Christians- Please stop spanking your children!

Monday 21st August, 2023

It really shouldn’t be Christians I’m writing this for, honestly, the rest of the world is really starting to understand how harmful hitting children is (let’s get rid of that euphemism- ‘spanking’- and be real, it’s hitting) why are Christians always the ones behind the times when it comes to moral and sociological progress?

I’m tired of hearing that the bible says “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Quite apart from the fact that it’s a shepherding metaphor and shepherds didn’t hit their sheep, since when did we use Old Testament parenting techniques? Let’s assume Proverbs is recommending hitting children with a rod- do we simply go along with that because it’s in the bible? Because the Old Testament also tells us that if our son is disobedient we should drag him to the gates of the city and stone him to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) and that if someone rapes your daughter they must pay you compensation and marry her. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) That’s right, you can effectively sell your daughter to a rapist! Is this really how we think God wants us to parent our children? Of course not!

As Christians we live our lives according to the teaching of Jesus, Jesus shows us a better way than blindly following ancient laws with no thought as to whether they’re righteous or even sensible. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Jesus gives us a really simple answer to how to navigate every single aspect of our lives, no matter what the circumstances: Love. “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….and…. you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40) This applies to parenting too.

And no, love does not mean being permissive. It seems the “anti-woke” brigade like to portray love as some weak, sappy, ‘woke’ snowflakey, permissive state of inaction in the face of sin. As though hitting a child who is driving you to the end of your tether is the difficult option whilst choosing to love them is easy. Let me tell you, as a parent of three teenagers, loving your child, I mean in practice, is not always the easy option! Love is patient, how easy is patience when you’ve asked them to put their shoes on 37 times already and if you don’t leave the house right now you’re going to be late? Love is kind, how easy is kindness when they call and ask for a lift at 11pm when you’ve just put your comfy pyjamas on? Love is not boastful, how difficult is that when “I told you so” is on the tip of your tongue? And love does not dishonour others, including disobedient children; hitting children is dishonouring!

The reason the rest of the world is catching onto alternative ways of setting boundaries for children is because we have learned, through research, that one of the most important protective factors in ensuring children grow up to be emotionally healthy adults is their need to form healthy attachments with their caregiver. You know what another word for a healthy attachment is? Love. Modern science does not contradict the teachings of Jesus, it confirms it. Jesus told us 2000 years ago that the most important commandment is love, science now tells us that the thing a child needs most is love. Science also confirms that dishonouring our child by spanking them is detrimental to healthy attachments. Research shows us that the brain development of children who are spanked is similar to that of children who experience childhood trauma, that their attachments are negatively affected and they are more likely to be aggressive or violent as adults. Whether you prefer to listen to science or you prefer to listen to the bible, the lesson is clear: don’t hit your children, love them.

This doesn’t mean you don’t set boundaries, this doesn’t mean you don’t discipline your children, what it means is that your discipline has its roots firmly planted in love, not in control. You set boundaries with patience, kindness, honesty, and respect. You always protect your children, always believe the best of your children, give your children a reason to hope, and that you love them with an enduring love even when they’re being little monsters. I can’t promise you that your children will be as well behaved as children who are hit, but we need to normalise that; we need to normalise children being children. It’s not normal for children to always be “good” pushing boundaries is part of growing up, it’s how we learn to manage ourselves, how we figure out what’s right and wrong, those who don’t make mistakes never learn anything. Our job is not to keep our children under control so that they appear perfect and we look good, our job is to raise brilliant adults, and who ever achieved brilliance without some failure along the way? Please don’t hit your kids when they fail, when they stumble, they’re learning, instead correct them with patience, kindness and humility, that’s how they learn to respect you, and how they learn to be patient, kind and humble.