March 2, 1999
My friend Wayne could be a prophet. Months ago, he wrote a short fiction story about a family caught in a law that did not allow spanking. A few weeks ago, Jordan Riak of Oakland California, made headlines in his one-man crusade to stamp out spanking.
Riak says, “I think that every time a little boy is spanked, it gives him his first lesson in becoming a beater, and every time a little girl is spanked, it gives her the first lesson that people who love you slap you around.” Does he have the right idea?
Wayne’s story takes a look at what could happen. A dad takes his children to their vehicle in a public parking lot. His daughter disobeys his warning and runs in front of a speeding car. He yanks her out of danger and instinctively gives her a swat on her backside. But spanking is against the law and someone sees him. He is arrested and charged.
Wayne writes from frustration. Who decided you can reason with small children? Most research says they cannot reason until they are about ten years old. While parents hope they will understand why some things are wrong or dangerous, until ten or so, they have difficulty with rationale. However, even a two-year old is capable of trusting mom and dad to guide them.
The downside is that everyone knows parents do not need to teach their children how to misbehave. The question is, how do you encourage them to do right? And what do you do when they refuse? From an adult perspective, reasoning seems kinder but if a child is too young to reason, then all they hear are mere words, easily shut out.
Riak equates spanking with beating children and slapping them around. Wayne argues loving parents have a different motive. Child abusers are frustrated and out of control. They want to harm not help. Loving parents are concerned that their children learn how to do right, make wise choices. They do not beat or slap but want the very best for them. They reinforce obedience with praise and discourage rebellion and disobedience (which is not the same as a childish mistake) with uncomfortable consequences.
A parallel might be a toddler and a hot stove. Parents can talk and reason, but no matter how strong their warnings, some little ones will touch it anyway. When they do, sudden pain impresses them that Mom is right; a hot stove is not safe.
From the child’s side, the Bible says, “Obey your parents . . . that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” This was directly applied to a family that taught their children to obey instantly (no small feat). It paid off. One summer day, as their sitter watched them in the family pool, she noticed a flash and a sagging overhead wire. She yelled, “Get out of the pool, right now!” They did (most would not) and moments later, the hot wire fell into the pool. Long life and obedience are a team.
It didn’t work that way at the end of Wayne’s fiction story. As the press sweeps into the family yard, insisting on an interview, the children are out of control. Dad tells them to stop but they insist on playing with some electrical equipment. He is frantic yet they ignore his words.
The reporters realize this is the test. Will this man lose his cool again and spank his children? Right in front of their cameras? They taunt him. The children laugh. Their mother sides with the reporters. What will he do? As they harass him, the children freeze. All action is in slow motion. Dad rushes toward them, silently screaming — but too late — both are electrocuted.
It is only a story but Wayne makes a point. Love is aware of the importance of obedience. Love does not beat children but teaches and corrects them, firmly and with necessary actions.
Surveys say about 90% of children are spanked. However, 90% do not grow up to be abusive husbands or abused wives. Is spanking taking the rap when the real culprit is something else? Maybe we have forgotten the importance of obeying authority. And maybe we have lost the true definition of love.