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Reflections on Spanking
By Alice Miller, Ph.D.
Why are Spankings, Slaps, and even Apparently Harmless Blows Like Pats on the Hand Dangerous for a Baby?
  1. They teach violence.
      
  2. They destroy the infallible certainty of being loved that the baby needs.
      
  3. They cause anxiety: the expectancy of the next blow.
      
  4. They convey a lie: they pretend to be educational, but parents actually use them to vent their anger; when they strike, it's because, as children, they were struck themselves.
      
  5. They provoke anger and a desire for revenge, which remain repressed only to be expressed much later.
      
  6. They program the child to accept illogical arguments ("I'm hurting you for your own good") that stay stored up in their body.
      
  7. They destroy sensitivity and compassion for others and for oneself, and hence limit the capacity to gain insight

What Long Term Lessons does the Baby Retain from Spankings and other Blows?

The baby learns:

  1. That a child does not deserve respect.
      
  2. That good can be learned through punishment (which is actually wrong, since punishment merely teaches the child to want to punish on their own turn.)
      
  3. That suffering mustn't be felt; it must be ignored (which is dangerous for the immune system).
      
  4. That violence is a manifestation of love (fostering perversion).
      
  5. That denial of feeling is healthy (but the body pays the price of this error, often much later).

The body memorizes all these harmful traces of the supposedly "good spankings".

How is Repressed Anger often Vented?

A. In childhood and adolescence:

  1. By making fun of the weak.
      
  2. By hitting classmates.  
  3. By watching violence on TV, playing video games that glorify violence, and by identifying with violent heroes. (Children who have been loved and never beaten are uninterested in cruel films, and, as adults, will not produce horror shows).

B. In adulthood:

  1. By perpetuating spanking, as an apparently educational and effective means, often heartily recommended to others, whereas in actual fact, one's own suffering is being avenged on the next generation.
      
  2. By refusing to understand the connections between previously experienced violence and the violence actively repeated today. The ignorance of society is thereby perpetuated.
      
  3. By entering professions that demand violence: police, army, boxing, etc.
      
  4. By being gullible to politicians who designate scapegoats for the violence that has been stored up and which can finally be vented with impunity: "impure" races, ethnic "cleansing", and ostracized social minorities.
      
  5. Because of obedience to violence as a child, by readiness to obey any authority which recalls the authority of the parents, as the Germans obeyed Hitler, the Russians Stalin, the Serbs Milosevic.
      
  6. Conversely, some become aware of the repression and universal denial of childhood pain, realizing how violence is transmitted from parents to children, and stop hitting children regardless of age. This can be done (many have succeeded) as soon as one has understood that the causes and effects of child maltreatment are the same: the repressed history of the parents.

People often ask for alternatives to spanking. There is no alternative to hitting children. If your goal is to help your child to develop his autonomy you don't look for a means to making him/her obedient. And this is the only thing you achieve with spanking - but only for a while. Later the whole family will have to pay the price for their obedience. And this you should know just from the first day of your child. Then it is up to you to make the choice consciously.

Consider this quote:

"Kids who have their needs met early by loving parents ... are subjected totally and thoroughly to the most severe form of 'discipline' conceivable: they don't do what you don't want them to do because they love you so much!

"If you haven't cluttered the airwaves between you and your child with a thousand stupid 'don'ts' over your Royal Doulton china, or not eating their dessert before the main course, or not finishing their spinach, or not doing this or that, then those few situations where it really matters because of safety and impropriety don't need anything approaching the connotation of 'discipline' to ensure appropriate behavior."

- Dr. Elliott Barker,
Director, Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

"All truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Then it is violently opposed. Finally, it is accepted as self-evident."

- Schopenhauer

Copyright Alice Miller, 1999.
Dr. Miller is the author of the book "Paths of Life" (Pantheon, 1998) and eight other books on childhood.

Although this document is copyrighted and must be not shortened, added or changed, it can be used for pamphlets, leaflets or posters. It can be distributed as widely as possible, above all in schools - before young people decide to have children without knowing what this decision involves. Everybody, young and old, can participate in this action.

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