Growing Kids God’s Way – Part 10 (Gary’s Views on Spanking)

The next section tries to differentiate between what Gary Ezzo calls “biblical chastisement” and “cultural spanking.” Though I would argue that his reasoning is flawed. He also devotes a whole appendix section (appendix four) to this same type of logic as well. Within the appendix he invents strawman arguments for different “cultural spanking theories” and then argues how each theory is not biblical. And closes with how his theories on spanking are biblical and correct.

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I would argue, as a child that experienced this “biblical chastisement,” that there is little if any difference here. The only main difference is that parents now have a religious obligation to spank their child. All of these arguments could sound logical if you hold the right belief set but in action there is very little difference.

A child is still going to be frustrated and upset at their parents for spanking them, but within fundamentalism they now are told that they must view this physical punishment as a method of how their parent shows them love. Frustration will still be present over the punishment, and the child will still feel guilty. But the child isn’t able to outwardly express that frustration without facing further punishment.

The point that spanking is only used as a last resort in “cultural spanking” is also a broad generalization. And with the alternative, with supposed “biblical” backing, only ends up with child being spanked more frequently for their disobedience.

This section also brings up a recurring theme of the author encouraging more frequent uses of physical punishment for younger children. Which I find worrying, as a child can’t even often understand correctly a parent’s instructions at younger ages. (Gary doesn’t really define a starting age for when physical discipline begins, but spanking is clearly discussed at starting before the age of two).

Gary also uses this section to pull in parents even further into his ideas and theories. If you spank the “wrong way” then you aren’t going to leave a lasting impact on your child’s life. But if you do it his way, “biblical chastisement,” then your child will grow up to be a moral individual.

We then move to a “when and why” section in regard to “chastisement.” The reason for spanking is anything that is defined as rebellion. Specifically listed in the text are defiance, disrespect, and disobedience. The “why” listen here is that it will “serve as a mentor” to correct a child’s “foolish impulses.” Some guidelines for spanking that Gary lays out here are to spank in private and to never spank on bare skin.

The next portion is on first time obedience. Which Gary feels delineates between “objective” and “subjective” spanking. The author feels that if you allow your child a second chance (or more) to obey then spanking they when they disobey is “subjective.” And that the child will be in fear because they are unaware of the exact point is over the spanking threshold. The author states that more spankings are needed initially to train a child to first time obedience, but he insists that the system is fair because the child knows exactly when they will be spanked.

I believe I’ve spoke before on the idea of “first time obedience.” But it’s pared here with the idea that a parent MUST enforce discipline on a child if they do not obey or fail to listen to a parent’s warning. A parent has to be consistent and discipline at the first sign of disobedience, or they are seen as giving in to the child.

For the next section I will use a long direct quote from the book.

“A child knows when he has broken the rules, and his guilt continually reminds him of his violation. Guilt is the reminder of sin. Chastisement is the price paid to remove the guilt, the freeing the child from his burden. If the parents do not remove the guilt, the child lives under the weight of sin. When an offense calls for chastisement, parents should chastise. If they substitute a lesser punishment, the guilt remains, and the child will suppress it. That, in turn, leads to more antisocial behavior. For example, the parent who uses the method of timeout of offenses that call for chastisement only succeeds in frustrating the child. The more the child suppresses this guilt, the more hyperactive the child becomes. He tends to push the limits, provoking his parents to action. We believe this is the child’s way of pleading with his parents to do something about his guilty heart.”

p 192-193 Growing Kid God’s Way

There is a lot here. But I’ll focus on the need for a spanking to remove a child’s guilt. Even from a conservative theological standpoint this is a stretch. Forgiveness in the bible (from a conservative view) is offered without the offender needing to suffer in a physical way for that wrong. The idea that pain is needed for a child to “feel forgiven” is a horrible thing to teach a child. A lesser form of correction or even just a verbal reminder is in no way harmful to a child. Children need compassion, forgiveness, and love; they do not need forced guilt and pain in their lives.

I previously mentioned the idea that a child is told that a parent spanks their children because they love them. The next section of this chapter is fully devoted to that concept. This is seen as the parent modeling god’s love. As god’s love is seen as being desiring of justice, and god is also seen as punishing those that step out of line. This gets into theology. But it’s clear that Gary Ezzo believes god is a being primarily focused on justice and punishment rather than a being of forgiveness and love. If you recall Gary Ezzo also believes that children are born sinful and wicked. So if you put these two ideas together you have a parent that believes a child is wicked and evil and needs justice and punishment in their life to correct the child’s wickedness. This is seen as being a loving and caring thing. Because their view of God and justice demand that they also enact that same level of justice and punishment onto their children.

And it’s a very easy for Gary to stretch this idea to include spanking as being a loving thing. And he does this using scripture.

“But the Bible makes clear, ‘Do not withhold correction from a child; for if you beat him with the rod, he will not die’ (Proverbs 23:12). He will die in foolishness if you do not correct him.”

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“It is early correction that bring the delight of the soul to every parent who abides according to the wishes of the Holy Spirit. The voice again says, ‘But I am only teaching him the way of violence.’ But the holy spirit says that this type of training brings about the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:6-11).”

p 194

This “voice” he mentions in the quote is a person’s internal dialog that believes spanking is harmful or wrong. The author implies that this is the voice of the devil or satan. And states that listening to this voice will cause your children to lead a life of destruction.

The author then assures the parent that they shouldn’t worry about breaking their child’s will. As it’s the “sinful expression of the will” that the parent is breaking the child from. (Basically, the author just uses jargon and religious language to deflect from the worry that a child’s will and spirit need to be broken in order for this system to work).

Moving on the author then uses scripture to give a definition for what a “rod” is, and how it must be used for correcting a child. This is mainly derived from Proverbs 22:15 “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” It seems that the author takes this as a very literal rod.

“Parents should not chastise their children with anything stiff and unbending. A wooden spoon could possibly break fingers that damage skin tissue. Nor should we chastise with an instrument that is too flexible, such as a father’s belt, a wire, or any whip-like object. However, a somewhat flexible instrument stings without inflicting bone or muscle damage, since the flex itself absorbed much of the shock at contact. If there is no pain, then the instrument is probably too light or too flexible. If there is injury, the instrument was too heavy, too stiff, or inappropriately used.”

p197 Growing Kids God’s Way

Instructions are then given for what is supposed to happen after a child is spanked. The parent is instructed to confirm they love their child and pray with the child. The child is then to go over their sin / wrongdoing with the parent. The child is to acknowledge their wrongdoing and accept responsibility for their sin. After that the child is subject to further punishment as Gary Ezzo recommends the option of also sending the child to their room with instructions not to leave until the parent instructs.

We then move on to questions regarding age and spanking. Gary states that most spankings should occur by the age of five. He clarifies that younger children should have fewer spankings after each offense, but that they be used more frequently as a punishment. Suggesting that at fifteen months to nineteen months a child should have one to two spankings. He states that as a child ages more spankings should be added to a punishment.

I know I’m relying heavily on quotes with this chapter, but I’m going to once again use a larger quote / image of the text to help show the author’s problematic teachings.

p199 Growing Kid’s God’s Way

The second point here really frustrates me. This is a completely subjective thing and really leaves a parent open to abusing their child. All in the name of causing enough pain to deter their child from sin. So many of these other points also point to using higher levels of force / pain rather than any type of leniency. Trying to talk or reason with a child is views as being illogical, and instead a spanking is the more “logical” response. Inconsistency in punishment sounds worrying, but please remember that the author is probably referencing allowing a child a 2nd or 3rd opportunity to correct their actions. Rather than punishing the child after the first offense. Refer up to the section on “subjective” vs. “objective” discipline that I covered in this post. The points on “too thick” clothing or “wrong instrument” imply that the child is not receiving enough pain from the “rod of reproof.”

The author does close with a section on abuse and how parents need to avoid crossing that line. However, the author clearly states it is not abusive in any way to hit a child. He claims that parents cross the line into abuse when they cause physical damage to the child’s body. He states abusive parents are “disturbed, frustration, or pathological” and will find a way to cause abuse to a child “no matter what disciplinary techniques” are used. Which is rather odd as it paints this image of an evil cackling villain who is going to abuse their child no matter what and avoids any discussion about how authoritarian parenting and discipline styles can be abusive. And how spanking can be an emotionally and physically harmful event for the child. The author clearly is deflecting from having any type of serious conversation around the idea that spanking can be harmful and abusive. Even if a parent doesn’t cause physical damage to a child’s body, they certainly can cause emotional and neurological damage to a child through physical discipline.

Conclusion

I know this was a bit of a long read, but I appreciate anyone who has stopped to read it. I hope a post like this can help some articulate some of the harmful ideas people like Gary Ezzo have helped spread. Even if you disagree with my conclusions and think that spanking is in no way harmful, I hope you can see that this book in particular teaches a style of parenting that trends towards encouraging parents to give higher and more frequent levels of physical discipline. With Gary Ezzo also encouraging increased physical punishments for children that have yet to be able to fully even understand their parent’s instructions. Parents are also encouraged to discipline their children at the first sign of disobedience, and at times even before a child disobeys. As a way of “preventing” disobedience from ever occurring.

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