[Note: During the month of October, our friends at The Light Network are releasing program to raise awareness about domestic violence. I was interviewed for an upcoming episode of the program “Culture Shock” on the issue of disciplining children. In connection with that, I submit the following article as part of their “blog hop,” helping to promote awareness. To learn more, visit this page on their website. –Adam]
I am a fan of sports. I have been geared up for the beginning of the new NFL season, and have enjoyed watching a few minutes of action so far this season. But the off the field news around the National Football League so far this year has been bad piled on top of bad.
In one of the more high-profile stories, Minnesota Vikings superstar running back Adrian Peterson was arrested in Texas. The charges stemmed from a “whooping” (his words) he gave his then-four year old son. The spanking with a switch left the boy with bruises, cuts, and other injuries, showing that this was more than a regular form of discipline.
My goal in this post is not to speak to the specifics of the Peterson case. Instead, it is to show how cases like these work against the Biblical concept of discipline.
The Bible makes it clear that parents are to discipline their children. That discipline needs to come in the form of both positive encouragement and reinforcement, as well as correcting mistakes. It is up to each household to decide what form(s) of punishment work best for each of their children.
Included in that discussion, however, should be some thoughts on spanking a child. The Bible certainly speaks to the issue:
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24).
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (Proverbs 23:13-14).
When some read these passages, they get the idea that the Bible is pro-child abuse. There are two things we must keep in mind, however.
1. These are proverbs. While inspired, the type of literature itself helps us interpret these statements. Proverbs are statements of general truth. Used as a general guide to govern our life, they provide helpful wisdom for everyday decisions. They are not statements of command (unless they are backed up by other clear, Biblical teaching). Disciplining children is a Biblical command; the specific method(s) used to do so is not given with a “thus saith the Lord.”
2. Other Biblical standards. Spanking a child (or, to borrow from Solomon, using the rod) is allowed by Scripture, but the Bible also calls the people of God to be people who have self control. We are to be patient and kind. So spanking should never be the only punishment, and it should also only be administered under control. If anger is our primary driving force, we are not being led by the Spirit of God.
And then, you have Adrian Peterson.
Because he is a celebrity, and he clearly used spanking as a way to discipline, Peterson makes all spanking an easy target for those who want to label it as child abuse. What he did seems clearly to fall under that heading.
With patience and guidance, though, spanking does not have to be abusive. Parents need great wisdom to know when to use this type of punishment, but they also need great patience to be sure they are simply correcting, and not abusing.
What are some ways we can spank our children without being abusive? From one who is far from perfect, let me give you 5 suggestions.
1. Do Not *Only* Spank. In other words, spanking should be one of the forms of punishment parents use. If we spank for every little thing a child does, it will exasperate the child quickly.
2. Start early. A small spat on the hand of a toddler is difficult for a parent to do, but it will help quell the number of times a stronger spanking must be given later.
3. Know your limit. This is where we avoid Adrian Peterson-like endings to these episodes. You will be angry, of course, because your child has done something wrong and/or hurtful. Do not let anger be your only driving force, though. Know when to stop. A couple of swats is usually sufficient. (Oh, and spank on the behind. Do not slap your child’s face. That is nothing short of demeaning and degrading. I believe God put a little extra “padding” on our children’s behinds for a reason!)
4. Be consistent. No parent is going to be perfectly consistent, but do your best. If lying is considered a rule that is punishable via spanking, then spank each time a child tells an untruth.
5. Forgive quickly. With small children, just a few moments after the spanking, be ready to give hugs and words of encouragement that the child will grow from this and do better. Reinforce your unending love for that child immediately.
I know this is controversial territory, and stories like the one with Adrian Peterson only grow the controversy. But there is a Biblical way to administer a spanking without being abusive. May God grant every parent the wisdom and patience to know the best way to lovingly discipline each child He has placed in their care.
Photo background credit: Joe Bielawa on Creative Commons