With the high profile case of an NFL star putting the idea of spanking in the spotlight, it is proper to examine this practice more closely. A sweet young mother asks a couple of questions about the practice of spanking in light of Proverbs 13:24. First, “Is Proverbs 13:24 literal, meaning we are to physically discipline our children, or is it figurative meaning we are to discipline in general?” Second, “If it is literal, does it literally mean to use an implement such as a rod, belt, etc rather than our hands to inflict the physical discipline?” These are vital questions young parents like her have to grapple with in light of a desire to properly train and mold the heritage given them by God, but do so in a world less accepting of biblical truth in general and passages like Proverbs 13:24 specifically. To address this, let’s break the matter into three component parts.
Spanking and society. Due to the prevalence of physical child abuse, society has reacted to any type of corporal punishment (i.e., punishment of or relating to the physical body; spanking). While the principle of spanking is more widely approved than we may be led to believe (a recent ABCNEWS poll found 65% of all parents approve of it, abcnews.com, and a 2013 Harris Interactive poll with a sample size twice as large found that 81% consider spanking their children sometimes appropriate, harrisinteractive.com), the politically correct wing of society so often in charge of media and education most often rail against it in any form. There are three revised statutes in Colorado, one civil and two criminal, that address spanking in Colorado (kidjacked.com includes the laws of all 50 states). While the statutes are eerily vague, here is what they permit: “Parent/guardian/ person with care and supervision of minor can use reasonable and appropriate physical force, if it is reasonably necessary and appropriate to maintain or promote welfare of child” (Colorado Code Section 18-1-703). The greater concern would be judicial interpretation or further revisions in the law that forbad corporal punishment altogether.
Spanking and scripture. With our youngest now 16 years old, we are beyond the timeframe where spanking holds sway as a primary means of discipline. When our boys were of that age (from toddlerhood up to the beginning of the teen years), we would resort to spanking (usually with the hand or a paddle). This was undoubtedly the result of practices learned from our own parents’ regimen of discipline, but also our conviction (as it was our parents’) that scripture taught the necessity of this under circumstances where mere words did not remedy misbehavior. The Bible clearly teaches it as an integral part of disciplining—Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, and 29:15. Hopefully, we will never find ourselves in a place where our civil government absolutely forbids corporal punishment of our children, but if it does we would be compelled to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Spanking and sensibility. Let us get to common sense issues, though. This is especially the “how” but also the “where” and “when.” Consider these suggestions for effective discipline—
- Do not spank in anger or in an out of control manner (this reflects your own lack of self-discipline and is not likely an attempt to assert behavior modification).
- Exercise restraint in how hard you administer physical punishment. The idea is to impress upon the child that their words, behavior, etc., is unacceptable.
- Follow up the punishment with an explanation and teaching.
- Avoid administering discipline in public places. Find a private room or wait until you get home to mete out the punishment.
- If restraint is used, it will not matter whether the hand or another implement is used. Overall parental demeanor will determine whether the child is “scarred” or “shaped” by it.
Obviously, personal judgment and discretion are essential. Yet, inasmuch as the concept originates in scripture, our good sense as citizen of the society will govern us as we prayerfully attempt to raise children that please and follow God.