Ann Landers Advises Against Spanking -- What Does God's Word Teach?
Commentary by Mark Benedict

Ask Ann Landers: 4 April, 1997

The following was taken from Ann Landerís advice column. Sometimes Ann gives good advice. Not this time!

Q: I see nothing wrong with a good, hard spanking when a child is misbehaving. I am sick and tired of listening to whining brats in supermarkets and department stores while their parents plead with them to "behave yourself." When my kids acted like brats, I told them if you don't be quiet, I'll take you to the car and give you something to cry about!" They learned how to behave in public as well as at home.

My father was a very loving man who worked hard to support my mother, my sister and me. If we didn't obey, he first let us know verbally. If that didn't work, he'd take off his belt and use it. Once we got a strapping, he never had to hit us for the same offense again.

Child abuse is one thing, but I believe not teaching children right from wrong is neglectful. I often wonder how this young generation is going to turn out and what our country is going to be like when the spoiled brats are in control. - Future Shocked in Bellefontaine, Ohio

A: Parents who hit their children teach them to hit others. And, please tell me, when does hitting end and beating begin? And who decides where the line is? Depriving a child of privileges such as no TV for a week or not being permitted to go to the movies, sports events or the home of friends is much more effective. If you will read the history of the most violent criminals, you will find that almost without exception, they were physically abused throughout their childhood.

So Ann Landers Advises Against Spanking Ė What Does Godís Word Say?

In the column above, a mother writes to describe her experience growing up. From her account, it is clear her father applied physical force (spanked) in a controlled and disciplined manner. She pointed out to Ann that far from making her resentful, neurotic, or victimized, it led her to obey and respect her parents while teaching her self-control and discipline.

This sensible mother expressed her concern that this country will be in serious trouble when the poorly disciplined children of this generation become adults and take up positions of leadership in business and government.

She suggests that the change in the way we discipline our children is responsible for the prevalence current crop of whiny, disrespectful, and ill adjusted children, and perhaps we parents need to resume corporal punishment to stop the downward slide in childrenís behavioral norms.

When I read her letter my response was a heartfelt, "Amen!" I was really interested in seeing Annís answer. I half hoped she would weigh in on the side of Biblical truth and common sense. So what did Ann advise the millions of readers to do with their unruly children?

Letís examine her reply in detail, although I will regroup her comments slightly for discussion: "Parents who hit their children teach them to hit others. And, please tell me, when does hitting end and beating begin? And who decides where the line is?Ö If you will read the history of the most violent criminals, you will find that almost without exception, they were physically abused throughout their childhood."


Ann parrots here an often repeated myth, frequently stated in a way to imply there is scientific research to support this argument. See the article written by Robert Surgenor: A Policeman Speaks Out for more on this topic.  The source of unruly and violent behavior in children is quite simplyÖa lack of godly discipline. Children who are properly disciplined learn to obey adults and others in authority. The cause of children hitting other children is self-centered behavior and disdain for authority. In fact, it is lack of properly administered discipline which causes the behavior Ann would like to prevent. Children do not have to learn to hit others, they instinctively know how to be selfish and abusive to their playmates. (Parents with actual "parenting" time under their belts know this from personal observation.) You will often find studies conducted which purport to prove that corporal punishment leads to aggressive behavior among children on playgrounds.

One study used the method of observing children on the playground to watch how they played together to identify children who displayed aggressive behavior. Independent interviews were conducted by other researchers (who had not observed the children on the playground) to determine which children were spanked by their parents. After analysis, the researchers found that the children who were spanked showed more aggressive behavior than those who were not spanked. Case proved, open and shut, right? Not exactly. Studies like this usually make no investigation into the exact techniques used to discipline children. As a result, parents who become exasperated, lose their tempers and strike their children in anger, and parents who use principled discipline are lumped into the same category, even though the results of their discipline as measured in the childrenís behavior may be markedly different. This is known as starting with a supposition and then gathering data to prove it. Christians also start with a supposition and attempt to prove it. We believe that the Bible is a more reliable guide to raising children than the opinions of foolish men, no matter how "learned" they may be.

If this research was done in a neighborhood that was devastated by the epidemic of fatherlessness common in the inner city, it would most likely include a disproportionate number of dysfunctional families. In that case, poor parenting may in itself be the cause of observed aggressive behavior, which does not prove that spanking was the cause. These problem children might act the way they did because of improperly administered discipline and poor parenting techniques. The prevalence of broken homes and the lack of fathers is statistically linked with aggressive behavior and crime among youth.

Studies such as the one above are hailed as scientific proof, but the truth is they are often biased through faulty design or inadequate research. A real scientific study would establish controls and monitor all the factors involved to establish causal relationships. The articles describing these studies usually state the findings conclusively without providing specifics on the controls and procedures. Just mention an "expert" and the average person will suspend their own common sense in the face of this mountain of "evidence" gathered by white coated individuals hot in the pursuit of "knowledge."

Yet there is such hostility among psychologists and social "scientists" towards discipline that they often willingly ignore the easily observed evidence of the memories from their own childhood. As society has eliminated corporal punishment over the last thirty years, discipline problems and violent behavior among young people has gotten worse, not better. So what gives? Isnít this a classic case of straining out the gnat and swallowing a camel? Weíve changed the way weíre raising kids and they act worse than they used to. So the problem is the way we used to raise them?

But back to our article. Annís faulty reasoning leads her to conclude that discipline (spanking) is the same thing as abuse. She assumes, without any proof, that any form of spanking is abusive. Unfortunately many parents have heard this proposition stated so many times by "experts" that they accept it at face value. (Was it Hitlerís minister of propaganda that said if you repeat a lie often enough anyone will believe it?) The difference between Biblical discipline and child abuse is in the motives and intents of the one applying the discipline.

While it is true that many abused children grow up to be abusers, this does not prove that spanking is at fault. The Scripture gives a more rational explanation for the cycle of the abused abusing their children when they become adults:

Exodus 34:6-7 "And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation."

But back to Ann Landers and the crowning piece of her advice:

"Depriving a child of privileges such as no TV for a week or not being permitted to go to the movies, sports events or the home of friends is much more effective."

Says who? Sadly, here Ann reveals the ignorance of the idealist, who lacks personal experience with parenting. If I recall correctly, Ann Landers and Dear Abbey are two sisters, both divorced. To my knowledge neither one of them have raised any children. (I tried to find some background material before this writing, but was unsuccessful. I read an article several years back, which to the best of my memory is the source of my recollections.)

Dr. Spock and a number of other psychologists introduced such foolish ideas as "reasoning" with children and manipulating them into obedience as if parents had to apologize for being placed in the position and authority of being parents. It is obvious to anyone old enough to recall their own childhood before this nonsense began to take hold with the undisciplined "60s" generation and then the baby boomers of today that young parents today are largely clueless on how to discipline their children!

Young children, at the age when they should be spanked, care nothing for such privileges as TV or friends, or sports events. Toddlers must be taught that they cannot spurn the directions and authority of their parents or they will grow up to hold those parents in contempt.

Parents should take note that the Bible never recommends "hitting" your child, it clearly states we are to use the "rod" of correction. (The fact that it is necessary to pause a moment while fetching the customary instrument of correction insures that parents will not lash out in anger, but administer correction in a controlled fashion.)

Proverbs 22:15  "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."

Proverbs 10:13 In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding.

Proverbs 13:24 "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."

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

Prov 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

Some nimble "Christian" psychologists explain away the rod as a symbol for authority, and teach that you should never use anything but your hand to give a token swat to a misbehaving child. I have no doubt that the plain and most practical interpretation of Proverbs is parents should use the rod rather than to swat their children. I also believe the scriptural reference to the "rod" best corresponds to a switch or perhaps a flexible paddle.

Annís analogy that "hitting" your children teaches them to hit others may be true. Iíve never "hit" mine, preferring the rod instead. So perhaps I should have been watching my children closely to make sure they did not go around spanking other children, (hasnít been a problem with my kids so far!)

In fact, I challenge parents to conduct their own survey of parental techniques using this simple technique. Find a couple with teenage children who habitually honor and respect their parents and ask them how they disciplined these children when they were young. I feel completely confidant that you will not find many well adjusted and self-disciplined teenagers who were not the recipients of lovingly administered corporal punishment when they were young.

The positive results of Biblical discipline are immediately noticeable with preschool and elementary children. Parents of young children, I challenge you to carefully observe other families in search of parents that are not worn out, harried, and frustrated with their own young children. Find such a family and ask them about the methods they are using to discipline. I can safely predict that you will find Biblical parenting principles beneath their success.

The simple fact is that children respond and thrive on authoritative parenting. Where discipline is administered with love and affection children feel safe and secure. Children raised in this environment learn to respond positively to authority and are more at ease with themselves and others during adolescence. A disciplined childhood is the greatest gift a parent can give to a child, since it will lead to a happy and fulfilled life and provide the underpinnings for a life spent in Godís service.

Mark Benedict


On 27 May I clipped this from Ann Lander's column. I guess this woman needed to take away this 10 year old child's TV privileges for a week! And I suppose that this woman simply needs to say no and this child will fall right in line and do what she says? Ann, how about some practical advice?

Q: I was recently in a department store and saw something that saddened me. A woman was shopping with her son, who looked about 10 years old. The child could be heard all over the store, demanding to leave. The mother continued to shop while the child's demands became louder and more insistent.

Finally, with his hands on his hips, the boy screamed, "I want to go, and I want to go NOW!" When his mother quietly told him that she still needed to find something, the boy hit her. I was appalled.

The mother laughed apologetically and said, "Now, Jason, that wasn't nice." It made me angry to see this woman tolerate such obnoxious behavior. I had to turn away to keep from saying something. After all, it wasn't really the child's fault. It's the mother's for not teaching the boy to be more respectful. That woman isn't doing her child any favors by letting him do as he pleases. -Concerned in Minn.

A: I feel sorry for that child. His mother is abdicating her responsibilities and letting him down badly when she allows him to take charge and order her around. Children need to have boundaries. It makes them feel safe. In certain situations, "NO" is exactly what they want to hear. If that preteen kid is hitting his mother and she stands for it, lord knows what he might do to her when he is 16. I hope she sees this letter and gets some counseling on how to parent. The poor woman needs help.