Posted: May 01, 2014 7:00 AM
 
The trend among today's parents is to move away from corporal punishment, which leaves many grandparents scratching their heads. Therapists explain the shift away from spanking, and what it might mean for the next generation.
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Though most of us were spanked as children, many parents today are choosing not to use corporal punishment when it comes to raising their own kids. Opting for "gentle parenting," or "peaceful parenting," indeed many parents are choosing not to punish children at all. We've asked therapists to chime in on this touchy topic.

How kids learn

"We all assume that the way we teach a lesson is by making it painful for them not to listen to us," says Dr. Laura Markham, clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. "But in fact, that's a pretty bleak view of human nature and it's not, as it turns out, true. We've looked at the brain research and we've seen that when people feel pain, the learning center shuts down because they go into a state of emergency. They're not learning. Digestion stops working. They're just in emergency mode: fight, flight or freeze."

We've looked at the brain research and we've seen that when people feel pain, the learning center shuts down because they go into a state of emergency.

Wow. So when we spank a child to teach a lesson, we're actually making it much less likely that they will learn. And that's not all.

Grey matter

"Children who are spanked have less grey matter in their brains," Dr. Markham continues. "All studies agree that spanking does not help. There is one positive outcome of spanking: immediate compliance." There were nine negative outcomes, which included the child becoming more aggressive, increased likelihood of juvenile delinquency, mental health problems later in life, more problems in the relationship with the parent, increased likelihood of drug use later, serious depression and anxiety, and even less grey matter in the brain.

The amount of grey matter a child (or adult) has is a big deal… in fact Dr. Markham calls it mental muscle, because grey matter indicates our ability to self-control. It's the neural connectivity that gives us self-discipline. When a child is being punished, why would she need it? The discipline is being imposed from the outside.

Teaching self-control

Many parents use corporal punishment to teach kids to do the right thing. But the threat of physical pain (corporal punishment) or emotional pain (withdrawal of a parent's loving presence) does little to develop self-discipline, Dr. Markham says.

"If they're dragged kicking and screaming into something, that's not self-discipline. In fact they're rebelling against it while you're spanking them. They aren't coming out of that spanking thinking you are right. They might be thinking they're a bad kid, they're thinking it's not fair and you don't understand. Self-discipline is about giving up something you want for something you want more. Doing that over and over again is how we develop 'mental muscle.'"

Earning respect

Respect cannot be instilled into another person... it must be earned from the person.

But how do we teach our children to respect us if there are no consequences for rebellion? "If you actually want respect from your child," Dr. Markham says, "you want to be a role model. We earn respect when we are that person that our child wants to emulate." Respect cannot be instilled into another person... it must be earned from the person. We cannot force children to respect us, but we have every opportunity to be respectable.

Think about those leaders in your life you really wanted to follow. Did you follow out of fear or out of your love for them? Is it possible to raise children who follow us because they love us instead of following out of self-preservation?

What changed?

"Those parents who are choosing other, gentler methods of parenting are doing so, I believe, because of the power of social media to share information," says L.R. Knost, bestselling parenting and children's book author. "From new discoveries about the impact of stress on the developing brain to studies on the value of a healthy parent/child relationship to the availability of alternative parental choices, the power of the internet to deliver information and to connect parents with one another is transformative."

The power of the internet to deliver information and to connect parents with one another is transformative.

Parents today are inundated with knowledge. Almost any question we have can be answered by almighty Google. There is more data and research and proven information at our fingertips than ever before, and we use it to make the best decisions we can. When we are presented with hard facts such as these, how can we do anything but move away from corporal punishment, even if we experienced it ourselves? Even if we "turned out OK?" Even if others don't understand?

Every generation is working with new information, and we are responsible to respond to new knowledge appropriately. We now have over 40 years of data on the effects of spanking... how do you respond?

More on discipline

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