Reasons for Domestic Violence Seldom Understood

Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD

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A few weeks ago my community paper published a letter to the editor which asked the question, “When will society stop domestic violence?"

The answer to the question is surprisingly simple, but difficult for people to accept, because domestic violence is ensconced in the deepest fiber of many families-religion. Many religions teach that ‘spare the rod, you spoil the child’ or that the Bible, specifically the book of Proverbs, commands spanking.

There is a distinction, however, which is of key interest to fundamentalists, between the practice in King Solomon's day of beating people on the back for discipline. The latter is not prescribed anywhere in the Bible.

Furthermore, it needs to be pointed out that the Old Testament contains passages that could be (and in some incidents have been) construed as divine endorsements of wife-beating, racial warfare, slavery, the stoning to death of rebellious children and other behaviors that are outrageous by today's standards.

If our laws no longer allow these Biblical commands, why then do we hit children, a. k. a. chastening to supposedly correct unacceptable behavior?

The answer is not complicated. We cannot conceive this Biblical and society-sanctioned form of child discipline as abuse until we can honestly acknowledge the mistreatment from our own childhood experiences and examine the shortcomings of our own parents.

As long as we believe, “I was hit and I turned out OK, " the practice of violence through spanking will continue to be perpetuated in the home with the blessing of religion and a blind eye from society-unless of course the ‘spanking’ goes too far and the child is bloodied and bruised.

One fundamental commonality among all men and women in prison is the fact they were all spanked. If spanking created compliance to rules of society, then why is this the only commonality among people who are on the wrong side of the law?

Our laws and our cultural values are unambiguous concerning adults who hit, attack or verbally threaten other adults. Such behavior is recognized as criminal and we hold them accountable.

Why then when so much is at stake for society, do we accept and promote physical assault against children? Then we wonder why there is domestic violence. Adults tend to repeat what they experienced more often than not. The old saying, ‘The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree’ makes this point. The child accepts the message, “If I don't like something someones says or does, hitting is the acceptable response. "

As a physical and *** abuse prevention specialist, I have heard all the rationales why spanking is the only form of discipline some children seem to need in order to get the message. All these rationales are biologically faulty, because when a child is hit, his/her brain goes into shock and when the brain is in shock it no longer can assimilate information. Thus the message the parent intends to convey is lost. Furthermore, hitting is a betrayal of trust and engenders anger/rage not compliance.

Think about it, if spanking is the magic solution for correcting aberrant behavior, then why doesn't one spanking solve the problem? Why does the child continue to repeat the same unacceptable behavior over and over?

Again the answer is simple-spanking doesn't work and children repeat any behavior-acceptable or unacceptable because they are in a learning process and they learn by repetition.

Consistent consequences such as: time out, grounding, withholding something of significance, extra chores teaches critical thinking, problem solving, relationship building and understanding how they are the creator of the consequence.

Whereas hitting/spanking because it is usually administered when the parent is at their ‘wits end’ or the parent(s) is/are in a bad mood about something which sometimes has no relationship to what the child did creates distrust. How can a child continue to trust a parent, who has betrayed them? Children trust their parent implicitly, but once that trust has been betrayed it is seldom regained, because there is no way to achieve reconciliation with a parent/person who doesn't acknowledge their unacceptable behavior.

When will society stop domestic violence? The simple answer is: When society stops sanctioning and promoting hitting or spanking children at home or in school. Twenty-two states allow corporal punishment with a wooden paddle in schools. Is your state one of the twenty-two? Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming allow paddling children with a wooden paddle in schools.

The real question is “When will you stop sanctioning and promoting hitting/spanking of children in your community, your school, your state? As Voltaire pointed out long ago: “We are not only responsible for what we do, but also for that what we don't do. " If you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Take action to education yourself and others about this insidious crime against children.

1. “Punished for life: Canadian study links spanking to addiction and psychiatric disorders, " Reuters, 1995-OCT-5. Online at:

2. Harriet McMillan, et al. , “Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in a general population sample, " Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1999-OCT-5, at: http://www.cma. ca/

3. Jane Gadd, “Spanked children suffer intellectually, " The Globe and Mail, Toronto ON, 1998-JUL-30

4. M. A. Straus, Corporal punishment of children and adult depression and suicidal ideation, " Chapter 5 of: “Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in American families and its effects on children, " New Brunswick, (2000), Page 60 to 77. Online at: http://pubpages. unh. edu/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: Adobe Acrobat

5. P. Greven, “Spare the child: The religious roots of physical punishment and the psychological impact of physical abuse, " Knopf, (1991)

6. Irvin Wolkoff, “Spanked child can become self-loathing adult, " The Toronto Star, 1999-NOV-26, Page F4.

7. E. Larzelere, “A review of the outcomes of parental use of non-abusive or customary physical punishment, " Pediatrics 98:824-831

8. Patricia McBroom, “UC Berkeley study finds no lasting harm among adolescents from moderate spanking earlier in childhood, " at: http://www.berkeley. edu/

9. Maggie Fox, “Why some boys go bad: Gene study may show why abused turn violent, " Reuters News Agency, 2002-AUG-1.

10. Michael A. Milburn & Sheree D. Conrad, “The Politics of Denial, " MIT Press, (1996). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

11. Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, “The effect of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior in children, " Social Work Research, Vol. 28, # 3, 2004-SEP, Pages 153-162.

12. “U-M study: Spanking can lead to more bad behavior by children, " University of Michigan News Service, 2004-SEP-08, at: http://www.umich. edu/

13. The abstract is online at: http://miranda. You can also purchase the article from the same URL.

14. Sean Fine, “Study links spanking to future alcohol abuse, " The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 1999-OCT-5, Pages A1 & A13

Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, specializes in verbal, physical and *** abuse prevention and recovery.


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