I grew up in a household where physical discipline was the norm and “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child” was the mantra. I was only spanked 2 or 3 times, usually by my dad, when I had done something especially terrible, but he was usually very calm during the spankings and they never hurt much. However, switchings by my mom were a near daily thing, and they hurt like crazy. What I can I say, I was a mischievous little kid. But I don’t ever remember her being calm and reasonable during punishment… it was nearly always done in anger and accompanied by screaming. Still, being switched didn’t really stop me from doing wrong things… instead I just kept trying not to get caught.

    Of course, later that caused more issues, especially if I was playing with younger cousins who didn’t do what I thought they should. Then I hit them in anger (because hey! that’s what I thought you did), which of course got me into more trouble with my parents (more switchings/spankings) and it was just an ongoing (and very confusing to my kid-brain) cycle.

    That said, I’m not at all judging you at all. 🙂 It sounds like you really are trying to discipline your kids in a loving and thoughtful manner. I’m not a parent, and to be honest, I’m not sure that I would be able to control myself so well if I were a parent, so there are no stones being cast here. I don’t think that all physical punishment automatically equals child abuse, but it can easily go in that direction when done in anger. It’s a very fine line to walk, and one that I don’t envy at all.

  4. I just want to say that yes, what this Judge did was wrong … and appears to be continuing to be as vile as he was when he beat his daughter. He shouldn’t be anywhere near children – much less in a family court.

    Let me also say that I believe with my heart and soul that spanking aka hitting a child is wrong totally and utterly for any reason. We have rules that say we can’t hit animals and can’t hit adults – why are children not as safe as us ?? If we hit adults it’s called hitting – whereas spankers lull themselves into feeling ‘ok’ about hitting a child by calling it ‘spanking’ ..sounds …

    Children are with us for a short time, and during that time they are learning how to grow, live and become sensible, loving, kind, respectful, gentle adults. They need love, discipline [which means to teach not to hit], understanding and grace.

    I am a 57 yr old grandmother – and I can tell you that from the first time my parents hit me, they lost me. They lost my love, respect and trust – I have never respected and trusted anyone who hits me – why would I ??

    I learned only fear, pain, anger, hate and resentment and that my parents didn’t love me! And the post spanking pep talk of ‘oh we love you ‘ meant nothing to me as they had just HIT me. Hitting a child, and telling it that you love it … is a sure fire way of muddling their heads – do you really want your child growing up and thinking that because her husband hits her – he loves her???

    We don’t [I sincerely hope] hit our spouses telling them we love them do we ?? We don’t hit our friends and colleagues … nor that idiot bank teller that was rude to you last week … ??? Is that because you fear the law against hitting adults – or because you have learned the lesson that hitting is wrong ?? Why show a child that when you are upset with someone ie them, it’s ok to hit a person … especially a person at least half your size and half your strength?

    I live in Portugal now – where thank goodness spanking/hitting of children at home or at school has been banned a few years now – and I haven’t quite mastered the language and therefore don’t always understand the locals. Just like a two year old. Should I be hit therefore by the locals … in a way to help me understand? Or should I be redirected .. helped … shown … and explained in simple words … so I DO understand to some degree?

    I never hit my children – it was VERY hard yes, but then that is parenting for you. We had terrible times at some points in their young lives – but I would never HIT them … natural consequences, explanation, redirection, quiet times to calm down etc etc was used. They are now 31 & 27 and are great, gentle adults. My grandchildren aren’t hit either and are on the way to being wonderful adults too – they are certainly well behaved and great to be around now !! All my close friends didn’t hit their children either and their now adult children are all great adults.

    Hitting/spanking children is NOT Biblical either .. there is not a single place where Christ told us to hit our children. And the staff in most of the OT was shepherds staff that was a huge, brutal thing and was used on wolves etc not on the sheep, except to hook them into safety!!

  5. I want to apologize for my confrontational tone in my previous comment, although not for its content. I’m glad you’re honestly exploring this issue. I was spanked and beaten as a child. It taught me to lie to get out of trouble, to be aggressive with my younger brother, and that love didn’t mean much if it was offered by someone who was deliberately inflicting pain on me.

    I had the great fortune to be the stepmother to two wonderful girls who had never been hit in their lives. They were, and continue to be, kind, thoughtful, responsible, high-achieving kids. They’re an absolute joy to be around. They’ve learned that discipline and control come from within, and that consequences attach to their actions. You send inappropriate texts? You get your phone taken away. You have a temper tantrum in a restaurant? You leave the restaurant. You fight with your sister? Fine, you can sit here next to me while I read a book.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Rachel. I’m very grateful for what God is teaching me through this conversation. I’m trying to listen. I hope I learn what I’m supposed to.

    • Rachel, I wonder if the difference may not be in your testimony that you were “spanked and beaten.” It sounds to me like you have experienced genuine abuse, and it may well be that, carrying those scars, any form of corporal punishment would be too risky to approach for you. I honor that place…one I’m thankfully not in.

      But I caution that this does not mean all exercise of corporal punishment goes over the edge as what you experienced did. It can be controlled, and limited, and to equate all corporal punishment with child abuse, frankly, diminishes the horror of the real thing.

      • Oh, I was genuinely abused, Dan, but if someone approached you now and started hitting you with a belt — or even gave you one smack with an open hand on your buttocks, would you consider that a reasonable response for any perceived “misbehavior” on your part? You’d consider it assault, and rightly so. Why is it okay to inflict pain on a child, but not on an adult?

        I very much like your idea of having your kids hold onto your pocket, and I imagine that also gives you the opportunity to discuss calmly with your child why they are holding onto your pocket.

    • Oh, and Morgan, once the kids are mobile, one physical NON-spanking control method that I found highly effective with my boys: if we were out somewhere (church, shopping, whatever) and they started raising cain, I made them come and hold my pocket. I didn’t have to be hanging onto them, but I knew in an instant if they let go, even as I went on talking to other adults or whatever. It was a rather effective form of time-out.

  6. “I ultimately decide to write the word “beating” because I don’t think you can call it a “spanking” anymore when the recipient is a teenager.” So, it would be a spanking if you hit a two-year-old with a belt 20 times, but it’s a beating when you do it to a teenager? What about if you do it to an adult? Oh right, that would be assault.

  7. Pingback: When Does Spanking Become Abuse? | Why Not Train A Child?

  8. Morgan, I appreciate the sensitivity with which you ask this question. I’m taking your word for it and not going to watch the video, but while I have spanked all three of my children, I would think that by the time one is 16 it’s an inappropriate and worthless punishment, at least in part because you have to inflict far too much pain (and risk injury) to actually make it a deterrent and not merely an irritation…by this I mean a far less painful spanking is effective for a younger child.

    I haven’t spanked either of my two teenagers in years. My youngest (11) still gets one occasionally for particularly egregious behavior, but I don’t think he’s earned one in several months–which is NOT to say he hasn’t experienced other consequences that he is now able to process.

    To those who proclaim that they never spank their children…it has been my observation that MOST (though not all) families where this rule holds, I have observed kids who flout their parents’ guidance (if they get any), and kids who are rude, disrespectful, and uncontrolled in public. They have not, as a rule, produced kids who, because they’ve been taught “rationally,” behave in a rational and calm manner.

    • Oh, and I should have added, I feel strongly that even if one does use spanking occasionally, one must be careful to limit the intensity and location. So for example I only spanked my kids on the front of their thigh while they were sitting on my lap, to avoid any jostling of their spine/bones, and until I developed arthritis in my fingers, only with my hand. When my hand couldn’t take it, I used a belt, but only holding it six inches or so from the end so it was only a short strap. And no more than three or four blows.

      And I always made a point to hold and console the kid as long as they needed after their spanking, and to talk with them about the offense again once they’d composed themselves.

      But again I emphasize that this was only when in my judgment other means of punishment/control were inadequate…which means rarely except for a certain period in my older son’s life (thankfully long past).

  9. It’s interesting to stumble on this article (maybe not so much if you understand God and His ways!) but I was just pondering this topic this morning. I have struggled with this for years. I used to be completely anti spanking. In the U.S. we have laws against adults hitting other adults – why? And why is it then legal to hit our littlest ones and call it “discipline”, which unfortunately does so often turn to beatings. Then after reading the Bible and hanging out with other Christians I have softened my position. I used to take discussions about this topic to a place of conflict with people because I was so incensed when someone advocated spanking. I would have jailed a spanker if I could. I also come from a household of physical violence and not discipline so my reaction isn’t unnatural. In my softening of my position I have seriously considered spanking our six year old at times, especially when she was willfully disobedient. I have literally begged God to help me so that was not my only choice. Sincere Christians who believe in the practice of spanking for discipline will say they don’t do it while they are angry, which it sounds like what the guy on the video was trying to portray he was doing. I’m at a place where I don’t understand how someone could strike another human being unless they are angry or fighting for their life (and obviously that wouldn’t be the case with a child). I am not advocating for or against. Just asking questions… What I came to this morning is Love, once again. God is Love, and He asks only that we love Him and one another. My question to myself then is “Am I doing this in love?” whatever “this” is. And how would God see it?

    We use time outs and consistency and lots of patience and understanding our daughter’s needs, and dismissing other’s perceptions of right and wrong. Our daughter has undiagnosed Aspberger’s I believe and I was so grateful that I was not a spanker when we found out. (her pediatrician recommended Occupational Therapy when we explained our struggles and it was wonderful but we never had an official physician or school diagnosis of Aspberger’s) There were so many days of melting down and what appeared to be disobedience when she was little. There were things inside her and reactions she literally couldn’t control. Many people around us thought she needed a “good swat”. I had a friend who regularly “disciplined” her child before she found out he was on the autism spectrum and was overwhelmed by so much guilt after the fact. How about if we slow down our pace of life and make teaching our children to love God and remember His goodness and mercy our priority? Would that change anything in how we view this issue?

    Thank God for Jesus. Without Him, I believe much of what we think we’re doing in His name would actually land us in a heap load of trouble.

    Genesis 6:5
    The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
    Genesis 6:4-6 (in Context) Genesis 6 (Whole Chapter)

    • Thanks for your witness and thanks for not judging. My oldest son does OT. It’s very hard sometimes to remember that they’re just kids and they don’t know what they’re doing. You’re very on-point about slowing down the pace of life. So much of what happens is when we’re under a time crunch and they rebel by lying down in the middle of a parking lot or taking an extraordinary amount of time to do a simple task. It’s good to be confronted by this.

  10. I am a parent who does not spank, though I was raised with spankings. When my daughter turned two years old, she began hitting everyone…all her friends, me, grandma, grandpa, it didn’t matter. People encouraged me to spank her, but the thought of teaching her not to hit by hitting her drove me insane. What kind of logic is that?

    To me, violence is never the answer. That might make me a bit of an idealist….oops : ). But there really are other ways to discipline which are equally, or even more effective than spanking, if you know how to be creative and/or look for them.

    It seems like you think discipline is either spankings or medications, since thats the comparison you used. I believe there is much more gray area in between there. There are even ways to show your child that you physically are in control of their actions without resorting to pain-tactics.

    • I know there’s a lot of gray area. I’m just putting my gut feelings out there and trying to figure out how much of what goes on inside of me is stupid macho crap overcompensating for the fact that I’m a laughably un-macho guy in most circumstances. I don’t think it’s all reducible to that. I really haven’t used spankings very often at all. But when my sons hit or disrespect their mother, it’s hard not to come down on them like fire and brimstone. But again, maybe that’s just the pseudo macho side of me coming out.

  11. It truly amazes me that anyone could watch that video and consider it to be a reasonable punishment for anything. I am a Christian and I believe that this has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with basic human ethics. This has crossed a very clear line. I believe that if a parent truly believes there is no other way to teach their child a lesson than through beating them, they need to seek family counseling.

    If any parent ever spanks (which is beating to me) their child, they should watch this video. They need to think: If a video was taken of the way I am punishing my child and shown to the world, would I be proud of the way I handled this situation? If a parent handles the situation in an appropriate manner, that will teach their children to do the same, not to react with violence in the future. It’s simple psychology. Obviously they will do what you want them to as a result of the beating right away, but that is out of fear. There are long-lasting effects of beatings like this that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

    I’ve seen many comments about this video in different locations, a few with the idea of ‘that’s how I was raised, so therefore it is right.’ There are many things that the human population used to do that we no longer do because we realized that there was a better, (and in this case – more humane) way of doing things. Ex: Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, rights of minors, etc. Kings used to have multiple wives – because that’s how it was back in the day, does that make it right?

    And how about teaching children how to act, not through violence, but by sitting down and explaining to them – over and over again if need be, that’s how humans learn, repetition – why what they did was wrong, how it could be handled differently and talk them through the situation until they truly understand.

    I would never want my child to act properly only because they are afraid of getting beaten. I want my children to act properly because they know and understand how one should act in society.

    • Just to be clear, I didn’t say I considered what happened in the video to be a “reasonable punishment.” It was very troubling. It might have been less troubling if the guy was a raving lunatic. I wrote a blog post about it because I was troubled by it, not in order to defend it.

      Are you a parent yourself? There are circumstances where “talking things through” doesn’t work, especially if you’re dealing with an extraordinarily strong-willed two year old. I imagine that when my boys are older, restrictions on activities will be sufficient consequences when they make a bad choice. I’m not sure when I got to the point where my parents could calmly explain to me why something I did was wrong or hurtful to them and I would actually listen to them. Maybe when I hit 30.

      I just don’t see spanking as clear-cut abuse. I’m not excited about doing it but I think I’m supposed to do it under some circumstances. I think I’m coming from a very different place than some emotionally insecure, power-crazed psycho. I’m open-minded and I certainly don’t see spanking as the way you prove you’re a Christian parent which is a very twisted mentality. Just trying to be the best dad I can.

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