The Peterson Case & the Spanking Question

The Peterson Case & the Spanking Question

On the afternoon of Sept. 12, the Twitter world ignited, as one question continued to flood those feeds: “What is a switch?” The story of Peterson’s indictment had broken and the current generation of Twitter users has never heard of a switch to be used in discipline; they have been taught that any kind of spanking is child abuse.

While I know of no Christian who does not think that Peterson’s actions were abusive, the discussions surrounding this high profile case give pause to ask, “Does the rising generation of Christian parents think that spanking is, by definition, abusive?” 

Certainly everyone agrees that child abuse is a horrible reality that we must stand against. I personally hope that the NFL is motivated to become a serious, strong advocate of wives and children who are abused in their homes by men. I hope they raise the bar on the domestic behavior that is demanded of their players and management.

But this begs the question. Everyone knows spanking can be abusive; the question is whether, if done correctly, it is, in fact still abusive or a prescriptive, biblical method for believers to use to train their children.

This parent of five children believes that if we are to think biblically about the issue of corporal punishment, and help young parents who have been shaped by the current culture, we must consider verses like the following, but be wise about how we implement them.

  • Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Prov 22:15)
  • The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.  (Prov 29:15)
  • Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Prov 13:24)
  • My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Heb 12:6).

Here are some caveats I believe we must have in place in order to use a switch, rod, or paddle to spank a child:  (These are neither complete nor perfect—just one man’s attempt to help us think through this issue.)

1) The purpose of spanking is to inflict physical pain to associate with wrong behavior, and must never cause injury. The goal is to sting, not bruise or cause any damage. (My assumptions are these: a) God designed a place in the human anatomy, the bottom, that has no organs that can be damaged by being paddled a few times. b) I impose the harmless pain of spanking my child when he runs into the street to help him learn so that he avoids the future pain of being run over).

2) The purpose of spanking must never be to vent parental anger.

3) To prevent spanking that vents parental anger and that prevents injury, a strict limit of how many times the paddle lands must be followed. (We paddled 3 times to sting and if we were certain they were lying they got a harder, 4th)

4)  Spanking until a child seems outwardly repentant is abusive.  (I have heard Christian leaders give this advice.)  But, God does not paddle me until I repent. There is always a consequence to sin; but God does not smack me into submission with reproof after reproof after reproof, with no let up until I repent.)

5)  Children should know ahead of time that they will be spanked for certain behavior. It is helpful to give them one warning and only one before they receive the pre-determined consequences of their actions.

6)  Spanking must be done privately, never publically, which would severely injure his self esteem.

7) In my view parents must never delegate the right to exercise corporal punishment to a baby-sitter, child care worker, other relative, or school system.  (I oppose corporal punishment in schools. I believe that firm discipline at home, including spanking, teaches children to respect authority and would do wonders for the behavior of children in the school system).

8)  In my view, spanking should be a tool in the tool kit for teaching children the consequences of wrong behavior, along with time outs, and other negative consequences for wrong behavior. It should be generally saved for more severe consequences.

9) In my view spanking has to fit the age of the child and not be used when a child becomes a teenager. I think even if done privately, it is humiliating for a teenager to be spanked. I believe other consequences are wiser in the teen years, and maybe wiser for 8-12 year olds.

10) Spanking should be preceded by looking a child in the eye and asking questions to engage the conscience like, “What did you do?” or “Was that right?” (This follows the pattern of God in confronting Adam and Eve with their sin in Genesis 3).

11) The parent should say to the child, “I want you to know that God spanks me when I mess up because he loves me. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but I have to punish you because I love you.”

12) After the spanking, always invite a child into your arms to be hugged. Often a child will begin to cry at this time and say, “I’m sorry Daddy.” Always assure them that you still love them and never let them think that their relationship with you has been broken by their sin.

13) Sometimes it is appropriate while hugging them to pray and thank God that because of Christ all of us—Daddy, Mommy, and the kids are fully forgiven for our sins.

If spanking has so many caveats, it must be asked, “Why not just avoid it.” My only answer is that I don’t believe the mention of the rod in Scripture is accidental or culturally determined. I believe there is something God knows about using a rod in training a child that our culture does not see. Why else would God say something that is so severe: Whoever spares the rod hates his son.

That is about as counter-cultural as you can get. Certainly Scripture does not teach us to mindlessly pick up a paddle and pound our children. We need much wisdom to apply what God says. But is it possible that much harm is coming to the children in our Christian families today because we have bought the cultures’ view of spanking and are sparing the rod.