Minnesota Viking running back Adrian Peterson has created a media storm because he spanked his son with a switch.  After looking at the images of his son’s bruised legs and arms, I don’t think he spanked his son. He beat him.

photo by horizontal.integration, cc

In the last week I’ve read and listened to numerous views on the subject of corporal punishment. Frankly, most of what I’ve read would be opposed by anyone who cares for the welfare of children. I’ve heard parents rant about how they were beaten by a raging father. I’ve heard the meaning of the biblical word “rod” narrowed to a single meaning—a shepherd’s rod. If that’s the only meaning of “rod,” then certainly God wouldn’t urge a parent to spank a child with such an instrument since it was used to direct sheep, not beat them.

In light of the current public discussion, I’d like to share a few thoughts.

First, the Hebrew word for “rod” carries a different meaning, depending on the context of its use. Rather than going into detail here, I would encourage you to read this article.

Second, while the Bible teaches corporal punishment with the use of a rod, it does not endorse beating a child in anger. An angry parent should never, under any circumstances, spank a child. Here are some practical reasons why doing so is dangerous.

  • An angry parent has adrenaline rushing through their body which increases their strength and the likelihood of abuse.
  • An angry parent has poor judgment and may discipline a child for a perceived wrong.
  • An angry parent teaches a child that physical abuse is an acceptable form of punishment.

Third, a parent should never hit a child on their buttocks, face, hands or anywhere else with an open hand or fist. When a parent uses their hand to punish a child they are using the force of their entire body and could inflict not just pain, but bodily harm.  A parent should never pinch or flick the face, head or body with a finger to punish them. All such punishment teaches a child that the parents hands are to be feared.

So how should a child be spanked? To begin with, a child should never be disciplined unless the punishable behavior has been explained as well as the consequences. A child should never be spanked for being a child. Children say and do things because they are children. Not because they are acting disobediently or in defiance.

However, once a child understands the punishable behavior, the parent should sit down with the child and calmly explain what they did wrong and review the promised consequences. After applying a couple swats on the buttocks with a thin and light rod, the parent should hug the child and assure him/her of their love. They should then have the child explain why they were punished and commit not to repeat the offense.  As a father I would ask my sons to apologize and ask for forgiveness, if needed.

The process I just reviewed is far different than what Adrian Peterson did with his son. Appropriate corporal punishment is not abusive, doesn’t leave marks on a child and teaches self-control. It’s past time all child-abuse stops and parents learn to discipline their children in a loving way.

There are 2 comments

  1. Graham


    After reading your blog I was left disappointed in its conclusion/recommendation. I live in New Zealand where 2-3 years ago legislation was passed, to protect the innocent victims of child abuse, that no physical hitting of a child is legal. At the time they stressed loving parents who give their kids a smack on the bottom would have nothing to fear from the law. Naturally in time numerous stories of loving parents being hauled through the court system and even dads having to leave the home until court hearing dates have emerged. While these stories, if true, are disappointing and not working for the intention of the legislation it has closed a loop hole that allowed genuine child abuse offenders to be set free.
    Many “Christian” groups vehemently argued the legislation and still there are parties campaigning to repeal the law when they are in power.
    The struggle I have with all this is that spanking, even done “properly”, in my opinion is far from the best discipline practice. I learned that “to spare the rod is to spoil the child” is still true but interpret the “rod” as the staff of the leader which is the keeper of the standard of the family, community or society. Your discipline of your children should always be to maintain the standard of discipline required to be in your family, your community, your society and last but not least God’s family. Spare your child of the discipline required to maintain “this standard” , different from family to family, society to society etc, and you do spoil the child.

    We are praised regularly about how lovely our kids are, naturally they don’t see them at their worst, but we feel we have disciplined our 3 kids in a way that guides them to understand the standard of behaviour required to be a contributors to family, community and society, as well as understand the love of God. Barring moments of our own weakness we have not smacked our children for the purposes of disciplining them. We have found our kids to fear losing screen time, Lego, toys and items of significance far more effective than “the smack”. When they were younger time-out was difficult for a kid when they desperately wanted to be elsewhere. I’m not condoning one particular form of discipline over another, that has to be for the individual family, but am a proponent of not physically hitting a child by whatever means. Discipline a child? Yes that is essential and God requires it of parents. Parents, if they love their children will want to discipline them in love. Hit a child? No. – Yes it is harder not to smack. Smacking sometimes seems the easy option but I believe not the best.

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