What one considers child discipline, another considers child abuse. Yelling and hitting may break a wayward child’s will but could also crush a child’s spirit. Too many children grow up feeling unloved due to a parent’s harsh critical anger. Some become timid melancholic children who share their time between unloving volatile homes, and schoolyards where they are easy targets for teasing. And these children will often tolerate abusive treatment as adults.
I get it. Parents feel the need to exercise strict disciplinary action so their children don’t grow up to be psychopaths. But yelling and hitting don’t teach a child anything good. Besides, who would more likely become a psychopath? The child who grew up in a safe loving home? Or the demoralized child who grew up in a shaming abusive home? Ever heard of Jeffrey Dahmer?
In an updated and recent policy statement on corporal punishment the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Aversive disciplinary strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term.” Apparently new evidence suggests that this type of treatment may cause harm to the child by affecting normal brain development, and causes aggressive behavior as well as problems with learning, vocabulary and memory. Physically and verbally abused children often grow up shattered with feelings of explosive rage—not to mention helplessness, going through life with a shame-based identity and low self-esteem. As a psychotherapist who treats adult victims of childhood trauma, my husband can attest to the permanent damage that results from such treatment—especially during the first six years of life. Children do need direction. But the use of positive reinforcement, boundaries, and removal of privileges tend to lead to much better long-term outcomes than scaring a child into submission.
But the book of Proverbs says that he who spares the rod hates his child. So? The book of Proverbs also says, “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitterly distressed; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7). Proverbs lands inside the section of the Old Testament known as Wisdom Literature. The Proverbial scriptures are just that—wise proverbs. We should not interpret them as absolute commands.
Granted, I don’t have children of my own. But I used to be a kid once. And as a pediatric health care worker I witness daily the challenges parents face in child-rearing. Nothing about raising children looks easy. Even so, I don’t have to have a child to know I cannot agree with a barbaric simpleton’s form of discipline that involves regularly yelling at or hitting a child.
Consider this: if I hit another adult I could get arrested and could even go to prison for assault. So why should the case differ for a person much smaller and weaker who relies on me for their well-being? Why would we condone hitting a child in a way we would never dream to strike another adult?
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14). Jesus would never hurt a child. Neither should we.