Discipline and corporal punishment are entirely different


The following reader comment is a response to my Jan. 12 column: reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/steven-kalas/parents-always-botch-some-aspect-child-rearing.

“Steven Kalas has the nerve to say the following: ‘Don’t hit your children. It’s both wrong and unnecessary. Corporal punishment is just what it is: a cultural bias, doing significantly more damage than good.’ When I was a child, my Dad told me the following: ‘If you do something that merits discipline, you will get it and know that if you do it again you will pay the price just as you will when your older and on your own, except my discipline will be replaced by stays in jail.’ Well, 48 years later and after a few spankings in my childhood, I have NEVER been arrested or spent one minute in jail, so I guess discipline never hurt anyone, Mr. Kalas.”

— Daddy Freddy, city-of-residence unknown

May I assume that your name is not Daddy Freddy? That it is, perhaps, a Facebook nom de plume? A pseudonym, regardless, allowing you to stalk the Las Vegas Review-Journal online comments section with anonymity and impunity?

I’m saying you have me at a disadvantage. ‘Tis a pity we’ve not been properly introduced. I shall forge ahead, nonetheless.

You say I “have the nerve.” Did you mean I am courageous? Or did you mean I am guilty of temerity? Gall? Effrontery? In short, that I have dared to offend you?

I’m guessing you mean the latter.

Not that you asked, but I think I am fairly and accurately described by all those things. I think it takes significant courage to confront this culture regarding the ethics, usefulness and necessity of corporal punishment. Because to do so I must risk affront. What one person understands to be courage (a good thing), another person might experience as offense (a bad thing).

Then you unveil the thrust of your argument. You quote me. Verbatim. Then you tell a story about you and your dad.

Here’s my invitation to you, Mr. Freddy. Read the quote from Steven Kalas. Examine it carefully. Look for the word “discipline.” Notice that you can’t find it. Now read the story about your father. Notice that the word “discipline” is mentioned three times. And remember, then, that the Steven Kalas quote doesn’t mention discipline at all.

Notice a vague sense of alarm that your entire argument is heading for the loo.

Then you deliver your coup de grâce: “So I guess discipline never hurt anyone, Mr. Kalas.” But your final blow finds no purchase. It hacks away at air. Why? Because, Mr. Freddy, in English, “Don’t hit your children … Corporal punishment does more damage than good” is not the same as “Don’t ever discipline your children because discipline is bad for kids, and it hurts them.”

Notice that I said the first. Not the latter. And that means you’re arguing with someone else. Not with me.

Yes, it’s true. Your argument is about discipline. My argument is about a particular cultural bias for child-rearing discipline called “corporal punishment.”

Nonetheless, I was intrigued by how similar was your father’s message to you as my own message to my three sons. Here, in so many words, is what I said:

“If you do something that merits discipline, you will get it. I intend to raise you in a way that imitates and reflects how the world is. To wit, people make choices, choices have consequences, and a man is someone who is willing to stand by all the consequences of all of his choices, even the ones he did not intend or expect. When you get older, you will no longer face my discipline. Rather, if you engage in a criminal act, the consequence will be arrest and jail.”

So, pretty similar, yes?

Well, it seems to be working. Because, all these years and zero spankings — or face slappings, or ear-boxing, or hitting with yardsticks or fly swatters or belts or riding crops or fists, or throwing, or pushing, or dragging down the hallway by the hair — none of my three children has ever been arrested or spent a night in jail!

Cool, huh?

How do you suppose I accomplished that without corporal punishment in my arsenal of child-rearing discipline, Mr. Freddy? And, given that I did accomplish it, does this raise the specter of possibility that other parents could also raise law-abiding, stellar human beings without corporal punishment? Or are you still certain the chief reason you’re without an arrest record and one or more turns in the stir is because people hit you?

Here, again, is my argument, Mr. Freddy:

Don’t hit your children. It is both wrong and unnecessary. Corporal punishment is a cultural bias (that is, there are many cultures where spanking/hitting children is unheard of). It does more damage than good.

The long and short of it is this, Mr. Freddy: If you’d like to debate with me about corporal punishment, then let’s rock. But we agree that children need discipline.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.