Thursday, June 26, 2014

How not to write an article

The below is an example of how not to write an article from OCN's The Sounding. An opinion piece cloaked as the Orthodox opinion, the pericope periscope of Scripture to only look at the lines you want to look at while ignoring context, condescending speech "Most parents mean well, It’s shocking to see how many educated Christians, something from the dark ages," and overreaching assumptions on the motivations of others in the discipline methods they use on their own children. Normally I don't post the entire article as their general preference is for me to just use the first section as enticement, but my comments extend throughout the article.

(OCN) - Spanking does not work in raising children. In my opinion, it should be eliminated as a strategy for controlling misbehavior in children.

Why? Because I believe spanking destroys trust and is a quick fix that doesn’t solve the problem, teaches kids to be sneaky, shames the child, and is an insult to the intelligence of humanity. Back this up with facts. With numbers. With patristic quotes in context.

But what about “spare the rod, spoil the child,” you ask?

I’m not advocating letting kids run wild with no discipline. I just believe there are far too many choices available for any parent to feel the need to spank their child.

Not all adults who were spanked as children end up struggling to cope as adults, but many of them do. And many of them missed valuable life lessons they could have learned without the quick fix of a smack on the behind.

Most parents mean well when they spank their child for misbehaving, but the child rarely gets the message the parent intends to give.

The whole “I’m doing this because I love you” just confuses the child. You don’t hit someone you love. The earlier we teach that to children, the better. This applies to all forms of discipline. Any of the forms of disciple she mentions below will feel "unfair" or "cruel" to a small child at least some of the time.

A parent’s anger at a child’s misbehavior is a ticking time bomb from the moment the parent lifts their hand to strike the child. This assumes that all spanking is prompted by anger. 

What lesson did he learn? All discipline is in some way pedagogical, but is that always the chief goal? Sometimes behavior is simply dangerous and redirection or a cessation is the immediate goal and not a lesson.

That you’re bigger. That you aren’t to be trusted. That she needs to hide better next time so she doesn’t get caught. Again, another assumption. Please back up with something beyond your own emotional response.

It’s shocking to see how many educated Christians fall into the trap of doing what their parents did because it’s what they know. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. I find a lot of what other parents do surprising. Does that mean they are "fall[ing] into the trap" of something?

I can attest that plenty of kids who are being raised in a spank-free home are not spoiled in the least. In fact, kids who are spanked are more at risk. Acccording to University of Michigan School of Social Work researcher Elizabeth Gershoff, the more kids are spanked, the more likely they are to engage in delinquent or at risk behaviors. Great. Link to the article so we can read the full findings. If we look at peer reviews of her findings we find a very difficult causality to establish. For example, the APA states: "The evidence presented in the meta-analysis does not justify a blanket injunction against mild to moderate disciplinary spanking," conclude Baumrind and her team. Baumrind et al. also conclude that "a high association between corporal punishment and physical abuse is not evidence that mild or moderate corporal punishment increases the risk of abuse."

Here are a few tactics parents can employ to discipline their children without resorting to spanking:
  • Time-out
  • Loss of privileges
  • Natural consequences
  • Prevention through quality time, and intentional parenting
Think about it: It’s against the law to hit animals, prisoners, and other adults. Why is it okay to hit kids? See how spanking is now equated directly to hitting.

So many parents think it’s their right to spank. To me, it’s something from the dark ages that should have been extinct long ago. Now spanking is archaic; not a very strong argument in Orthodox circles.

Just like the Ten Commadments exhort us to honor our father and mother, we should also honor our children by disciplining them with as much love and respect as possible.

As Orthodox Christian parents, we can serve our children better by exercising restraint when we’re tempted to strike our child. Now spanking is equated to a lack of restraint.

We can take a breather (time out works for adults too), remove ourselves from the situation if necessary, and remember the golden rule:

Matthew 7:12: Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

If you wouldn’t hit your neighbor, don’t hit your child. 


  1. Yeah, that last line gives away the author's underlying assumption throughout the article, namely that spanking is inherently an irrational act of lashing out in anger against a misbehaving child. But spanking per se has nothing to do with anger. Rather, it is a rational method of discipline that can (and should) be applied in a calm and deliberate manner. Anger is what parents need to avoid, as hard as that is. But that is true even when applying less palpable methods of discipline.

    1. This is quite true, and the article is sloppy. On the other hand, as a mother I confess, I seldom, if ever, managed not to spank my children in anger (as I was also spanked in childhood)! That is why I looked for other means and ultimately found other forms of discipline more effective (especially the kind that nipped defiance or disobedience in the bud, and gave the child a chance to make a different choice before the point of parental exasperation).

  2. The problem with the delivery here (setting to the side the actual material) is that you can extract an argument I don't think she meant to present.

    My Orthodox parenting choices are better than your Orthodox parenting choices.
    I'm better at being a parent than you are at being a parent.
    I'm better than you are.

    Hard to debate an argument that speaks from the heights likes some sort of maternal neo-stylite.

  3. Can anybody comment in an Orthodox way on the morality (and effectiveness) of spanking? I agree that the above OCN article was not satisfactory.

    Also, can anybody make a clear differentiation between "spanking" and "hitting"? Is one "any non-injurious battery" and the other "any injurious battery"? Is any battery non-injurious? Is the difference "any justified battery" and the other "any non-justified battery"? I think these distinctions are important to answer before we talk about spanking as a parenting method.

    I know many parents who would hit children in the hand, but would never hit the butt. I know other parents who will hit their butts, but wouldn't touch their face or body. I know other parents who will smack the face, but find butt-smacking awkward and uncomfortable. Others throw shoes and remote controls at their kids. When I was a child, I knew a mother that full-on bullwhipped her kids on the back and legs. Can somebody draw some distinctions here? I think it would be helpful.

    I'm not saying this to debate, but I would like to get others' perspectives (since I visit this blog often and this topic has been considered "ByzTex-worthy").

  4. Reads as if written by a high school aged girl.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Well, as someone who was raised in an Independent Fundamental Baptist home where spanking was the "go-to" disciplinary method (the others were seen as too weak/ineffective), but whose father and mother also did spanking "right", I can say from personal experience that almost nothing of what she says is true. Except the "hiding it" thing.

    Let me explain what I mean by "did it right". We were never (that I recall) spanked out of anger, nor in haste. Both of my parents made a point of specifically NOT doing that. There was a procedure to it -- a ritual, if you will. First, the parent making the decision to spank would say, "Steve, go to your room, you're getting a spanking. I'll be up in a minute."

    Then they would take however long they needed to to cool down (if they were angry) or work up the needed resolve (if they didn't have it), and also to figure out exactly how they were going to explain it to me, etc.

    Then he (or she) would come in, close the door, take off his belt (if it was Dad -- mom used a riding crop), and say, "Ok, turn around." Then they would spank me on the butt only, but as hard and long as was necessary to really make it a punishment, but not so much as to make it cruel; they stopped as soon as they saw I'd "gotten it".

    Then, they'd sit down and say, "Now son, do you know why I spanked you?" (Sometimes this part would be before the spanking, if they weren't sure I knew already.)

    Then I'd have to confess, in my own terms, the reason I thought I'd gotten spanked for. If I was off on some detail or even on the general idea, they would gently correct my thinking, explaining carefully exactly what my transgression was, in their mind.

    Then, if it was a transgression of God's law (lying, disobedience, etc.), he'd have me ask God to forgive me.

    Then he (or she) would give me a hug and say, "I love you, son. That's why I spank you; I can't let you just go on doing things that are harmful to yourself. I spank you so that you understand immediately the kind of pain and punishment that will come later if I don't."

    And if it was a transgression against someone else as well (hitting, lying, etc.), they'd have me go fess up to the person I'd sinned against and ask their forgiveness as well.

    All that to say...I discovered when I became Orthodox that this is wonderful preparation for the sacrament of confession.

    Also, far from making me hide _more_, it made me more open: better to repent and suffer the consequences now, than to hide it and let it fester and wollop you later.

    Also, I learned that what I feel guilty for may not always be the root problem. This was especially true when I was a little little boy. I would feel guilty for the proximate cause (I cut the bristles off of Dad's hairbrush), but Dad would explain that I wasn't getting spanked for that -- that was just an innocent mistake. Rather, I was getting spanked for lying about it when asked. (Yes, that situation actually happened.)

    Or I'd feel guilty for not liking cooked tomatoes (still don't!), but Dad would explain I wasn't getting spanked for that -- preferences are preferences -- but rather for disobeying my mother, and slandering her to boot. (She had told me to eat them anyway, and I threw them on the floor, then said her cooking was horrible. Which was a lie...she was actually a great cook. I just didn't want to eat that item. :P)

    So it taught me discernment and self-examination as well, plus listening carefully and taking a confessor's discernment and advice seriously.

    Whether all that is "the Orthodox way" or not, I don't know. But it sure did line up with Scripture, and it also prepared me quite well _for_ Orthodoxy. I'm planning on doing exactly this for my children, as much as it will pain me to have to be the "executioner".

  7. Correction: I meant, EVEN (not "except") the hiding it thing [isn't true].

  8. Mr. Allen, you had wonderful parents. That's like winning the lottery today. God bless you!

  9. While the article may not be written like true journalism (I don't personally have an opinion on that), I have to say I agree with the conclusions...perhaps I just know that the chances of me not spanking in anger are fairly small...I also sought out other methods. Currently, I only have one son who is two so I do have limited experience. After becoming Orthodox, personally, I could not reconcile spanking with love, patience, teaching my child, and setting an example. Sometimes, I give a firm tap on his hand, to help learn not to touch something dangerous for example, but timeouts and loss of privileges are currently working. I can't imagine a shepherd hitting a sheep to punish it, but just a gentle or firm nudge with his staff or rod. When you truly respect your authority the way you should, a disapproving look may be enough to bring about contrition (I think I read this somewhere..Elder Paisios maybe? I do not recall). I was spanked as a child and have nothing but bad to horrible memories of this punishment. I learned fear and blind compliance -not reconciliation and true regret for wrong doing. Perhaps I just had a bad experience with spanking, but while the issue is being discussed, I thought I would chime in.