Since 1983, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, observed in April, has been dedicated to raising awareness and preventing child abuse. Recently, we published journalist and child-advocate Dr. Stacey Patton’s Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America. In Spare the Kids, Dr. Patton weaves together race, religion, history, popular culture, science, policing, psychology, and personal testimonies to challenge the cultural tradition of corporal punishment in Black homes. The rate at which black children lose their lives as a result of physical abuse is consistently three times higher than the rate of child abuse-related fatalities in other races. She urges parents to consider how beating their kids reflects and reinforces racist ideologies in which black children are seen as inherently inferior and less civilized—and in need of punitive forms of control.
While eighty percent of Black parents see spanking as reasonable and effective ways to teach respect and protect their children from the streets, incarceration, and encounters with racism, some are actually setting aside the belt to search for healthier, nonviolent alternatives. In the following passage, you’ll read testimonies of parents who used to hit their kids and then stopped and those who never considered it in the first place.
Many other parents are taking the pledge to spare the rod by participating in Dr. Patton’s #NoHittingChallenge. Watch their videos and join the pledge on Dr. Patton’s website, sparethekids.com.
Whupping children is so deeply entrenched into black culture that folks often won’t have a rational conversation or be receptive to new information about the potential physical and psychological harms of hitting children. That’s because when we were children, being whupped was presented to us in the context of “love” and “protection.” As such, many folks’ opinions and feelings about whuppings are based on their repression or forgetting what it was like to be a child. They’ve either repressed or forgotten the betrayal, pain, bewilderment, fear, resentment, sadness, and anger they felt while being on the receiving end of an adult hitting their body. They’ve turned pain into a positive. So when they talk about whuppings, there appears to be a sharp disconnect between what they likely experienced as a child and their staunch adult defense of the harmful practice.
The popular belief within black communities is that parents must whup their kids because there is no other model for disciplining and protecting them as they grow. The prevailing cultural view is that whupping is essential to keep our children safe, out of jail, or from falling prey to the dangers of the streets. Then there’s the fact that a parent’s self-image, ego, loyalty to his or her own parents, and allegiance to their culture and religion are tied to the core belief that black children require whuppings to grow up responsibly. Most black adults endorse hitting kids, believing that the violence helped them survive the racist perils facing black communities. These beliefs and the scars from their own experiences often keep black parents from objectively evaluating their parenting practices or even recognizing that there are nonviolent alternatives.
All the data tell us that the majority of black people endorse hitting kids. That ubiquitous message to whup is reinforced over and over again by celebrities, athletes, ministers, political figures, educators, radio hosts, and comedians. Sadly, far too many of our children have come to expect the whuppings, to normalize the pain, and to believe that they deserve to be hit at home and at school. What has been missing from the national and community conversations are black parents who used to hit their children but have stopped, and those who have successfully raised children without ever whupping them. When this group is mentioned, many folks are quick to emphasize that not spanking doesn’t work for all kids. “Some kids need a good whupping, and some don’t,” retorts that parent who dismisses all the data. But that implies that some children are so inherently “bad” and their behavior is so uncontrollable that physical violence is the only solution.
But what about the parents who don’t or never hit their kids? If the popular logic holds true, then most or all of their children who haven’t been beaten should be victims of police violence, locked up for criminal offenses, and have no hope of being healthy, happy, contributing members of society.
I’m not a parent. But even if I were, I would have only my own individual and very subjective experience to rely upon. So I conducted a survey of black parents from different backgrounds in two categories: those who used to spank their children but, for various reasons, have chosen to stop and utilize other forms of discipline and punishment; and those who have never hit their children.
What do these parents, whose voices are often bullied into silence and completely missing from the national and community conversation, have to say about whupping children? How do they respond to the accusations that they are irresponsible, negligent, and/or parenting like white people? How do they respond to peer pressure from family and friends who try to convince them that physical punishment is the only way?
In my survey, I asked whether these parents were hit and if so, by whom, how often, for what kinds of infractions, and whether objects were used. I asked how they felt about being physically punished, and whether being hit changed their behavior for the better, for the worse, or not at all. And then I asked about their experiences as parents. For the group who used to hit their kids but stopped, I asked what changed their minds, and how that impacted their relationships with their children. I also asked about the nonhitting methods of discipline and punishment that they use instead, and how effective those are proving to be. For parents who have never whupped, I asked what went into making that decision, and how they discipline and punish their children without hitting.
Alicia Chymel Reid
“I VOWED THAT DAY TO FIND ANOTHER WAY”
Alicia Chymel Reid is the single parent of a twenty-year-old daughter and a thirteen-year-old son. When her daughter slammed her bedroom door in Reid’s face while she was still talking to her, she spanked her daughter with her hand.
“In my mind, I saw her cowering in the corner when I raised my hand to her—the very same hand I had used to wipe her tears after a scraped knee. That broke me. The look of betrayal I saw on my daughter’s face made me stop, midstrike, and leave the room. I felt ashamed and petty. I was angry at myself for not being the adult in the situation. I was sad because I hurt my daughter, the very person I had sworn to lay down my life for, and that led to confusion and frustration. I vowed that day to find another way.”
The hardest part about not hitting her daughter anymore was grappling with her own emotional response. “I had to face my own childhood and the demons that still lingered in that closet. My mother refused and still refuses to acknowledge the pain and won’t answer the ‘whys.’ So it was a journey I traveled alone. I read books and research studies. And once I let go of the pain from my past, it was easier to focus on raising my daughter my way and not the way others thought I should.”
When loved ones and others criticized her choice to stop spanking, Reid said she “tried to explain at first. But as my confidence grew, I chose to stay away from them.” Since she stopped spanking, Reid and her daughter have become closer. She replaced spanking with taking things away and denying special privileges. Most importantly, “We always talked about the consequences of the choices we were making.” As a result, Reid says that her son and daughter are both “happy, healthy, and thriving. They both talk to me about any- and everything.”
When talking with parents who insist upon spanking their children, Reid says she “tries to explain the damage they are inflicting upon their children for generations to come, but to no avail.” Her takeaway is that she has learned “more about relationships and how—good or bad—they form us into the adults we become.”
Sean Hines Sr.
“TAKING AWAY THEIR GAMING DEVICES AND TV TIME SEEMS TO BE MORE PAINFUL THAN A BELT.”
Sean Hines Sr. is a divorced single father of a thirteen-year-old son and a ten-year-old daughter. He used to spank them but stopped because he felt he could get the same or better results with a nonviolent approach. Giving up spanking “wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be,” he says. “It was just a matter of breaking that reflex response, taking time to view the entire situation and decide on a suitable course of action.”
Once Hines stopped spanking, he found that his children were “easier to talk to, less afraid. That made it easier for me to educate them. They became more forthcoming with the truth.” Instead of hitting, he administers discipline according to the violation. “Taking away their gaming devices and TV time seems to be more painful for them than a belt.”
He says he “makes sure to talk to them afterwards, to make sure they understand why they were being punished, and how to avoid making the same mistakes over and over,” and says that this approach is very effective.
Abby Fernanda Dottin
Hollis, Queens, New York
“IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE TO ME THAT HITTING TEACHES LESSONS.”
Abby Dottin has never felt the need to spank her fourteen-year-old daughter. “Beating a child sends a message that it’s okay to hit and to be hit. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many instances where black folks settled problems with their hands instead of using their brains to problem solve. I want my daughter to know and understand when to physically defend herself but also know that she has to be smart and intelligent to defend herself with ‘snark,’ at times.”
Dottin was not spanked as a child. “When I would see a friend or family member spank, I would step in and stop them, and then pull the child aside for comfort and then speak to the adult. Sometimes I was met with a ‘Mind yo business’ response. Other times, they would calm down and ‘seem’ to understand my point of view.”
Dottin says she tells pro-spanking parents “that you cannot expect a child to learn without talking to them and appealing to their need to understand why what they did was ‘wrong.’ Beating the child only makes them fear the parent and maybe teaches them not to do something as instructed, but only because they are in fear of the pain they will receive.”
She is passionate about how she disciplines her daughter. “It is way more important for me to allow my child to articulate when she’s feeling wronged or upset, and for me to explain why she isn’t allowed to do something so that she understands. I am not trying to inflict bodily harm to my child, who is the most precious thing to me. I won’t stand by and allow anyone else to, either. I can’t wrap my head around, listening to my daughter maybe say a curse word and me swelling up her lip with a backhand. It doesn’t make sense to me that hitting teaches lessons.”
About the Author
Dr. Stacey Patton is an award-winning journalist, author, and child advocate. Her writing on issues surrounding higher education, child welfare, and race has appeared in the Washington Post, Al Jazeera, the BBC News, and the Root. She is also the author of That Mean Old Yesterday and the creator of the anti-corporal punishment organization Spare the Kids. Follow her on Twitter at @DrStaceyPatton.