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Spanking in public: Another great parenting debate

When you spank your kid in public, don’t be surprised if strangers have something to say about it.

By Charyn Pfeuffer - MSN Living Editor Apr 9, 2013 7:37PM

Upset child / Photo: Pablo Baracat Photography/Getty Images

Doctors, academics, child-rearing experts and millions of parents all have an opinion on the topic of spanking.

It’s not exactly a new debate, however, a writer over at The Stir raises an interesting point: When you hit your child in public, does it become everyone’s business?

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She recounts a recent incident on a New York City subway platform where she witnessed a mother was spanking her 4- or 5-year-old boy:

I'm not going to lie. I completely disapproved. I don't feel comfortable with the notion of spanking your kid in public. That feels like it's more about humiliation than discipline to me.  But I guess my face didn't reflect that because she looked at me and gave that exasperated mom look before saying, "He's a handful." She clearly expected me to sympathize with her. I didn't utter a word. I just turned my head, hoping that passive-aggressive move made it clear that we were not on the same page.

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The author goes onto to say another passenger took a much more direct approach to show her displeasure by saying, “Spanking solves nothing.”

The mom shot back, “Mind your own business, lady." Not exactly a shocking reaction.

So, is spanking ever OK? If so, under what circumstances is it acceptable?

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse spanking under any circumstances. It's a form of punishment that becomes less effective with repeated use, according to the AAP; it also makes discipline more difficult as the child outgrows it.

Instead of spanking, the AAP recommends time-outs, which force children to calm down and think about their emotions rather than acting on them reflexively. Isn’t the whole point of punishment to understand what they did wrong and reflect upon why they did it in the first place?

How do you feel about parents spanking their kids in public? Is it a personal choice for each parent and family? Or do you disapprove?

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Photo: Pablo Baracat Photography/Getty Images

Sep 13, 2013 6:01AM

For the life of me I cannot understand why it is a mortal sin to provide loving caring (when it is absolutely necessary) physical redirection.  I am not talking child abuse, leaving bruises and scars, nor do I advocate unnecessary corporal punishment, but there are times when you must absolutely, unequivocally get your child's undivided attention and when used sparingly and with love can be a powerful tool in a parents tool box.  For example a child that may dart out into the street, reaching for hot things on a stove, children are naturally inquisitive and in many cases they don't realize the dangers that are around them.  I'd rather a swat on the child's bottom versus rushing to the emergency room with a child that has 3rd degree burns because he/she really wanted to see what was in the pot.


In public, we have all seen the child that hasn't been taught the pleasantries necessary to navigate through a supermarket or a mall, if a parent doesn't correct the behavior right then and there, when should they? How do you put a child in "timeout" in the middle of a mall or WalMart? And if we are truly honest, and actually are teaching and preparing our children for real life there are times where their actions and behaviors have wider and deeper consequences. 


It always has struck me as odd, in the case where a child must receive physical redirection from a parent to teach them and keep them safe, is frowned upon.  But if the child hasn't been taught those necessary lessons and proper etiquette as they get older and encounter ohh say the local police and they don't show the correct behaviors it's ok for your local Barney Fife to beat them and even kill them with impunity.  For the life of me I don't understand that.


Sep 13, 2013 5:59AM
I forgot to add that if your child is grounded but keeps trying to watch TV or use the phone despite losing these privileges, a spanking MIGHT be in order. I think if they are sneaking out the window to head to a party while grounded they should definitely get a good spanking to teach them who's boss and that they ARE to abide by the rules of their grounding - but never use a belt. I used to work at domestic violence shelter and when women came there and said their partner used a belt on the kids we explained that a belt is always considered abuse.
Sep 13, 2013 5:54AM
I think spanking should be a last resort that is used sparingly and that it should be done in private - not even in front of a sibling and never in anger. It should never be in anger. It has its place and I do believe that part of the reason that kids show such disrespect and are out of control is because spanking has become so rare. I grew up in the late 1960s to mid '70s and I rarely got spanked and it was only by hand. They were not severe and were over clothing. I didn't get many since it got to where all it took was a look to get me back in line. I was never spanked in public, but if I acted up in a store Mom would whisper in my ear "Do you want a spanking?" and that got me to shape up immediately. I think that when a small child runs into the road, a few firm swats gets the message across -  but it should be followed up with a timeout and the child should not be allowed outside for a day.Otherwise, I believe it should be reserved for times when all other punishments have failed. It definitely should NOT leave marks other than a bit of redness that quickly goes away quickly. It should not be used after puberty - if it is, it should be from the parent of the same gender. You need to be careful - do an internet search and you'll find lots of adults are addicted to "spanking porn" type message boards.
Sep 13, 2013 1:23AM
I'm a avid believer in sparing the rod you spoil the child, I personally believe in where your child act up is where you reprimand them act. I see so many children disrespecting their parents all because there are no boundaries or discipline, the children are running the parents. I was spanked when I was little and I'm not out breaking the law and I raised my son the same way, he is respectful and law abiding and most of all he thanks me for being the loving mother I am too him even though he is 23yrs old  now and can stand on his own two feet. I think some parents confuse discipline and abuse!!!
Sep 5, 2013 9:33PM
No one is going to change anyone's mind here. You are either for or against spanking for any of a multitude of reasons. I think it is wrong to hit any child for any reason, be it in public or private.  This is not "trying to be a friend to my child" there are many ways to modify behavior without resorting to hitting, but it takes effort and planning. I see spanking as an reactive action borne in the anger of the moment. I see choosing not to spank as more of a thoughtful approach to parenting that takes more effort. You have to decide in advance consequences to behavior besides the reactive slap on the backside.  I believe that parents who resort to spanking cannot or have not be able to be consistent with any other type of discipline and spanking is just the easiest option and ultimately a cop out. 
Aug 29, 2013 8:26PM

I'm all for discipline.  I also realize that some forms of punishment work differently for different people. 


Take for example, my puppy.  If she shreds my new carpet, and I spank her, I'm doing neither of us any good, because it isn't a punishment to her, it's play.  Shouting, just hurts me, and makes her want to run away.  So what do I do?  I put her in "time out" where she can't see me, or play with her toys, or damage anything. 


She learns that if she does that thing she has to be away from her family, and things she likes. 


Then take me for example.  If I fail to do my chores, and you ground me from things, but eventually let me back, I will just continue not doing the chores.  If you just make me do the chores, I will half-saa them and get back to my life.  But spank me and make me do it, and the pain aversion in me will register, do chores, play, no pain.


So invariably it depends on the child.  And the situation.


Aug 29, 2013 6:54PM

The debate is one of public spanking. All the respected experts agree that spanking is needed at times for most children. Most of the time parents do not wish to spank in public, however there are times that waiting is not an option.


I feel the same way about telling someone it is not their business because it is not. We all know in later times as these many people want to control everyone around them! I know we have all noticed this. When my wife and I raised two boys it came to pass that her spanking was only a laugh to them. She would tell me what they did and I got fid up with it. I did not want to spank unless totally necessary. So I had them hold up books.. do any remember that as a teachers way to get attention from those who gave problems? Finally my youngest spoke out and said, "Dad, you are never home and we miss you so we stay up, even after Mom tells us to sleep. A wake up call. I had a talk with them but the overtime kept on coming. What do modern parents do when you are gone much of the time? You boy them things! Vacations are the only answer if one cannot get excused from work and that is what we did. 

Aug 29, 2013 6:53PM
Spanking kids get them to behave and do what they're supposed to do as long as you don't do it just for the heck of it. There are many forms of discipline. spanking is for kids that are complete hot heads and who love disobeying the rules.
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