by Wendell E. Miller

Q. I know that the Bible teaches that parents should spank their children; but I heard of an instance in which the parents faced the possibility of losing custody of a child because they spanked him. Also, I have read that spanking a child may cause a child to grow up to be a child abuser. Is this true? Are there any principles to follow for spanking?

A. We have all read of horrible instances of physical abuse of children; and our government is operating within its God-given responsibilities when laws are enacted and enforced to protect children from physical harm, whether inflicted by their parents or by others.

However, whenever laws are made by man and enforced by man, injustices are bound to occur. At times the guilty will go undisciplined; and, at times, the innocent will be unjustly accused, convicted and punished.

Especially now that there has been so much in the news about parents physically abusing their children, accusations of child abuse are sometimes made unjustly by bystanders. The person reporting child abuse may have misunderstood what they have seen or heard, or they may have been so indoctrinated by humanism that they believe that all spanking is child abuse.

Also, children and teens are learning that they may be able to destroy their parents' right to discipline them by falsely reporting that they have been physically abused by their parents. And, occasionally, a teen will report being physically abused by his parents in the hope of being placed in a foster home where he will not be required to obey rules.

Because child abuse is a serious matter, government authorities have an obligation to treat every report of child abuse seriously and to investigate the allegations that have been made. But, when an innocent God-fearing parent is confronted, charged, and made to prove his innocence or face losing custody of his child, that, too, is a serious matter.

Every Christian parent should have access to an attorney who not only is a Christian, but who also believes spanking is a part of the biblical nurture and admonition that is commanded by God. Otherwise, it is possible that an attorney might arrange a plea-bargaining agreement in which parental rights would be signed away. Each Bible-believing church should have the name of a suitable attorney on file for immediate access by any accused parent in the congregation. Unfortunately the tendency seems to be that more and more effort will be made to enact laws that will give children rights over their parents and that will undermine God-given parental responsibilities, or to administer laws in a manner in which parental rights and responsibilities will be eroded.

If the situation ever arises that parents cannot bring their children up according to biblical truth--perhaps by calling it "mental abuse" when children are taught that they are sinners and that they need to be saved by the shed blood of our Saviour, or by prohibiting spanking--then, if possible, Christian parents should relocate to a place where they can rear their children as God commands.

It seems wise and prudent to attempt to prevent this type of problem by assisting lawmakers in passing laws that are in accordance with biblical family relationships and the Constitution of the United States.

This assistance can be in two ways, both of which are biblical. The Scriptures teach that we should pray for our government officials (1 Tim. 2:1,2) and that we should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's (Matt. 22:21).

In our country, "rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" would seem to include doing things that a good citizen can do to influence legislation, as long as such activities do not detract from things "that are God's" (Matt. 22:21).

One way to be involved in influencing legislation is through an organization that is interested in, or that is established for, the specific purpose of seeing that legislation is both constitutional and in the best interests of Christian families.

In Indiana, such an organization is located across the street from the State Capitol Building. This organization was founded and is operated by an attorney who is a Christian and who is concerned for parental rights.

It would be good, and may become critical, for Christians in every state to have an organization helping to enact legislation that is in accord with biblical teaching.

Now with regard to the question of whether or not spanking could cause a child to grow up to be a child abuser, it is possible that spanking a child unjustly, too hard, too often, and by an angry and unloving parent could cause the child to grow up to act the same way.

The biblical reason to believe that violent behavior of a parent could result in the child's becoming a violent adult is seen in the principle of modeling. Jesus taught the principle of modeling in Luke 6:40 when he said, "The disciple is not above his master; but every one that is perfect (fully trained) shall be as his master." So if the child were taught by example that violence is the way to handle anger and frustration, he would have a tendency to grow up to be a violent person too.

However, a child usually knows when he is guilty, usually knows that he should be disciplined, and even feels a need to be disciplined in order to reassure him that his parents care for him. So it is highly unlikely that spanking causes children to grow up to be child abusers, except for the most aggravated cases of a child's being consistently and unfairly beaten by an unloving parent.

The idea that spanking is harmful to the development of children comes from humanism and the denial by humanism of the sin nature. These humanists believe that the child will grow up to be a well-adjusted citizen if only the parents do not ruin him by interfering with his normal development.

Of course, Christian parents must include spanking as a part of biblical nurture and admonition no matter what psychologists or sociologists say. The Scriptures teach that the parent who does not spank his child hates him, but that chastening the child is an act of love (Prov. 13:24). The Bible also says, "The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame" (Prov. 29:15).

There are a number of principles that apply to administering spanking and other types of discipline.

First, the parent should be free from anger when disciplining so that the child will see the discipline as corrective rather than vindictive and so that the discipline will not be excessive.  [We don't believe you can't be angry, since anger can motivate you to take proper action, but you shouldn't let anger control you or cause you to lose control of your faculties.  God sometimes disciplines while angered.]

The parent should be sure that the child knows: 1) what he has done, 2) why his behavior was wrong, 3) that his sin is primarily against God, rather than against the parent, and 4) that his parent loves him and is acting, under God, for the child's good.

In addition: 1) the penalty should be paid expeditiously, except where restitution for property damage and so forth is involved (long groundings are poor because they leave long periods for resentment and a barrier between parent and child for long periods of time), 2) the child should be restored to full fellowship with the parent immediately after being disciplined, and 3) the child should receive affection from the parent immediately after being disciplined.

The object that is used for spanking should have a firm surface (as opposed to being padded) so that it will cause pain without an excessive impact (the hand is too soft), and lightweight so that it does not jar the child excessively (the hand is too heavy).

However, it is important to recognize that biblical nurture and admonition is not equivalent to spanking and yelling; and biblical nurture and admonition is not equivalent to yelling until angry and then spanking out of anger.

Further, biblical nurture and admonition does not mean that a child should be spanked for every kind of offense.

Instead, biblical nurture and admonition includes every positive incentive and every negative incentive that God teaches in the Scriptures for structuring the child's mind and actions (see "Child Rearing--Don't Just Take Anyone's Advice" and "Bringing About Biblical Child Rearing").

Be sure to tell your child that you thank God for sending him to be your child. Also, be sure to include compliments, praise of both the deed and the child (Matt. 25:21), good expectations, parental approval, thankfulness, rewards, and both verbal and physical expressions of affection. And, be careful--if you are not complimenting your child more than you are criticizing him, you may discourage him.

Of course spanking is biblical and an essential part of child rearing. But God has given many principles for child rearing. It would be a poor carpenter that would use only a hammer; and it is a poor parent who knows no means for structuring his children's lives other than spanking.

Even though children are individualistic, and even though they respond to various ones of the positive and negative incentives differently during different stages in their development, relatively few spankings should be required through the years if the positive and negative incentives of biblical "nurture and admonition" are used.

Also, a child may become emotionally hardened to the physical pain of too frequent spankings; but if the child rearing is really "biblical nurture and admonition," then, throughout most of his developmental years, when the child disobeys, he should experience more emotional distress from disappointing God and his parents than physical pain from occasional spankings.

Copyright 1986 by Wendell E. Miller
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