Sharon Jayson recently had an article published discussing the potential association between spanking or other forms of physical punishment and risky sexual behavior, referring to an analysis of four studies by Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire-Durham presented Thursday to the American Psychological Association.
Straus suggests if you spank your children they are more likely to develop inappropriate sexual behaviors later on, “though it’s not a one-to-one causation.” Straus, according to the article, says that he did spank his own children a few times, but has since rejected spanking as an appropriate discipline tactic for children. Spanking children isn’t a popular form of discipline in American culture today, nearly across the board. That, however, is not what is so surprising about Jayson’s article and Straus’ research. The surprising aspect is spanking’s possible link to risky sexual behavior, including premarital sex, and aggressive sexual behavior.
Jayson does point out, quoting human sexuality researcher, John DeLamater of the University of Wisconsin, that “linking sexual problems with spanking is a ‘big leap’ . . . It’s probably one of many elements that might contribute to sex problems or risky sex, but it’s a long leap.” Also, Robert Larzelere of Oklahoma State University adds, “The literature on effectiveness of spanking to correct behavior is still ‘very mixed’ . . . [and] like any discipline tactic, it depends on how it’s used.”
Now, I do not doubt the credibility of Straus’ research. It certainly makes sense that children who experience a particular instance of abuse will later struggle with related behavioral problems. However, spanking isn’t the culprit for risky and aggressive sexual behavior. It is not a one-to-one causation, as Straus says. DeLamater’s point that it may be “one of many elements that might contribute to sex problems” is key to the issue of spanking, and the fact it is a “long leap” to attribute these risky or aggressive sexual behaviors principally to spanking should make it obvious that the real issue is bigger than spanking.
If risky and aggressive sexual behavior may be linked to spanking, it is certainly the abuse of spanking that is to blame, as Larzelere puts it, not the spanking itself. Now, I am not a father yet. I was spanked as a child when I did things that warranted that kind of discipline. But I am not claiming experiential, first-hand credibility that spanking is necessary for a child’s well-being. However, the Bible does tell us that parents should discipline their children if they love them. Jesus tells us, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19). That is parenting 101. If you love your children, you will reprove and discipline them when they need it so that they will stop doing those things. In fact, Prov. 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (cf. 22:15, 23:13-14). We don’t need new-age, modern methods of reproof and punishment in order to love our children and steer them away from harmful behaviors. Spanking still works.
I said earlier, spanking isn’t the culprit; it is the abuse of spanking that is to blame. That means, ultimately, bad parenting is to blame if there is a link to be made between spanking abuse and the tendency for those who have been spanked to develop risky and aggressive sexual behaviors. Therefore, when a parent abuses their child, they go to jail. The results of abuse are heartbreaking. However, I would like to make the point that parents who do not discipline their children, who allow their children to do whatever they want no matter how badly they behave, are equally as bad as parents who physically abuse their children. In no way is it right for a parent to withhold discipline from their child when their child’s behavior warrants a spanking. That is not loving parenting.
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, has some excellent advice for children and their fathers. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:1-4). Children need to obey their parents, and when they disobey they need to be disciplined that it may go well with them when they are adults. At the same time, fathers need to know that the manner in which they spank or discipline their children should not provoke them to anger. There is a way in which parents can show their children they love them by disciplining them when they misbehave that also causes them to stop doing some of those things for their own good. I am happy my parents loved me enough to reprove my behavior, even with spanking. I learned things quickly when there were consequences for my behavior. It also helped me to better understand why God the Father reproves and disciplines his children by his grace and for his glory, and therefore, for our joy.