If Thou Beatest Him With A Rod...

Science shows: spanking actually works!

While we were looking into scientific proof of the accuracy of what the Bible teaches about public health and about marriage, someone suggested that it might be worthwhile also to verify what the Bible says about child rearing.  Most of what the Bible teaches such as assigning parents primary responsibility for their children's welfare is relatively uncontroversial, but punishment has become a hot-button issue.  As one of the sub-themes of the culture wars, the topic of corporal punishment of children - in a word, spanking - has generated considerable heat but not much light over the last few decades.

The Bible and other religious writings command devout parents to spank their children to save their souls from hell among other undesirable outcomes, but this practice has been criticized by the social-worker community.  Despite many court cases affirming parents' right to spank, the Center for Effective Discipline has been trying since 1998 to get laws passed to criminalize corporal punishment, for example.

The Harvard View of Spanking

Ruth and Henry Kempe, a husband and wife team of teachers at Harvard, were perhaps the most vivid early opponents of spanking.  Widely read among social workers, their views have shaped legislative and agency views of spanking as just another form of child abuse.  These quotes from their book Child Abuse gives you the general flavor of academic opposition to spanking:

Parents, teachers, and ministers alike have believed that the only cure for the "foolishness bound up in the heart of a child" was repression by the rod, and "beating the devil out of him" is still a common expression today. p 4

The Kempes had a pretty accurate understanding of the sense of Proverbs 23:14 which says, "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell," but they seem to have overlooked the part of the passage which points out why it's OK to beat a child:

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell - Proverbs 23:13-14

These thoughts are at least 3,500 years old; presumably in all that time, if children were dropping dead on every side from spankings, it might have occurred to the sages to revise or clarify their remarks.  Instead, somewhat later on the scene, we have the Kempes:

But values are clearly changing.  The same act that might have met with applause from clergymen one hundred years ago must be referred to the authorities for criminal justice today.  p 6

A doctor should think of abuse every time he sees an injured child.  p 66

There is a group [of abusive parents] amounting to perhaps 10 percent of the total, who are seriously mentally ill--too seriously, in fact, for any treatment to be possible.  For these, there is only one alternative--to end the caregiving relationship by placing the child with relatives or in permanent foster care, or by formally terminating parental rights, to be followed by adoption.  This 10 percent is made up of 4 groups...  p 68

A final 2 or 3 percent who are seriously mentally ill are the "fanatics."  This group includes a great variety of people who use religious or other terms to justify beliefs and approaches to child rearing that to the rest of the world seem clearly and wholly irrationalp 69

We recommend early termination of parental rights, instead of prolonged effort at treatment, when parents are members of one of the four groups described in Chapter 6. p 104  [emphasis added]

The Kempes argued that any parent who is convinced that God requires that parents spank their children as a means of raising them into responsible adulthood is self-evidently a mentally-ill, irrational fanatic who should have parental rights terminated immediately so that their children can be put up for adoption or into foster care.  Thus, modern social-work principles as exemplified by the Kempes are in direct and irreconcilable conflict with the right to free exercise of religion, right to privacy, and any right to autonomy of the family.

To a social worker, any belief that a 3,000 year-old book contains child-rearing principles which are of more value than modern scientific research is "wholly irrational."  The marriage counselors who criticized black Christian women for restricting their dating pool probably feel that the women are being equally irrational for wanting to date only Christian men on much the same basis.

Apply the Board of Education to the Seat of Learning.
Repeat as necessary.

Spanking Works!

Bible believers are getting the last laugh, however.  Newsweek, which is as politically-correct a publication as any, wrote about a recent study which compared parenting outcomes where children were spanked with children who were not spanked:

New research shows that now up to 25% of kids are never spanked, so it's a fair question: How are they turning out? Are they turning out better? Surprisingly, they're not.

What she [the author of the study] discovered was another shocker: those who'd been spanked just when they were young-ages 2 to 6-were doing a little better as teenagers than those who'd never been spanked. On almost every measure.  [emphasis added]

Having been exposed to decades of propaganda to the effect that corporal punishment is child abuse, the Newsweek writers were understandably floored to find out that corporal punishment has positive effects when administered properly.

The Kempes were somewhat premature in arguing that "values are clearly changing" with respect to corporal punishment back in 1978.  The Newsweek article reports that part of the reason it took so long to do any definitive research on spanking versus not spanking was that more than 90% of children had been spanked.  It was only recently that researchers could find a control group of kids who had never been spanked with whom to do a comparison.

No Christian would be surprised to find out that the non-spanked kids didn't do as well, nor find our recent problems with youth delinquency unexpected, but it's interesting to hear science now admitting the same.

How to Spank

Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that most parents spank in anger instead of rational justice.  They don't use spanking as a means of consistently correcting their children, instead ignoring misbehavior until frustration builds to the point that they lash out.

This sort of anger-driven spanking isn't what the ancient writers had in mind.  This passage states that a father's discipline should be reasonable enough that the children recognize the justice of his position rather than becoming angry.

Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. - Ephesians 6:2-4

Children are supposed to honor and obey their parents, but parents are supposed to be reasonable.  Note that nurture - that is, love-based caregiving - and admonition - which includes correction and spanking - come in that order.  Nuture comes first, which means that fathers should spank in a calm and sane manner, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation after explaining why it matters.  Spanking without explanation not only makes children angry, they become discouraged, thinking there's nothing they can do to please their parents.

Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.  - Colossians 3:21

Given all the wrong ways there are to spank children, it's no wonder that it took the social work community a while to get at the truth that prudent spanking improves outcomes.  It took more than 3,500 years for the concepts of quarantine, avoiding corpses, hand washing, and circumcision to be accepted by the medical community after they were commanded in scripture; it's no surprise that it took even longer for researchers to admit that spanking works.

Scientists have found that Biblical teaching about spanking is in fact true; can the same be said for the Biblical teaching about capital punishment?

Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.  - Genesis 9:6

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.  - Romans 13:3-4

The available research suggests that capital punishment does deter murder in that each execution saves the lives of five people.  This research will probably be just as hard for our politicians to accept as research about spanking, but it's true nevertheless.

Lee Tydings is a guest writer for Scragged.com.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Lee Tydings or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

I dislike your use of the word "beat". I know it's probably tongue-in-cheek, but libs use that word (and also "hit") to mislead the public.

Spanking is very different than "beating" or "hitting". EXTREMELY different.

Parents that refuse to spank their children, for any reason, are the real abusers.

There are few things that ruin a person more than a lack of childhood discipline.

October 13, 2010 9:57 AM

I routinely spanked my 6 kids, but under understood rules. One of my sons does not spank, and I agree with him, but he has a special circumstance. Let me explain.

We had two punishments for our younger children: first the child was told what he/she had done wrong, then 3 licks or if you were really bad, 5 licks administered to the upper legs and lower buttocks in a very controlled manner followed by a hug and a declaration of love. This ended for each child when they reached an age where other punishment became effective, generally 12 to 14. One day they had all misbehaved in a public place, and were warned they would be punished for misbehaving. At home, they were given a choice of 1/2 hour in their rooms or the 3 licks. They all chose the 3 licks just to get it over with.

My son John has a son with Asbergers syndrome. The son reacts to situations that he doesn't like by striking out at others by hitting or throwing. Obviously John could not validate the boy's behavior by then "hitting" him with a spanking. It has been very difficult, and discipline is much more complicated. But my grandson is maturing and able to control himself, and has a normal life to look forward to due to my son's extraordinary efforts.

But for most kids, a good spanking is a quick and simple way to get over a misbehavior and restore relations with parents if it is not done with anger. The problem comes from a parent expressing anger at being trapped into taking care of child he/she may not like, and the conflict of that anger verses the social norm that we should love our children.

As in most things in live, it takes a little wisdom to figure out which rules apply to a given situation, and one size does not fit all.

P.S. raised 6 of mine and 5 step kids. Actually still raising them, but they don't know it: they are all adults now, and actually turning out pretty darn good.

October 13, 2010 10:26 AM

Sparky makes a good point. I originally said "for any reason". That isn't quite true. If your child isn't capable of learning/reacting as normal children are, you have to do different things. Mentally handicap children, especially.

October 13, 2010 10:31 AM

Spanking? Bible? Was this website just sold to the Focus On The Family guy?

October 13, 2010 10:56 AM

Oh, this has been a pretty long-running albeit occasional theme at Scragged - namely, that ancient wisdom might have actually had a point. They've done this with Confucius too, and I don't think Scragged was sold to the Red Chinese.

Why not attack the argument on its merits instead of its source?

October 13, 2010 12:56 PM

"Why not attack the argument on its merits"

Ok, the bible is a book of fairy tales. Argument over; I win.

This essay reads like a Sunday School lesson. Far cry from the other [great] stuff.

October 13, 2010 1:04 PM

Greg, can you go some place else, your mind is severely lacking in logic circuitry. (This is an ad hominum attack just like your two posts.)

Ancient wisdom preserved in the Jewish/Christian traditions or in Aesop's fables (Greek tradition) all stake their claim to long life based on speaking truth to our souls. (Soul = combination of our physical being and our mental/spiritual being.)

You have made two posts that showed only a surface understanding of the issues presented, kind of like a 14 year old dropping into a philosophy class and saying "Boring". Either look at the issues or leave. Your cute logic doesn't cut it here.

October 13, 2010 1:21 PM

"You have made two posts that showed only a surface understanding..."

Calm down, my friend. You're missing the point.

First, I never said I didn't believe in spanking.

Second, I never said say anything that defies bibilical teaching. There would be no point to that. The bible is a book of fealty. You're either a believer, or you're not. The fact that "the bible says" whatever only matters if you think the bible is important.

The issue I raise is one of relevance.

I read my daily dose of Offensicht and Petrarch because they're a breath of fresh air in a sea of nonsense.

I've become accustomed to a product that analyzes the media, gives political lessons and juxtaposes "now" with "then".

I've seen occasional things I disagree with, as with any website, but bible class...?? On the oped page?

The entire second half is, quite literally, on "How to Spank". The documentation for such is, yet again, a series of bible verses.

The first half had its merit as the author showed that the media had to swallow and rethink its position. But then... We went from clean analysis to crazy, religious spin all in the space of a few paragraphs.

Go back and re-read it, and you'll see what I mean.

postscript: Earlier commenters asked me to debate the argument on its merit. That's amusing when you think about the "merit" that the argument was originally formed upon.

October 13, 2010 1:44 PM

I think you kind of missed part of the argument then, Greg.

A. Ancient wisdom (i.e. the Bible) says spanking is effective. Modern liberal academics think otherwise. Research shows: libs are wrong, spanking does work.

B. The arguments against spanking **seemed** to have merit because they were actually straw-men - not truly arguing against spanking done correctly, but against actual abuse. Again, standard liberal procedure - "You won't vote for more money for welfare? You hate the poor and want them all to die!" Again, the ancient wisdom when not twisted against itself had a point.

But I'm sure there'll be another article about Confucius' wisdom sooner or later, which may be more to your taste.

October 13, 2010 2:14 PM


Well thanks for finally expressing your viewpoint. While I concede that this article is not dead center of where Scragged usually goes, it is going back to the basic premise of conservative thought vs progressive thought. Too often the progressive mind says lets change for change's sake, or, more childish, if it will tick off my folks, lets do it!

We are in the midst of a major political debate on the fiscal responsibilities of government with the fiscal conservatives leading the way. A very significant portion of the FC's are also social conservatives: some of the kind I agree with, some of the kind I disagree with. Once the conservative avalanche happens (Soros), we will find that there will be a significant SC group elected.

So brush up on your biblical wisdom, social issues will be discussed. The important issues will be those framed in terms that a significant majority can agree on. And that means discussed in a way Hindu's, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, as well as atheists, and agnostics will agree on. Social values count even if they are phrased in the biblical "thou shall not kill".

Rather than try to convince you that there are both ascending thoughts as well as descending thoughts in the bible, I would recommend some more modern books such as "The gifts of the Jews" to see why and how this stamm-religion (Hebrew or Abrahamic) has changed our world. (And P.S. I'm not Jewish, I just respect them, and stamm is German for root as many religions originated from the religious beliefs of Abraham, legend or not).

October 13, 2010 2:27 PM

The bible = "Ancient Wisdom" = reason the libs are wrong?

That's not clean rational analysis. That's called religious indoctrination. Indoctrination is perfectly fine IF you're willing to admit that that is what is going on.

I have no particular beef with the bible as being worse/better than any other religion.

The qur'an says children should be spanked too. Would you consider that "Ancient Wisdom"? Would you spend the entire second half of the article teaching "how the qur'an says to do it"?

Patience, I don't think you've read Offensicht's essays on Confucius. They have nothing to do with religion (ie. the Confucian teachings of Taoism or Buddhism) They're about proper governance and the traditions of societies.

Confucius was a real person who is internationally recognized as one of the most important philosophers of all time. His perspective is everywhere - academia, secular and religious books.

Even if you try to make the claim that Confucius and the bible are the same type of thing - a major stretch - at least Confucian philosophy was about politics and government. The bible is about sin and redemption between god and man.

Don't worry, I won't take my ball and go home. No one if right all the time.

October 13, 2010 2:34 PM

using appeal to authority, especially mythological or perverse ones, begs the question as to the author's sanity and connection to living on this world...
religion is ever the bane of life and those who value thought, independence and reason over superstition, mysticism and submission...
you insult the thinking reader, as well as those who reject superficial belief over sound reasoning..

October 13, 2010 5:39 PM

Nothing in the article is about religion. It is instead about the philosophical beliefs of ancient Jews and early Christians. Using the Bible as a philosophical document is no different than reading Plato and Aristotle. Ancient Greek writings did not avoid religious belief. Whether God told ancient writers that corporal punishment was good or if the writers simply learned this through observation the fact that it is an essential part of ancient Jewish life remains true.

In additional, the Bible is not fairy tales. It is more appropriately called a collection of legends.

Legend: a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.

It is important to note however that much of the Bible is verifiable as historically accurate in broad strokes (it is after all nearly impossible to prove details so far removed from the present). Jesus for example is known to have existed as he is mentioned by Josephus. It is obviously impossible to prove/disprove the interactions with God. That doesn't change the fact that the Old Testament (as we Christians call it) or Torah is a historical document passed down for many generations by the Jewish people and containing much of the wisdom of an ancient people.

As far as the actual substance of the article: I was never spanked once more than once and I am still able to list the items that were spankable offences. It wasn't really about the physical punishment it was more about having a consistent way for my mother to let me know that my behavior was not appropriate.

October 13, 2010 8:45 PM

Irvnx are you counting out any idea that has the word religion tied to it? That is prejudice guy/gal, and your doctrine that religion is the bane of thinking, insults all the thinkers of ages past who had no other way of expressing their thoughts and feelings than through religious writing. Not all religious writing is of equal worth, but don't throw away the good with the bad.

It was the communists that declared religion the opiate for the masses and then formed their own religion. Personally, I don't think we are alone in the Universe, so I try to cut others a little slack in personal philosophy and belief systems area. If you feel that the concept of religion personally hampers your thought process, that is fine. Don't assume it hampers others, and if you think all religions are the same, you need to get out more.

October 13, 2010 10:38 PM

I'm with Greg. The idea is sound, but the last 50% I could do without. If you would have ended it before the how to spank, it would have worked. Different strokes for different folks.

Tomorrow's article: "How To Date In A Godly Way".

October 14, 2010 7:29 AM

The statement "scientists found that Biblical teaching about spanking.." is patently false.

"Scientists found" means that through experimentation or observation a scientific conclusion was reached. Nothing of the kind happened. Pollsters merely observed that there were a few more happier adults who were spanked as children. Is that conclusive? Was the study double blind? Did they sample enough people?

And what about the vast number of other studies that have conclusively shown that spanking is harmful and abusive and leads to bad behavior?

In April 2010, Tulane University found that spanking children makes them aggressive, defiant and prone to tantrums:


In 2009, Duke University found that spanking toddlers leads to lower cognitive ability.

In 2004, University of Michigan found that spanking leads to antisocial behavior and depression:


The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that spanking is:

"significantly and positively associated with child behavior problems at school age"


In 2006, a government commissioned study found that physical punishment in childhood is associated with an increased rate of major depression and alcohol abuse or dependence later in life.


So actually....

It turns out that "scientists found" just the opposite. Instead of really digging into what the scientific community has or has not found, you jumped on a non-conclusive poll (which the pollsters said that themselves) and used it to backfill a lesson on why the Bible is omniscient.

Social opinions that are based on religion are filled with holes. Stick to politics.

October 15, 2010 8:58 AM

I do believe that that studies you cited W.L.A. are guilty of another issue. Causation vs correlation. I find it very interesting that non-hispanic whites are at increased risk of having issues than other groups when spanked. That sets off some red flags for me.

Further this looked at spanking children when they are very young. Spanking a one year old won't do much good because they are still trying to figure that whole cause and effect thing out. Knowing several people that work in child care I can assure you that putting kids in a corner doesn't always work. There are good kids and bad kids, the biters keep biting no matter how many times you put them in time out and since that is the only punishment that they have available they children just keep on biting.

Something that is not addressed by any of the studies (at least as laid out in the brief synopsis) is why the children were being spanked. If a child is spanked for every little thing they do wrong of course it will be an issue. If the child is only spanked for doing something very wrong and with a clear set of guidelines the child does not feel powerless but is rather empowered to determine if he will be spanked by determining his behavior.

This is in no way to say that time outs can't work either. Although I don't like the 'one minute per year' rule. My mother would often send me to my room 'until [I was] ready to behave.' That worked very well for me, I'd go up there for a few minutes then come down and be okay again. Each child is different and must be handled as such. Spanking can not be the only form of punishment, as it does not always fit the crime.

The governmental study only looked at three types of punishment no physical punishment or abuse, physical punishment only, and child abuse. Physical punishment as part of a well rounded punishment system is not looked at. This would appear to be a major flaw in the study.

The study showing that children become more defiant with spanking is also flawed. It shows that spanking children at 12 months causes issues. I would agree going with that whole 'cause and effect' thing that they're still working on. Secondly it says if children are spanked three or more times a month that they are more likely to have issues. Note that there apparently wasn't a positive correlation for spanking once or twice. The children may simply be trouble makers that get in trouble far more often resulting in more spankings. It could be a flaw in the parent overusing physical punishment.

Further it makes a very good point that punishments must be immediate for young children. Waiting for the father to come home to spank young children separates them from the crime and instead of associating the punishment with the crime they associate it with dad coming home. For teenagers punishment can wait a bit but for young children the punishment must be immediate. Otherwise the punishment is not associated with the crime in the child's mind.

The most important thing to remember with children is that each child is different. The perfect childhood for one child will create a hellion in another. If time outs work for one child, great use them. However if a child's behavior does not change then obviously something else needs to be tried.

October 15, 2010 10:31 AM

So to summarize...

All the studies I cited (which are numerous, and these only scratch the surface) are wrong.

The single study the author cited (one, single lonely study) is right.

Please. There are easily 10 times as many studies showing that spanking is bad as there are studies that show the opposite. Peer reviewed, accredited scientists, double blind, etc.

This article did not attempt to even mention that obviousness of that fact. It hoped that if it ignored them, they would go away.

The author merely plowed ahead in order to, as I said before, backfill a lesson on why the Bible is omniscient.

October 15, 2010 11:29 AM

I did not make any judgement on the study cited in the article. I do not know how it was conducted and did not investigate it. I generally am dubious of sociology/psychology studies as flawed with a improper placement of causality instead of correlation. Further as with all psychology studies what they are talking about are averages. No person is an average and therefore they can not be directly used to determine how a person should treat an individual.

Studies can be interesting, illuminative, and helpful. But they can not directly guide the treatment of any given individual.

As a way to illustrate my point lets take a hypothetical group of 1000 children.

50 children will do best if given X
700 children will do best if given Y
250 children will do best if given Z

assuming that children are given X, Y, or Z randomly a study on this would show that most children do best when given Y by a healthy margin. This conclusion however does not show that all children do best when given Y and it would be very difficult for a researcher to ferret out the group that do best when given X. Group X would appear to be a statistical anomaly.

This doesn't even begin to take into account the complexities of partial groups. Some children need 10% X, and 90% Y and no Z ect. X is the best response to A, but is a terrible response to B ect.

Making blanket statements are almost always wrong. Spanking is good for example is too vague to be defined as true or false in my opinion as I believe it is appropriate for some behavior. There are some things that can be agreed upon like beating a child for no reason is pretty obviously a bad thing to do. The details however get a bit fuzzy.

October 15, 2010 1:17 PM

Sure, some studies are good, some are bad. That's why it's important to look at *multiple* studies and get *multiple* opinions.

I referenced multiple studies (and I could have referenced twice as many). The article referenced one.

"Making blanket statements are almost always wrong"

Absolutely, which is why this article is so deeply flawed.

The author makes blanket statements based off of a single study even though the very creators of the study are hesitant to draw any conclusions.

If you go back and read my first comment, you'll see that in each study, the scientists used phrases like "leads to" or "in most cases" and only referenced specific problems like "depression" or "low test scores" where they saw clear results.

No one has said - at least not me - that "all spanking is bad all the time". None of the studies I referenced even say that. The point has been that there is, unquestionably, much more evidence that spankings are harmful than helpful. The fact that this article never even attempted to discuss that shows that the author was more interested in validating the Bible than in finding the truth.

October 15, 2010 1:28 PM

"The American Academy of Pediatrics does not condone spanking at all, and this is not the first study to detail the perils of corporal punishment, notes Time magazine. An earlier study at Duke University found that 12-month-olds who were spanked scored lower at age 3 on cognitive tests, according to Time."

While not the study directly this shows the current view of governmental agencies the intelligentsia. As I have not read the study I can't comment directly on what the study says.

October 15, 2010 7:32 PM

@jgold, who said

Tomorrow's article: "How To Date In A Godly Way".

Been there, wrote that, see:


October 15, 2010 8:45 PM
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