Spanking Myths

• Spanking Myth #1.
Being spanked never hurt anybody.

This makes little sense for many reasons. First, the whole idea of spanking is to inflict at least temporary pain. People who advocate spanking are well aware of this. For instance, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and unapologetic advocate of spanking, has noted that “pain is a marvelous purifier” (qtd. in Greven, 1991, p. 68). Other spanking advocates have recommended corporal punishment severe enough to leave redness, welts, and even bruises on the child’s skin (Greven, 1991, pp. 79-80).

Since most children are spanked on the buttocks – a part of the body they have been told is “private” – they feel shame and humiliation as well, along with an uncertainty about how “private” that part of their body truly is (Johnson, 2001).

But even beyond the mortification and the physical hurt, there is a longer-lasting emotional pain. Among many other negative outcomes, being spanked has been linked to:

Low self esteem (Bryan & Freed, 1982)
Depression (Straus, 1994)
Masochism (Straus & Donnelly, 1994)
Psychological Distress (Turner & Finkelhor, 1996)

• Spanking Myth #2:
I was spanked, and I’m okay.

Most smokers never develop cancer, most drunk drivers don’t get into wrecks, and most children who grow up in homes with lead paint do not suffer brain damage. But no intelligent adult would seriously advocate smoking, driving drunk, or using lead-based paint to decorate their walls. There’s also one more thing to consider. Most people who were spanked are okay in the sense that they aren’t in prisons or psychiatric facilities. However, corporal punishment is handed down from one generation to the next. Compared to people who were not spanked, people who were spanked as children are more likely to spank their own kids (Muller, Hunter, & Stollak, 1995). Let’s put that in plain English: People who were hit when they were vulnerable children are more likely to think it is acceptable-even desirable-for a fully grown adult to use painful physical force against a small child. How okay is that?

• Spanking Myth #3:
Some children need a good, hard spanking.

Let’s look at who really benefits from the spanking. The child? No. Other interventions work just as well in the short term and better in the long term. Furthermore, the spanked child is put at risk for many negative consequences (see Myths 1, 5 and 8).

Rather, it’s the parent who benefits, in two ways. First, the parent achieves immediate results-results which could also be gotten through non-violent methods. Second, the physical punishment gives the parent a release of anger and tension-a kind of catharsis. Using a non-violent form of discipline such as time out or even a verbal command (“Don’t touch!”) will alter the child’s behavior just as effectively, but it won’t provide the parent with the same degree of emotional release (Carey, 1994).

In other words, parents continue to spank because spanking meets some of their own misguided needs. It does not benefit the child.

• Spanking Myth #4:
Spanking is the best way to stop dangerous behavior in toddlers.

Small children have short attention spans when it comes to long lists of rules. Spanking may stop the behavior in the moment, but not any more effectively than non-violent discipline (e.g., time-out, saying “no,” etc.). With toddlers no method of discipline, including spanking, works reliably for more than a couple of hours (Larzelere, Schneider, Larson, & Pike, 1996).

There are only two ways to keep toddlers safe. The first is adjusting the environment (for instance, keeping sharp objects locked away or out of the child’s reach, or building a fence around the back yard to provide a safe play area). The second is providing careful, loving, and nonviolent supervision.

• Spanking Myth #5:
Being spanked keeps children out of trouble.

Being spanked has consistently been linked with aggressive behavior (Frick, Christian, & Wootton, 1999), including domestic violence (Simons, Lin, & Gordon, 1998) and cruelty to animals (Flynn, 1999). Jordan Riak, who works with convicted felons, has noted that close to 99% of the men in his groups report being spanked as children (personal communication, 1/9/02). If the goal is keeping children out of trouble, spanking is clearly not the way to go.

There is another problem as well. While spanking may teach some children to avoid certain behaviors out of fear of punishment, it does not teach the child to think about what is right and what is wrong. Rather, it teaches the child to ask, “Will I get caught?” and “Will I be punished?” Spanked children do not learn to measure their behaviors against their own moral beliefs. Rather, they rely blindly on the judgment of those in authority-those who have the power to punish. If the person in authority gives unethical orders, the results can be tragic. It is no coincidence that a society where physical punishment was the norm gave rise to the most shameful words of the twentieth century: “I was only following orders.”

• Spanking Myth #6:
Nothing but spanking works on some children.

First, let’s look at the child’s age. If the child is a toddler, for instance, no method of discipline, including spanking, is going to reliably curb certain behaviors for more than an hour or two at a time. The frustrated parent may get some emotional payoff from the spanking. The child will only be harmed.

Second, were the alternative methods of discipline being used correctly? I once spoke with a client who told me she “had” to spank her four-year-old daughter because the child wouldn’t stay in her time-out chair. The length of the time-out? Four hours! No child can be expected to sit still for four hours with no diversion-to demand it is abuse. While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the vast number of successful non-violent methods of discipline and how to use them, many parenting websites and books do just that. A quick search of the internet or the local library will provide dozens of effective alternatives to spanking.

Finally, some parents misperceive the actual value of spanking. They may, for instance, spank their child repeatedly for the same misbehavior, but declare time-out or some other non-violent means of discipline a failure when it does not stop the problem behavior after only one trial. The research, meanwhile, is clear: even in the very short term, spanking does not work any better than non-violent means of discipline such as explanation, time out, or verbal command (Larzelere, Sather, Schneider, Larson, & Pike, 1998; Roberts & Powers, 1990). There is no reason to strike a child. Ever.

• Spanking Myth #7:
Spanking isn’t hitting or violence – it’s discipline.

Imagine this scenario: an aide at a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients discovers an elderly woman poking at an electrical outlet. The aide immediately slaps the woman hard across the buttocks several times, reducing the woman to tears.

Has the woman been hit? Most of us would agree that she has. Has she been a victim of violence? Most of us would agree to that, also. Furthermore, even though there is no permanent injury to her physical being, every state in the United States would define what happened to the woman as abuse. The aide would certainly lose her job and might face criminal charges as well; the facility would be in danger of losing its license.

But substitute “two-year-old” for “elderly woman” and “parent” for “nursing home aide” and all of a sudden, our perceptions change. The hitting and the violence become a “spanking” and even some of the most dedicated child rights activists start referring to the incident as “sub-abusive.” Why? The two-year-old is equally hurt and humiliated by the blows; he or she is no better able to defend against them; and he or she is not more likely to get any benefit from them.

The fact that our society has arbitrarily decided to offer protection to one victim and withhold it from the other does not alter the truth: spanking is hitting and it is violent.

• Spanking Myth #8:
Spanking is not harmful if it’s done by loving, supportive parents.

If anything, it may be even more distressing for a child to feel loved and supported by the very people who perpetrate violence against him or her. The child could learn to confuse love with violence, or to believe that it is okay to use force in the context of close, loving relationships. Or, the child could begin to feel worthless and believe he or she deserves physical violence.

Not surprisingly, the research shows that the negative effects of spanking persist, even among loving and supportive families. The negative effects that have been studied in the context of family support include antisocial behavior and conduct problems (Frick, Christian, & Woottton, 1999; Gunnoe & Mariner, 1997), teen dating violence (Simons, Lin, & Gordon, 1998), masochism (Straus & Donnelly, 1994), and psychological distress (Turner & Finkelhor, 1996).

The research is clear and has been for some time: Spanking causes harm. No matter how or why it is administered, it is not benign or beneficial. It is physical violence. And, like any other type of physical violence, spanking scars its victims emotionally.

We have spent too many years ignoring the research and accepting the myths about spanking without bothering to investigate them fully. The time has come to confront these myths and stop finding excuses to hit children.

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So, Which Is It?

Stunning exposè of racism in America

It's Fine.

I’m scared to post this. I’m afraid of alienating people I love, people I interact with on a daily basis, people whose friendships I value. I wouldn’t say this if it hadn’t been weighing heavy, like a 50 pound weight on my tongue every time I open my mouth to say something and stop before it comes out because I don’t want to stir the pot. I don’t want anyone to be mad at me. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But I can’t, in good conscience, do that anymore.

I live with a certain degree of privilege. Monetary privilege? Not so much. But social privilege? Absolutely. I am part of a demographic that is perceived as the LEAST THREATENING to society. I’m a White Lady. Further, I’m a Southern White Lady. Still further, I’m a Heterosexual, Cis-Gender, Southern White Lady who Happens to be the Married Mother of Two…

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Children as Chattel–The Common Root of Religious Child Abuse and the Pro-Life Movement

Read this stunning assessment of the deleterious effects religion can have on children and society


Pro-Life AbuseOn the surface, valuing embryonic life and abusing children are at odds, but with a biblical view of childhood, these positions can go hand in hand.

Why do the same people who fight against abortion argue that parents should have the right to hit their children and deny them medical care or education, as some conservative Republicans have done recently? How can someone oppose family planning because a pill or IUD might have the rare and unintended consequence of interfering with implantation, and then endorse beating a child, which might have the rare and unintended consequence of battering her to death?

These two positions fit together seamlessly only when we understand the Iron Age view of the child woven through the Bible and how that view has shaped the priorities and behavior of those who treat the Bible like the literally perfect Word of God.

A Modern View of Childhood

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Nine Reasons You Defend Spanking

1. You were spanked as a child.
“I was spanked and I turned out fine.” This is the go-to response for parents who want to justify spanking/hitting their kids. The problem with this logic is that a person who is “fine” wouldn’t be justifying hitting of any kind. It is a barbaric and aggressive action. Whether it is done on the arm, the face or the bottom, it causes pain. Whether the hand is open or balled into a fist, it hurts. A person who justifies causing pain to innocent children is not, from a psychological definition, “fine.”

“…just because a well-adjusted adult was spanked as a child doesn’t mean that spanking is a harmless act. “I could say, ‘I smoked my whole life and I’m okay.’ But that doesn’t mean smoking isn’t bad for you.”

2. As a spanked child, admitting that spanking causes damage
is admitting that you are damaged.
The truth is, you probably are. It may be hard to admit, but it doesn’t make it less true. Long term studies have proven that spanking causes aggression, among other things. Over time, this aggression grows. (Perhaps that is why the comments defending spanking were hateful and aggressive.) In reality, spanking (hitting) can cause many mental health problems. Just think of your own triggers for proof.

“…physical punishment is linked to mental-health problems including depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use. There’s neuroimaging evidence that physical punishment may alter parts of the brain involved in performance on IQ tests and up the likelihood of substance abuse. And there’s also early data that spanking could affect areas of the brain involved in emotion and stress regulation.”

3. You think it works.
In the short term, spanking appears to work. It can immediately stop an unwanted behavior. In the long term, it is by far the least effect form of discipline used by parents. It does not teach the desired behavior. It causes children to lie or manipulate in order to avoid physical pain.

“The child who feels right acts right. Spanking undermines this principle. A child who is hit feels wrong inside and this shows up in his behavior. The more he misbehaves, the more he gets spanked and the worse he feels. The cycle continues. We want the child to know that he did wrong, and to feel remorse, but to still believe that he is a person who has value.”

4. You think you are teaching your child about consequences.
Not necessarily. Spanking or hitting is not a real world consequence. As adults, we do not get spanked or hit when we break the law or tell a lie. As a parent, you are not teaching your children about how the real world works. You are teaching them that hitting is okay.

5. You feel the need to defend your parents’ parenting.
Of course we love our parents. We never want to question their expressions of love or discipline. We want to believe that everything they did was to make us better. This may be true. That doesn’t mean that our parents had the knowledge that we do today. They did the best they could with what they knew. As parents who know better, shouldn’t we do better?

“Parents who rely on punishment as their primary mode of discipline don’t grow in their knowledge of their child. It keeps them from creating better alternatives, which would help them to know their child and build a better relationship.”

6. You think creating fear in your child is a good thing.
Parents who use spanking do so to correct behavior. They like to believe that if a child fears them, this fear will be a deterrent for bad behavior. In fact, fear does not stop bad behavior. It encourages a cover up. Children will learn how to lie and hide information from their parents out of fear of physical pain. You need respect to get honesty. Fear does not enable respect. In fact, it hinders it. It is much better for a child’s development and behavior to have a safe space where the child can come to the parent for any reason, good or bad. They need to have a mutual respect and trust that can be used to help correct behavior with words, not violence.

7. You think it is not abuse.
If you ask 20 parents what they consider child abuse, you will get 20 different answers. Some will say a tap on the butt is abuse, others will say a belt is abuse. The definition consists of all forms of physical or emotional pain. Seeing as how parenting can include physical and emotional pain in many different aspects, it leaves much to be interpreted. The question is not whether what you are doing as a parent is abuse at this moment. It is, are you headed towards abuse? If you are spanking your child, the answer is yes. All forms of physical violence escalate. You may start out tapping a diaper, but if you continue, the level of your spankings will have to increase to get the reaction you are trying for. Eventually, you will leave Discipline Drive and end up on Abuse Alley.

“The danger of beginning corporal punishment in the first place is that you may feel you have to bring out bigger guns: your hand becomes a fist, the switch becomes a belt, the folded newspaper becomes a wooden spoon, and now what began as seemingly innocent escalates into child abuse.”

8. You think it is biblical.
Judeo-Christians like to use the statement – “Spare the rod, spoil the child” -to justify spanking. The problem is that this bible principle is not verbatim in the bible and the verses that are, are highly misinterpreted. The words rod and spoil do not have the same meanings in our modern society. Rod (or sherod) in the bible references the shepherd’s rod used to herd sheep. They were used as a guiding tool and a weapon to protect the sheep from prey. In other words, the shepherd was not hitting the sheep. He was protecting them. When we think of spoiling today, we think of a child who gets everything they want. They are ungrateful and unruly. In the bible, spoil means to “go bad or rot.” In short, this bible verse does not mean that in order to make your child grateful and obedient, you must hit them. It means that in order to make them grow and prosper, you must protect and guide them.

9. You think it makes you a better parent.
A child who is spanked does not obey more, they lie more. They do not learn a lesson, they learn to hit. They do become more submissive, they become more aggressive. In short, your child is not better after a spanking, they are worse. This would make you a worse parent, not a better one.

“I have always thought that one of our goals as parents is to fill our children’s memory bank with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pleasant scenes. It’s amazing how the unpleasant memories of spankings can block out those positive memories.”

As parents, our job is to do the best we can with what we know. In order to be the best parents we can be, we have to look to the world around us. Our own experiences are not the best indicators of success or failure, because they are biased. We are not the best at judging ourselves or our lives for what they really are.

This is where science and research can help. The more we look at the effects of parenting styles as a whole, the better we can decide if they are right for our families. One thing is for certain, there are studies all over the world that have concluded that spanking doesn’t work and none that prove it is even remotely useful.

This essay was authored by Katie Proctor

“Running on Empty”

The material that follows is simply the most profound and enlightening I have ever posted on this blog. Jonice Webb, Ph.D. has written one of most revealing books I have ever read on the subject of why so many of us suffer emotionally and are at a loss to identify a reason or reasons for our issues. Dr. Webb has made a psychological breakthrough with her stunning and insightful description of what she calls Childhood Emotional Neglect or simply CEN.

With Dr. Webb’s gracious permission, I present the Introduction and Chapter One of her highly praised and award-winning book: Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Also included is her brief questionnaire which quickly gives the reader a useful sense as to whether he/she might be experiencing the symptoms of CEN.

Running on Empty:
Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect


What do you remember from your childhood? Almost everyone remembers some bits and pieces, if not more. Perhaps you have some positive memories, like family vacations, teachers, friends, summer camps or academic awards; and some negative memories, like family conflicts, sibling rivalries, problems at school, or even some sad or troubling events. Running on Empty is not about any of those kinds of memories. In fact, it’s not about anything that you can remember or anything that happened in your childhood. This book is written to help you become aware of what didn’t happen in your childhood, what you don’t remember. Because what didn’t happen has as much or more power over who you have become as an adult than any of those events you do remember. Running on Empty will introduce you to the consequences of what didn’t happen: an invisible force that may be at work in your life. I will help you determine whether you’ve been affected by this invisible force and, if so, how to overcome it.
Many fine, high-functioning, capable people secretly feel unfulfilled or disconnected. “Shouldn’t I be happier?” “Why haven’t I accomplished more?” “Why doesn’t my life feel more meaningful?” These are questions which are often prompted by the invisible force at work. They are often asked by people who believe that they had loving, well-meaning parents, and who remember their childhood as mostly happy and healthy. So they blame themselves for whatever doesn’t feel right as an adult. They don’t realize that they are under the influence of what they don’t remember … the invisible force.
By now, you’re probably wondering, what is this Invisible Force? Rest assured it’s nothing scary. It’s not supernatural, psychic or eerie. It’s actually a very common, human thing that doesn’t happen in homes and families all over the world every day. Yet we don’t realize it exists, matters or has any impact upon us at all. We don’t have a word for it. We don’t think about it and we don’t talk about it. We can’t see it; we can only feel it. And when we do feel it, we don’t know what we’re feeling.
In this book, I’m finally giving this force a name. I’m calling it Emotional Neglect. This is not to be confused with physical neglect. Let’s talk about what Emotional Neglect really is.
Everyone is familiar with the word “neglect.” It’s a common word. The definition of “neglect,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “to give little attention or respect or to disregard; to leave unattended to, especially through carelessness.”
“Neglect” is a word used especially frequently by mental health professionals in the Social Services. It’s commonly used to refer to a dependent person, such as a child or elder, whose physical needs are not being met. For example a child who comes to school with no coat in the winter, or an elder shut-in whose adult daughter frequently “forgets” to bring her groceries.
Pure emotional neglect is invisible. It can be extremely subtle, and it rarely has any physical or visible signs. In fact, many emotionally neglected children have received excellent physical care. Many come from families that seem ideal. The people for whom I write this book are unlikely to have been identified as neglected by any outward signs, and are in fact unlikely to have been identified as neglected at all.
So why write a book? After all, if the topic of Emotional Neglect has gone unnoticed by researchers and professionals all this time, how debilitating can it really be? The truth is, people suffering from Emotional Neglect are in pain. But they can’t figure out why, and too often, neither can the therapists treating them. In writing this book, I identify, define and suggest solutions to a hidden struggle that often stymies its sufferers and even the professionals to whom they sometimes go for help. My goal is to help these people who are suffering in silence, wondering what is wrong with them.
There is a good explanation for why Emotional Neglect has been so overlooked. It hides. It dwells in the sins of omission, rather than commission; it’s the white space in the family picture rather than the picture itself. It’s often what was not said or observed or remembered from childhood, rather than what was said.
For example, parents may provide a lovely home and plenty of food and clothing, and never abuse or mistreat their child. But these same parents may fail to notice their teen child’s drug use or simply give him too much freedom rather than set the limits that would lead to conflict. When that teen is an adult, he may look back at an “ideal” childhood, never realizing that his parents failed him in the way that he needed them most. He may blame himself for whatever difficulties have ensued from his poor choices as a teen. “I was a real handful”; “I had such a great childhood, I have no excuse for not having achieved more in life.” As a therapist, I have heard these words uttered many times by high-functioning, wonderful people who are unaware that Emotional Neglect was an invisible, powerful force in their childhood. This example offers only one of the infinite numbers of ways that a parent can emotionally neglect a child, leaving him running on empty.
Here I would like to insert a very important caveat: We all have examples of how our parents have failed us here and there. No parent is perfect, and no childhood is perfect. We know that the huge majority of parents struggle to do what’s best for their child. Those of us who are parents know that when we make parenting mistakes, we can almost always correct them. This book is not meant to shame parents or make parents feel like failures. In fact, throughout the book you’ll read about many parents who are loving and well-meaning, but still emotionally neglected their child in some fundamental way. Many emotionally neglectful parents are fine people and good parents, but were emotionally neglected themselves as children. All parents commit occasional acts of Emotional Neglect in raising their children without causing any real harm. It only becomes a problem when it is of a great enough breadth or quantity to gradually emotionally “starve” the child.
Whatever the level of parental failure, emotionally neglected people see themselves as the problem, rather than seeing their parents as having failed them.
Throughout the book I include many examples, or vignettes, taken from the lives of my clients and others, those who have grappled with sadness or anxiety or emptiness in their lives, for which there were no words and for which they could find little explanation. These emotionally neglected people most often know how to give others what they want or need. They know what is expected from them in most of life’s social environments. Yet these sufferers are unable to label and describe what is wrong in their internal experience of life and how it harms them.
This is not to say that adults who were emotionally neglected as children are without observable symptoms. But these symptoms, the ones that may have brought them to a psychotherapist’s door, always masquerade as something else: depression, marital problems, anxiety, anger. Adults who have been emotionally neglected mislabel their unhappiness in such ways, and tend to feel embarrassed by asking for help. Since they have not learned to identify or to be in touch with their true emotional needs, it’s difficult for therapists to keep them in treatment long enough to help them understand themselves better. So this book is written not only for the emotionally neglected, but also for mental health professionals, who need tools to combat the chronic lack of compassion-for-self which can sabotage the best of treatments.
Whether you picked up Running on Empty because you are looking for answers to your own feelings of emptiness and lack of fulfillment, or because you are a mental health professional trying to help “stuck” patients, this book will provide concrete solutions for invisible wounds.

In Running on Empty, I have used many vignettes to illustrate various aspects of Emotional Neglect in childhood and adulthood. All of the vignettes are based upon real stories from clinical practice, either my own or Dr. Musello’s. However, to protect the privacy of the clients, names, identifying facts, and details were altered, so that no vignette depicts any real person, living or dead. The exceptions are the vignettes involving Zeke which appear throughout Chapters 1 and 2. These vignettes were created to illustrate how different parenting styles might affect the same boy, and are purely fictitious.
Are you wondering if this book applies to you? Take this questionnaire to find out. Circle the questions to which your answer is yes.

Emotional Neglect Questionnaire
Do You:
1. Sometimes feel like you don’t belong when with your family or friends
2. Pride yourself on not relying upon others
3. Have difficulty asking for help
4. Have friends or family who complain that you are aloof or distant
5. Feel you have not met your potential in life
6. Often just want to be left alone
7. Secretly feel that you may be a fraud
8. Tend to feel uncomfortable in social situations
9. Often feel disappointed with, or angry at, yourself
10. Judge yourself more harshly than you judge others
11. Compare yourself to others and often find yourself sadly lacking
12. Find it easier to love animals than people
13. Often feel irritable or unhappy for no apparent reason
14. Have trouble knowing what you’re feeling
15. Have trouble identifying your strengths and weaknesses
16. Sometimes feel like you’re on the outside looking in
17. Believe you’re one of those people who could easily live as a hermit
18. Have trouble calming yourself
19. Feel there’s something holding you back from being present in the moment
20. At times feel empty inside
21. Secretly feel there’s something wrong with you
22. Struggle with self-discipline

Look back over your circled (YES) answers. These answers give you a window into the areas in which you may have experienced Emotional Neglect as a child.

Chapter 1
Why wasn’t the tank filled?

“…I am trying to draw attention to the immense contribution to the individual and to society which the ordinary good mother with her husband in support makes at the beginning, and which she does simply through being devoted to her infant.
D.W. Winnicott, (1964) The Child, the Family, and the Outside World

It doesn’t take a parenting guru, a saint, or, thank goodness, a Ph.D. in psychology to raise a child to be a healthy, happy adult. The child psychiatrist, researcher, writer and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott emphasized this point often throughout writings that spanned 40 years. While today we recognize that fathers are of equal importance in the development of a child, the meaning of Winnicott’s observations on mothering is still essentially the same: There is a minimal amount of parental emotional connection, empathy and ongoing attention which is necessary to fuel a child’s growth and development so that he or she will grow into an emotionally healthy and emotionally connected adult. Less than that minimal amount and the child becomes an adult who struggles emotionally–outwardly successful, perhaps, but empty, missing something within, which the world can’t see.
In his writings, Winnicott coined the now well-known term, “Good Enough Mother” to describe a mother who meets her child’s needs in this way. Parenting that is “good enough” takes many forms, but all of these recognize the child’s emotional or physical need in any given moment, in any given culture, and do a “good enough” job of meeting it. Most parents are good enough. Like all animals, we humans are biologically wired to raise our children to thrive. But what happens when life circumstances interfere with parenting? Or when parents themselves are unhealthy, or have significant character flaws?
Were you raised by “good enough” parents? By the end of this chapter, you will know what “good enough” means, and you will be able to answer this question for yourself.

But first…
If you are a parent as well as a reader, you may find yourself identifying with the parental failures presented in this book, as well as with the emotional experience of the child in the vignettes (because you are, no doubt, hard on yourself.) Therefore, I ask that you pay close attention to the following warnings:

All good parents are guilty of emotionally failing their children at times. Nobody is perfect. We all get tired, cranky, stressed, distracted, bored, confused, disconnected, overwhelmed or otherwise compromised here and there. This does not qualify us as emotionally neglectful parents. Emotionally neglectful parents distinguish themselves in one of two ways, and often both: either they emotionally fail their child in some critical way in a moment of crisis, causing the child a wound which may never be repaired (acute empathic failure) OR they are chronically tone-deaf to some aspect of a child’s need throughout his or her childhood development (chronic empathic failure). Every single parent on earth can recall a parenting failure that makes him cringe, where he knows that he has failed his child. But the harm comes from the totality of important moments in which emotionally neglectful parents are deaf and blind to the emotional needs of their growing child.

If you were indeed emotionally neglected, and are a parent yourself as well, there is a good chance that as you read this book you will start to see some ways in which you have passed the torch of Emotional Neglect to your child. If so, it’s extremely vital for you to realize that it is not your fault. Because it’s invisible, insidious, and easily passes from generation to generation, it’s extremely unlikely and difficult to stop unless you become explicitly aware of it. Since you’re reading this book, you are light-years ahead of your parents. You have the opportunity to change the pattern, and you are taking it. The effects of Emotional Neglect can be reversed. And you’re about to learn how to reverse those parental patterns for yourself, and for your children. Keep reading. No self-blame allowed.

The Ordinary Healthy Parent in Action
The importance of emotion in healthy parenting is best understood through attachment theory. Attachment theory describes how our emotional needs for safety and connection are met by our parents from infancy. Many ways of looking at human behavior have grown out of attachment theory, but most owe their thinking to the original attachment theorist, psychiatrist John Bowlby. His understanding of parent-child bonding comes from thousands of hours of observation of parents and children, beginning with mothers and infants. It suggests, quite simply, that when a parent effectively recognizes and meets her child’s emotional needs in infancy, a “secure attachment” is formed and maintained. This first attachment forms the basis of a positive self-image and a sense of general well-being throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Looking at emotional health through the lens of attachment theory, we can identify three essential emotional skills in parents:

1) The parent feels an emotional connection to the child.
2) The parent pays attention to the child and sees him as a unique and separate person, rather than, say, an extension of him or herself, a possession or a burden.
3) Using that emotional connection and paying attention, the parent responds competently to the child’s emotional need.

Although these skills sound simple, in combination they are a powerful tool for helping a child learn about and manage his or her own nature, for creating a secure emotional bond that carries the child into adulthood, so that he may face the world with the emotional health to achieve a happy adulthood. In short, when parents are mindful of their children’s unique emotional nature, they raise emotionally strong adults. Some parents are able to do this intuitively, but others can learn the skills. Either way, the child will not be neglected.

Zeke is a precocious and hyperactive third-grader, the youngest of 3 children in a laid-back and loving family. Lately, he has gotten into trouble at school for “talking back.” On one such day, he brings a note home from the teacher describing his infraction by stating “Zeke was disrespectful today.” His mother sits him down and asks him what happened. In an exasperated tone, he tells her that, when he was in the recess line, Mrs. Rollo told him to stop trying to balance a pencil on his finger, point-side-up, because he might “stab himself in the face.” He frowned and snapped back at Mrs. Rollo by telling her that he would have to bend “alllll the way over the pencil like this” (demonstrating) to stab himself in the face and that he isn’t “that stupid.” In response, Mrs. Rollo confiscated his pencil, wrote his name on the board, and sent him home with a note.

Before describing how Zeke’s mother actually responded, let’s figure out what Zeke needs to get from the coming parent-child interaction: he is upset by the incident with his teacher, whom he generally likes, so he needs empathy; on the other hand, he also needs to learn what is expected of him by his teachers in order to succeed at school. Finally, it would help if his mother has noticed (emotional attentiveness) that lately he is very sensitive to “being treated like a baby” because his older brother and sister leave him out a lot due to his age. Zeke’s mother needs those three skills: feeling a connection, paying attention, and responding competently, in order to help Zeke with his problem.
Here is how the conversation went between mother and son:

Mother: “Mrs. Rollo didn’t understand that you were embarrassed by her thinking you could be stupid enough to stick your eye out with a pencil. But when teachers ask you to stop doing something, the reason doesn’t matter. It’s your job to stop.”
Zeke: “I know! I was trying to say that to her and she wouldn’t listen!”
Mother: “Yes, I know how frustrated you get when people don’t let you talk. Mrs. Rollo doesn’t know that you’re dealing with your brother and sister not listening to you much lately.”
Zeke relaxes a little in response to his mother’s understanding: “Yeah, she got me so frustrated and then she took my pencil.”
Mother: “It must’ve been hard for you. But, you see, Mrs. Rollo’s class is very big and she doesn’t have time to talk things over like we are right now. It’s so important that when any grownup at school asks you to do something, you do it right away. Will you try to do as asked without saying anything back, Zeke?”
Zeke: “Yeah, Mom.”
Mother: “Good! If you do what Mrs. Rollo asks, you’ll never get in trouble. Then you can come home and complain to us if you think it’s unfair. That’s fine. But as a student, respect means cooperating with your teacher’s requests.”

This mother’s intuitive responses in the above conversation provide us with a complex example of the healthy, emotionally attuned parenting that leads to the sane, happy adult whom Winnicott describes. What exactly did she do?

•  First, she connected with her son emotionally by asking him to tell her what happened before she reacted. No shaming.
•  Then she listened carefully to him. When she first spoke, she provided him with a simple rule that an eight-year-old can understand: “When a teacher asks you to do something, you do it right away.” Here Zeke’s mother is instinctively attuned to his stage of cognitive development, providing him with a general rule to use at school.
•  She immediately follows the rule with empathy and naming his feeling (“Mrs. Rollo didn’t understand that you were embarrassed…”). Hearing his mom name the feeling, Zeke is able to express more of his emotion to his mother (“I know! I was trying to say that to her and she wouldn’t listen!”).
• Again, his mother responds to Zeke by naming or labeling the emotion that drove Zeke’s rude behavior towards his teacher, the behavior of contradicting her that was viewed as disrespectful (“Yes. I know how frustrated you get when people don’t let you talk…”).
•  Zeke, feeling understood, responds by repeating this emotion word for himself, “Yeah, she got me so frustrated and then she took my pencil.”
•  But the mother isn’t finished yet. She has, in this conversation, demonstrated to Zeke that she understands him and feels for him by demonstrating that she sees his behavior differently than his teacher does. However, she can’t stop there, because his tendency to debate (the likely result of having two highly verbal older siblings) will continue to be a problem for Zeke at school unless he can correct it. So his mom says “It’s so important that when any grownup at school asks you to do something, you do it right away.”
• Finally, she holds her son accountable for his behavior, setting the stage for future check-ins on his feisty nature by asking him, “Will you try to do as asked without saying anything back, Zeke?”

In a conversation that appears deceptively simple, Zeke’s mother has avoided shaming him for a mistake and named his feelings, creating the emotional learning that will allow Zeke to sort his feelings out on his own in the future. She has also supported him emotionally, given him a social rule, and asked him to be accountable for following it. And, in the event that Zeke repeats this behavior at school, she will adjust her message and her actions to adapt to the difficulty he is having in the classroom.
Remember Zeke, because I will be using him several more times to help describe the differences between healthy and emotionally neglectful parenting.

Here’s another example:


Frequently, harmful Emotional Neglect is so subtle in the life of a child that, although it may be in play each and every day, it’s barely observable, often masking as a form of consideration or even indulgence.
Kathleen is a successful, recently married young woman who makes a great salary as an executive assistant in a small high-tech, start-up company. She persuaded her new husband to buy a home with her in the town in which her parents live. Yet she did so knowing that, as she revealed in therapy, her mother often drove her crazy. She was puzzled by her own decision-making. She recognized that her mother had always demanded a lot of her attention, and was aware that she felt guilty about her mother, no matter how much attention she gave her. At the time she came to therapy, at the height of her success and happiness: new home, new husband, great job, Kathleen felt inexplicably depressed. She was both ashamed of and baffled by this feeling, since there was “no reason for it.” What follows is a good example of how Emotional Neglect hides, not in what did happen, but in what didn’t happen.

Flash back twenty-five years and five-year-old Kathleen is sitting on the beach, happily making sandcastles with her father. The only child of a successful young couple, living in a pristine restored New England home, people often tell her how lucky she is. Dad is an engineer, and Mom has gone back to school and become an elementary school teacher. Travel to exotic places and being taught meticulous manners are part of Kathleen’s life. Kathleen’s mom, an excellent seamstress, makes her clothes. Often they wear mother/daughter matching outfits. They spend tons of time together. But right now, on vacation, she has left the matching beach chair at her mother’s side. Why? Because her dad has just invited her to play. She has the rare and pleasurable opportunity to be doing something special with her dad. They are digging a hole, collecting the sand to form the first floor of their sand castles.
Mom looks up from her book after a while, and, from the perch of her beach chair, says sternly, “That’s enough sandplay with Dad, Kathleen. Your Dad doesn’t want to have to play with you all day on his day off! Come over here and I’ll read to you.” Both Dad and daughter look up from their hole, plastic shovels poised. There is a brief pause. Then her father stands up and brushes the sand off his knees as if he, too, must obey. Kathleen feels sad as the play stops, but she also feels selfish. Mom takes good care of both of them, and Kathleen shouldn’t wear her dad out. She goes obediently over to her smaller, matching beach chair, and sits in it. Her mother begins to read to her. After a while, Kathleen’s disappointment passes as she listens to the story.

In our therapy, Kathleen relayed this memory in the course of explaining how distant a relationship she had always had with her father. But when she got to the part where her father stood up and brushed the sand from his knees, her eyes welled up with tears. “I don’t know why that image makes me so sad,” she said. I asked her to focus on her sadness and think about what else her mother or father might have done differently that day. At that moment, Kathleen began to see that she had been failed frequently by both parents. It wasn’t hard to figure out what she would have wanted to be different that day. She just wished that she could have continued digging that hole with her father.
If her mother had been emotionally-attuned to Kathleen:

Mom looks up from her book as they play, and from the perch of her beach chair says with a smile, “Wow, you guys are certainly digging a big hole! Want me to show you how to make a sandcastle?”

If her father had been emotionally-attuned:

Mom looks up from her book as they play, and, from the perch of her beach chair says sternly, “That’s enough sandplay with Dad, Kathleen. Your dad doesn’t want to have to play with you all day on his day off! Come over here and I’ll read to you.” Both Dad and daughter look up. There is a brief pause. Dad smiles broadly, first at his wife and then at Kathleen. “Are you kidding? There is no place else I’d rather be than playing with my girl on the beach! Want to help us dig, Margaret?”

What’s important to notice about both of these “corrections” is that they are well within the range of ordinary, natural parenting skills. Conversations like these go on all the time. But if there is an absence of such validation of a child’s importance to the parent, if a child is made to feel shame for wanting or needing attention from one parent or the other often enough, she will grow up being blind to many of her own emotional needs. Happily, the adult Kathleen came to recognize that there was a good reason for her anger at her mother. She saw that hiding behind the scenes in their mother/daughter relationship all these years had been her mother’s lack of emotional attunement to her. Once Kathleen recognized that her anger was legitimate, she felt less guilty for having it. She realized that it was okay to stop catering to her mother and do what was right for her and her husband. Also, a door was opened for Kathleen to understand her mother’s limitations, and to try to repair their relationship.
Another important factor in the Kathleen scenario is that Kathleen’s parents haven’t committed any great parenting offense. Their “mistake” is so subtle that neither was probably the tiniest bit aware that anything damaging was happening for their daughter. In fact, they were probably just living out the patterns that were passed on to them in their own childhoods. This is the danger of Emotional Neglect: perfectly good people, loving their child, doing their best, while passing on accidental, invisible, potentially damaging patterns to their daughter. In this book, the goal is not to blame the parents. It is only to understand our parents, and how they have affected us.
Now that you have a sense of the difference between healthy and neglectful parenting, let’s move on to look at the specific types of neglectful parents. As you read this section, see if you can recognize your own parents among them.

© 2013 Jonice Webb, Ph.D., All rights reserved

ImageDr. Jonice Webb is the author of the new self-help book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. She has been interviewed about her book on NPR and over 30 radio shows across the United States and Canada and has been quoted as a psychologist expert in the Chicago Tribune.

Dr. Webb has been a licensed psychologist since 1991, she served as the director of several large outpatient clinics and worked in a variety of different settings over the course of her career including a psychiatric emergency service for substance abuse programs.

For the past eight years, she has been in private psychotherapy practice in Lexington, Massachusetts, specializing in the treatment of couples and families. Dr. Webb is the Mental Health Editor for, the second largest women’s website in the world.

Dr. Webb grew up in the middle of Oklahoma farm country and has lived in the Boston area since 1987. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two teenage children. Some of her favorite activities are traveling, running, reading, cooking, mountain biking and spending time at the beach.

Dr. Webb earned her Bachelor degree in Psychology from Oklahoma State University, Stillwater and holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
AFTER TWO DECADES of practicing psychology, Dr. Webb gradually began to see a factor from childhood which weighs upon people as adults. This factor is extremely subtle. In fact, it is so difficult to see that it goes virtually unnoticed while it quietly saps a person’s joy of life, causing a struggle with self-discipline along with feelings of disconnect and unfulfillment. Dr. Webb gave a name to this invisible factor from childhood:
She calls it Emotional Neglect.
To watch a three minute video where Dr. Webb explains:
What is Childhood Emotional Neglect,
To purchase a hard copy or Kindle copy of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect,

A paperback of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect can be purchased directly from Dr. Webb’s website:; it is also available at bookstores everywhere.

The Farce of “Inherent Evil”

THERE SHOULD BE no doubt in anyone’s mind that one of the more egregious excuses for the practice of spanking lies in a belief that holds children liable for being born into this world with evil and sin in their hearts. Apparently, there are associated behaviors in children that can be attributed to this religious doctrine — such as the view holding children to be little more than selfish, manipulative, dirty, rebellious and wild little beings who need to be broken into submission and forced into the ways of civilized humanity.
@@When looking at the history of our species, one of the more prevalent values held by past societies was a belief that the Gods heaped natural disasters and hardships upon humanity as a punishment for misdeeds. Many past civilizations practiced human sacrifice as a means of appeasing the Gods for the sins of Man.
@@At a time when there existed no understanding as to why anyone would refuse to conform to the behavioral expectations and norms of society, the mystery of anti-social or other abnormal behaviors came to be explained away by the evil of supernatural forces, whose power lay beyond the control of humanity. In ancient societies, it was commonly held that the only way to treat those deemed to be under the control of these supernatural forces bent on destroying Mankind was to execute them.
@@In Christianity, this demonological concept came in the form of a single supernatural evil force (Satan) as a means to explain away otherwise inexplicable undesired behavior. As time went on, the Christian church began to explore more humane treatments other than execution for those who were seen as being possessed or influenced by Satan. These new treatments included the ritual of Exorcism as a means to chase out any demons spawned by the devil. Another treatment involved using a sharp rock to hammer a hole into the skull of those who were seen as “possessed” in an effort to allow the evil entity to escape from the mind of those so afflicted (the practice of this procedure was called “trephining” and served as the first form of Frontal Lobotomy).
@@This demonological concept also holds that we are born into this world already influenced by this evil supernatural force known as the devil or Satan. It is a concept designed to serve as an explanation for our sinful ways by simply deeming humanity to be conceived under the influence of evil. As such, this concept holds that we come into this world with sinful needs and evil intentions. While some denominations of Christianity have eschewed the dictum of “born in sin”, it apparently remains a doctrine still taught by a number of denominations. As the work of the devil, this concept has served to explain away that which would otherwise remain inexplicable in terms of behavior deemed acceptable in the eyes of the Church. While the inherent omnipresence of a lurking Satan serves as good justification for spiritual and financial devotion to the Church, it has also become a concept serving to encourage and perpetuate the practice of spanking children.
@@After more than ten years of observing adamant spanking proponents on a number of parenting sites, I have yet to encounter a pro-spanker who did not hold the belief that children are apparently born as despicable little urchins who are anxiously awaiting their first opportunity to make life miserable for parents. I’ve seen this attitude expressed toward children by mostly those who have been orientated to this view of children through religious training (the “sinful nature” concept).
@@Ominous, indeed, are the implications and risks associated with a belief holding that newborn infants are already afflicted with an underlying desire to behave in sinful ways as a reflection of their evil nature. Parents holding this belief may pay lip service to the term “unconditional love”, but just as they have been led to the conviction of “inherent sin”, it is just as likely that they have also come to be repulsed and frightened by what they perceive as inborn evil or sin. It’s only reasonable that the love of these parents becomes highly conditional when they see the underlying evil in their children finding an anxiously awaited opportunity to express itself. It is also reasonable to expect that these parents would want to eradicate this demonic enemy of righteousness when it makes an appearance by way of their children. Violence would seem to be an expected reaction as a means to destroy or repulse the appearance of evil in the form of sinful behavior. We can see this reaction reflected in the originations of expressions such as beat the devil out of them or knock the hell out of them as a means to expel or destroy sinful behavior.
@@Parents holding this belief must also look upon their newborn babies as possessing a flawed beauty considering those sinful intentions lying just below the surface of a deceptively innocent demeanor. The relationship must involve a degree of distrust from the very beginning with the parent needing to be constantly on guard against these sinful ways in children which can erupt at any moment. With sinful behavior needing to be discouraged or purged as quickly as possible, it is no wonder that we can hear of parents striking their infants in the name of God.
@@The study of human behavior has come a long way since the first attempts to explain unacceptable behavior. We’ve reached a point of accumulated knowledge and understanding of human behavior to where it is much more reasonable and accurate to conclude that evil is created by humanity rather than humanity being born a slave to evil and sin by nature.
@@The Social Sciences have also come to recognize the crucial significance of self-esteem as a developmental characteristic necessary for children to behave in an emotionally healthy, fully functioning manner. Obviously, children being treated in a manner which reflects a belief that they are naturally prone to sin rather than being naturally prone to goodness can in no way be considered a treatment which would be conducive to the development of healthy levels of self-esteem. Another problem with this concept is the Self-fulfilling Prophecy. This is an established psychological principle holding that children will come to behave in ways in which they are expected to behave. Children who are told they are sinful, and consequently come to view themselves as sinful, are prone to behave accordingly. “I am sinful, I am flawed, I am bad, I have evil in me, etc.” can become a part of the child’s self-concept and consequently determine how they behave because of who they see themselves to be.
@@I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the home environment creates “evil” behavior. I have taken any existing empirical data in support of this notion a step farther. I’ve proven this conclusion by raising two children who were born in pure beauty and goodness, treated in beauty and goodness and, as a result, have grown to represent beauty and goodness. As adults, they now spread that same love, beauty and goodness to those around them, and they have been rewarded by a world that so far seems very happy to have them around.
@@A child lost in the inadequacy of sin and badness is likely to develop a willingness to submit to a voice of authority and control through a feeling of being incompetent to function independently without strict guidance (external controls). But a child basking in the glow of their perceived goodness is prepared to venture out into the world as an independent agent with a feeling they might be capable of making this world a better place in which to live. No theory involved here — I’ve lived to see it for myself.
This essay was authored James C. Talbot — June 19, 2012

Mr. Talbot is an author, child activist and a member of the Board of Advisors of The U.S. Alliance to Stop the Hitting of Children

He has authored The Road To Positive Discipline: A Parent’s Guide.

Why Do We Hurt Our Children?

“Almost everyone in Western societies agrees that it is morally wrong for people to settle arguments or impose their will on each other with blows. When a big kid hits a little kid on the playground, we call him a bully; five years later he punches a woman for her wallet and is called a mugger; later still, when he slugs a fellow worker who insults him, he is called a troublemaker, but when he becomes a father and hits his tiresome, disobedient or disrespectful child, we call him a disciplinarian. Why is this rung on a ladder of interpersonal violence regarded so differently from the rest?” – Penelope Leach1

As a psychologist who specialized in working with emotionally disturbed children and as a person who has a special fondness for children, I am extremely troubled that punishment, both physical and otherwise, is an intrinsic part of child rearing in the United States. None of my three children, now adults, were ever punished. Just as people who state, “I was spanked and punished and I turned out OK,” my children are able to say, “I was never spanked or punished and I turned out OK.” And based on the kind of people they are as adults, I would agree that, not only did they turn out OK, but they are much more caring of others, including their children, than most of their contemporaries. They do not, of course, punish their children.
@@However, I do not wish to prove through my children or my grandchildren that punishment is totally unnecessary in order to grow up to be a socially appropriate and caring person. We already know this from studies of cultures where children are never punished. I hope to show, instead, that punishing children is a malevolent act that is harmful to children and, ultimately, to the community and society in which it takes place. The punishment of one human being by another is behavior in which the punisher has, or believes he has, the right to hurt and violate a person he perceives as his social inferior. Punishing another individual of one’s species is a human cultural invention. It is not found in all cultures nor in the animal world. Its utilization as a child-rearing method seems to go hand in hand with the development of civilization.
@@A person hurting another as a result of a temporary loss of emotional control is not punishment. Such behavior is a different form of violence. Punishment is a deliberate, controlled act with a conscious purpose. It is, of course, a terrible, troublesome, and dangerous fact that, in our society, parental loss of control, accompanied by physical and verbal abuse of children, is tolerated. However, such behavior is not the subject of this paper. Our society, although it may not do much to prevent it, does not openly condone child abuse. But it does openly condone and sanction punishing children, physically and otherwise. What bothers me so much about punishing children is that it is a conscious effort to hurt them physically and/or emotionally. I find it hard to understand, even when it is explained as a way of teaching them proper behavior, why someone would intentionally choose to hurt the life they contributed to creating (or chose to care for through adoption.) I also find it incredible that parents, and many authorities in the areas of mental and physical health, child development, and human morality, cannot see that by hurting children, we are teaching them that it is moral and right to hurt other human beings.

The Origins Of Punishment
It is likely that punishment initially developed in our species as a method to control and direct the behavior of animals by hurting them. It later was applied by humans to other humans to control individual behavior and thinking. The fact that punishment can modify behavior is well-founded. Research studies on rats, as well as other animals, have clearly indicated that by inflicting pain on them, we can control to a great extent what they do or don’t do (Bermant), a fact known by farmers and animal trainers for thousands of years. Human thinking can also be altered by punishment and has been utilized throughout civilization by monarchs, dictators, slave owners, authoritarian states, and religious institutions to control deviant and non-conforming individuals.
@@We do not know when punishment first became a method used to direct children’s development. I have never read about a hunter-gatherer society that punishes their children as part of child care. In ancient civilizations, and throughout the history of civilization, punishing children was a common practice (deMause), and the practice continues today in much of the civilized world. Punishment is and has been a commonly accepted part of American child-rearing (deMause, Beekman). It is perceived as a legitimate and appropriate form of discipline. Its legitimacy in human relationships has few parallels in American life, especially since the abolition of slavery. Other than children, only convicted criminals are legally allowed to be punished. But children do not even have the rights of criminals, as they are allowed to be punished without a trial. The closest parallel to punishing children would be the punitive ways in which we domesticate and train young animals so that they will serve, submit to, and entertain us. When we punish our children, we serve to perpetuate the Western civilization belief that children are, like animals, inferior beings who need to be tamed, trained, and controlled.

Punishment and Distrust
Obviously, the decision, felt necessity, or compulsion to punish another person reflects a lack of trust in that person, whether it be in the relationship of governments to citizens, tyrants to subjects, slave owners to slaves, wardens to prisoners, teachers to students, or parents to children. The advocates of punishing children (which include some past and present “experts” on child development) have a condescending and ugly view of children which is embedded in an even uglier view of the human species. Humans are not, in their eyes, a naturally caring and social species, but a species in which the individual is born anti-social and governed solely by self concern and self-interest. They further believe that children resist socialization, so it must be imposed on them by adults.
@@There is no recognition, in this perception of the human individual as selfish, alienated, and basically separate from all others, to the fact that sociability, socialization, and the ability to trust develop naturally through appropriate nurturing in childhood. The quality of basic trust, as originally formulated by the psychologist Eric Erikson, is the foundation for a healthy personality (Evans). Its meaning to Erikson and his followers was that during the first year of life, a baby learns that those who care for him can be trusted to satisfy his basic needs. From this secure base the infant learns to trust himself and the world. I prefer to describe basic trust as the experience of a baby or young child that there is a person there for him, who affirms his life and well-being by providing the nurturing relationship that he genetically and biologically evolved to have after birth. Without such an experience during the first stage of life, an infant does not develop the full trust in others that is essential for healthy human emotional and social development.
@@The need for an infant to develop basic trust in those who care for him has become widely accepted by virtually all health-care specialists. It is not always expressed in such terms, nor is it always achieved, but we all seem to know that babies and children need “love”. Much less emphasis has been given to the need for parents to develop basic trust in their children. They may love them, but do they trust them? In fact, many American authorities on infant and child care have sent the message that children, including infants, cannot be trusted; Babies and young children are frequently portrayed as being manipulative and wanting to make their parents’ life miserable, as if their need and desire to be with their parents, and to be nurtured by them, is not genuine (Spock, Turtle).
@@I do not believe that genuine trust can develop in a relationship unless both parties have trust in each other. In the parent-child relationship, the child learns to trust his parents when his need for nurturing is regularly met. But this development of trust can only occur if the parent’s response to the child is based on the belief that the child’s expression of his need for nurturing is genuine, that the child is not just trying to “get his own way”; and is not out to make the parent’s life difficult. Misery, unhappiness, and a struggle for power often do become a part of the parent-child interaction, especially in a society such as our own which does not trust and does not validate the nurturing requirements of children. If the relationship of parent and child does become a continual struggle, it is not because the child’s motivation is to punish the parent, but because his need for nurturing is not being met. It is also true that a child, as he matures, may begin to behave in ways to punish his parents, but this can only occur if his parents have regularly punished him.
@@The use of punishment by parents is a clear indication that there has been an insufficient development of trust between parent and child in the early formative years of the child’s development. Most American parents punish their children. Most also begin punishing them, and using the threat of punishment, at a very early age (usually in infancy). Children grow up believing that the punishment they received was deserved, and that they were harmful, bad, and not trustworthy. Many, as adults, who lack a foundation of parental trust, do not trust, or even like, themselves. They perceive their needs, especially their need for nurturing, caring, kindness, love, and intimacy, as “bad”, selfish, indulgent, harmful, and a burden put on others. Some spend their entire lifetime feeling guilty towards their parents. Often, they begin in adolescence to self-destruct, punishing themselves for burdening their parents, for having been born, for being alive.

The Most Common Methods Of Punishing Children
Corporal punishment in the form of spanking (even in infancy) is the most common way children are punished in America. Slapping, hitting and beating with the hand or straps and other instruments closely follow. NBC News has reported that about 90 percent of U.S. parents spank their children. In addition, a 1992 survey reported that 59 percent of pediatricians support the practice (“When Spankings Are Abuse”). It is important to recognize that in our society most parents and many of our infant and child care authorities, do not classify spanking as hitting or physical punishment. By a magnificent denial of reality, it is often described as a “love tap” or “pat’ or “harmless swat” or “loving reminder”. Since spanking has traditionally been administered in the United States to almost all children for generations, it is considered a natural part of growing up, the same as feeding.
@@Other more bizarre methods of corporal punishment, such as burning children with fire and other forms of heat, having them kneel on hard objects, or forcing them to stand for many hours, are less common than they once were, but they are still practiced today. We do not know the current extent of their use, nor do we know the current extent of other kinds of physical torture. Throughout civilization, until fairly recently, there have been various kinds of commercial items produced to punish children; including whips, the notorious cat of nine tails, cages, and various shackling devices (Beekman). Since these products are no longer openly advertised and sold, one would expect, or at least hope, that they are not used any more to punish children.
@@While many countries now outlaw the physical punishment of children, only Austria and the Scandinavian countries completely ban hitting them. However, in the United States, corporal punishment of children by parents is legal and widely practiced. It is also legal in the educational system, despite the fact that it is prohibited in the schools of almost all other industrialized nations. The US, Canada and one state in Australia still continue the practice. Thirty-one of the states in the U.S. have banned corporal punishment in their schools. The twenty three others continue to allow teachers to hit and paddle their students when they deem it necessary (Corporal Punishment Fact Sheet). As a nation, we have been slow to understand the harmful effects that hitting has on our children, and we continue to defend our right to continue to hit them. We do not seem to be concerned that spanking and physically punishing our children creates a new generation who will in turn, continue to physically hurt their children. Based on our belief in the value of corporal punishment we are, in fact, likely to encourage our children to use it on our grandchildren.
@@It is frightening that many parents, educators, and others who are involved in child care today act out on children the cruel physical imposition that was inflicted on them by their parents and other care-givers while they were growing up. But even more frightening to me than the passage of physical cruelty to children through generations, is the passage of the belief that punishing children is a necessary part of raising them. Even parents and child-care experts who do not believe in corporal punishment advocate other kinds of punishment such as “time-out” and “logical consequences”. (Salk, “When Spankings Are Abuse”). Although many of these methods, which are designed to get children to behave, are viewed as appropriate ways to discipline children, they are, in reality, punishments, the purpose of which is to get children to obey their parents’ rules and regulations by imposing on them parental power and authority. The following are some of the ways, other than physical punishment, that are frequently used by parents to punish their children. These were not originally or specifically created as tools to help parents to get their children to behave properly. In general, these methods have been borrowed from the traditional methods used to punish adults who had committed crimes or violated laws, rules, customs, or conventional ways of behaving.

Isolation and Confinement
Isolation and confinement usually go together. A child is sent to his room, or made to stand or sit in a corner and usually not permitted to be with, or relate to others. The currently popular “time-out” is, of course, confinement, and also isolation, if the child must be alone during the “time-out” period. Less openly discussed forms of this type of punishment are the practices of tying up or chaining children, locking them in rooms, closets, cars, sheds or other areas of confinement. In general, isolation and confinement are for a brief time. However, it is not uncommon for the time period to extend into hours, and although much less common, can extend sometimes to days, weeks, and even months. Basically, isolation and confinement give children the message that they are inferior and unfit to be with other humans. Many children, if they are frequently punished in this manner will come to believe that they are different, “crazy” and unfit when compared to other children who do not seem to require or receive this type of banishment from society. Often, as they mature, these children act in accordance with what they have been made to believe about themselves.

Another method by which we attempt to teach children to behave is to deprive them of things. Most children are no longer sent to bed without supper. They are, however, denied privileges. Frequent items that are denied include dessert, sweets, toys, allowance or spending money, TV, music, movies, the car, the telephone, friends, or whatever the child likes and is important to him. The length of time of the specific deprivation varies greatly, depending upon, among other things, the particular family, the nature of the misbehavior, and the age of the child. But all forms of deprivation – regardless of their length – teach children that their parents have the power to make their lives miserable by taking away what has meaning to them. Who would trust, or even like, someone with such power?

Grounding is similar to and overlaps the punishments of deprivation and confinement, but it is much worse. Here the focus is more on prohibiting activity away from the home, rather than on denying that which is external and material. It is being confined to the house rather than confined to a room in the house. The child is not allowed to go and to do. He is “grounded”, like a plane or “docked,” like a ship, made to be immobile, temporarily “out of commission”. He has lost, for a time, his freedom to move about, his freedom to be fully alive and to grow. The punishment of grounding is, ironically, a major way to teach children to be defiant and disobedient towards their parents, because it usually attacks life and growth in relation to one’s peers. One can tolerate, for a time, starvation and imprisonment. It is more difficult to lose one’s freedom to act and to be, especially for children.

Withdrawal of Affection
Highly recommended, as a means to control children’s behavior, even by supposed liberal and progressive child care experts (Spock, Salk), is the punishment known as withdrawal of affection. Why it is necessary for a parent to consciously do this, is puzzling to me because withdrawal of affection seems to occur automatically (at least temporarily), to most people when someone (including one’s child) does something we strongly dislike or which hurts us. Momentary loss of affectionate or tender feelings toward another is a natural part of human relationships and serves to communicate to a significant other what we, as an individual, personally like or dislike. Humans are able to enhance this automatic non-verbal communication with language. However, even without language, the message gets across. Babies communicate their likes and dislikes quite effectively, without a fully-developed language, all the time – that is, if they have someone who is attentively listening and watching.
@@The communication of both positive and negative feelings is an important way that our species learns to live with, accommodate to, and collaborate with one another. It is an essential part of the human nurturing process. Mother and child are continually accommodating to each other: finding mutually comfortable nursing and carrying positions, dealing with biting of the breast as the child grows teeth, accommodation to the child’s increasing development and changing capabilities, the birth of a sibling, and, from the moment of birth, the parents’ cultural values and priorities.
@@Affectionate feelings, and the absence of such feelings, are spontaneous reactions in human relationships. When affection is consciously withdrawn as a means to control another, we are dealing with a different kind of human interaction than the integrative one described in the previous paragraph. Exploiting another person’s emotional vulnerability is not an integrative act but rather an act which ultimately alienates the other person. It is a dishonest use of love. It is fake love. The conscious withdrawal of affection by a parent in order to get the child to behave in the manner the parent desires is simply a way of exploiting the child’s need for affection from the parent. It is treating caring and love as commodities which can be given or taken away whenever the parent wishes. Affection becomes a power tool, a bribe, rather than an emotion. When withdrawal of affection and love is consciously and regularly used as a way to punish children, their human capacity to love, cherish, and trust another person, becomes tarnished. The child’s critical need for parental love, security, and protection has been abused.

Some Other Ways Frequently Used To Punish Children
There are, of course, other ways that children have been, and continue to be, punished than the ones I have already detailed. We no longer punish adults by public whipping or by exposing them to public scorn by placing them in a pillory or stock or ducking stool. But children are still punished, if not by such extreme measures, then by intentionally embarrassing and humiliating them. It is considered proper in rearing children to make them feel ashamed about their behavior, and to humiliate and disgrace them in front of others. Dunce caps, as well as wearing and carrying signs about one’s bad behavior, are still used by parents, teachers and school officials, although not as much as they were in the early part of this century. Ridicule and verbal abuse, both in the home and in public, are common methods used by parents and other authoritarians to make children feel badly about themselves and their behavior.
@@Another common way of punishing children is to frighten them. They are told about, and threatened with, images of bogeymen, monsters, God, the devil, animals, hell, or whatever humans can invent, to terrorize children in order to get them to behave. This form of mental torture is preferred by many parents because it allows the parent to let someone else do the “dirty work”. It is not the parent who will harm the child but somebody, or something, else. This form of punishment makes children a little “crazy”, and when used extensively, very “crazy”.
@@One other commonly used punishment, which on the surface appears to be benign, is the assignment of chores or additional chores as punishment for “bad” behavior. Of course, this kind of punishment is not so benign if the chores are extremely strenuous or so prolonged that they can be physically harmful to the child. In addition, if the chores hinder the child greatly from other more desirable activities, the child is then receiving “double” punishment, which is not only unfair, but doubly painful. The assignment of chores as punishment can lead children to resent and hate the chores that need to be accepted as a natural part of learning, working, and caring for oneself and others. Chore-punishment may not hurt a child as much as other punishments, but, as do all punishments, it teaches children that it is all right to impose your will on another if you believe your cause is just.

Punishment And Parent-Child Alienation
It is strange to me that parents who punish their child do not seem to recognize that, not only are they harming the child, but they are also harming their relationship with the child. But perhaps they do recognize this fact, and that is why the statement by parents, “This hurts me more than it does you,” has long been a part of the child punishment ritual. Intentionally hurting another person leads the injured person to be afraid of, and distrustful of, the person who has hurt them, especially if the hurting person indicates that they have the right to hurt the victim, and that they will continue to hurt the victim, whenever they deem it necessary.
@@Punishment of children alienates them from their parents and increases children’s distrust of those who, biologically, are supposed to provide them with the security of feeling and knowing that they are not separate in the world. Children, because they are dependent on their parents for so many essential things, usually have little choice but to accept the reality that punishment and hurt are part of their relationship with their parents. However, as they get older, children of punitive parents are more likely, as compared with children who are not punished, to lie to, to not confide in, and to conceal their behaviors from their parents. This is not part of the normal growth pattern of becoming a person who is less dependent on their parents, but rather a reflection of the fact that these children do not trust their parents to be understanding, empathic, or to treat them kindly. The punishment these children received when they were younger has taught them that when they are involved in problematic behavior, their personal integrity and rights as a person will be ignored, violated and not respected by their parents. They have received the true message of punishment, which is to banish behavior which appears to be negative, rather than to try to understand it.

Does Punishing Children Work?
Does punishing children work? It definitely helps parents to believe that they are in control of their child. They are able to relax for a while until the next misdeed. Does punishment change children’s behavior? Yes, but only for a brief time. Usually children will continue to do the same things they were punished for, if they think they can get away with it.
@@One of the troubles with punishment as a way to teach children proper social behavior, aside from the infliction of pain, is that it makes children feel weak, impotent and incapable. Punishment teaches children to look to external authority to decide for them how they should behave, rather than looking to themselves. They do not learn how, in collaboration with others, to make choices; they do not learn how to decide what is good for them and for those who are important to them. What they learn instead is to submit to authority and power, to obey. By being punished and treated as inferior beings, they become inferior beings – they do not develop the power of the human individual to love and trust. Children who are regularly punished learn to fear their parents. They learn the behaviors that their parents like and don’t like and also, how to hide these behaviors from their parents. They develop “proper” behavior out of fear, not choice.
@@Some children openly defy their punitive parents. These children usually end up getting into worse trouble with their parents, and with other authorities as they mature. Most children, however, go underground. In order to protect themselves from parental power they develop a “good”, submissive-to-authority, social pose to hide their secret misbehaviors and improper thoughts and feelings. Their social behavior is not genuine because it has little to do with who they really are. Once out of the realm of authoritarian control, they adopt new ways and new codes consistent with the values and priorities of their peers. They go in any direction the wind blows to avoid disapproval and to gain approval. The lack of respect their parents had for them has prevented them from developing respect for themselves.

Why We Hurt Our Children
The question that must be asked is why we are, and have been, so willing to hurt our children in order to get them to behave – to treat them as criminals, slaves and animals. Of course, we are, in part, following the traditional ways of treating children for centuries of civilization. But there is more to it than just tradition. We have in the past century learned a great deal more than we knew before about children’s emotional and social development and their mental health. This information is not kept secret from the public. Most of us even seem to recognize and accept that what happens to children in their early years has a great deal to do with the kind of persons they become. Yet, we continue to punish them. Do we not see the harm we do? Why do we not stop consciously hurting our children?
@@For some parents, whose own punishment as children was accompanied by rage, hatred, and sadism, punishing their own children is an opportunity for them to legally inflict pain on another human being – a chance to get back at someone for the pain that they suffered. But for most parents, it is a matter of controlling behavior which they were made to control in their own childhood. It is a matter of ignorance, of passing on malevolent and inappropriate behavior toward children which they learned to accept as appropriate in their own childhoods. They are acting from an attitude that says it is just and right to hurt children in order to achieve certain ends. They will defend their belief that their own parents were right to punish them, that they are right to punish their children, and that their children will be right to punish their children. “After all,” so many parents say, “how else can you get them to behave?” And many, even when they are told “how”, still punish their children. On a deeper psychological and social level, parental punishers of their children do so because their children make them anxious by confronting them with behaviors and feelings which the parents themselves have learned to hide, suppress, repress, and disown. They must condition their children as they were conditioned.
@@Children threaten our identity, security, and reality. We harm them in order to stop our perceived threat that their behavior will harm us. It is a myth that we punish children for their own good. We punish children so that we will be secure. Our children have the power to elicit our tender and loving feelings. They also have the power to frighten, anger, and embarrass us. From being punished, children learn to distrust and fear their parents. Other than that, children and parents learn nothing. By condoning punishment as a disciplinary tool, we perpetuate the acceptability of the use of force and power to control others. At the same time we perpetuate our ignorance and our fear. We use punishment in order to stop behavior rather than having the courage to confront and understand it. By openly dealing with the underlying causes of the child’s behavior, both parent and child have the opportunity to get a better and more realistic view of the child’s actions, and any potential danger to the child and/or to the parent. We evolved to protect children from harm, not to harm them.
@@The belief in our society that punishing children will make them into social beings reveals our alienation from the socialization process that is normal and natural to our species. We become genuine social beings from developing in relation to tender, nurturing, and non-harmful others. Alienated from our own need for tenderness, and hardened since birth by life in a non-nurturing society, we teach our children that punishing them is proper parenting that will help them to grow right and to be good. We do not seem to understand that punishment does not make children social, it merely teaches them to fit into a society which separates us from each other – a society which is not based on the human capacity for tenderness or on concern for another, but on the absence of these. Punishing our children sabotages the nurturing and protective feelings that we evolved to have towards them. It destroys the unity of parent and child. It teaches us to violate the rights of others. As a socially condoned practice in child rearing, it damages and insults the human species.

1 Leach, Penelope. Children First. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, p. 125.

Beekman, Daniel. The Mechanical Baby. Westport, CT: Laurence Hill, 1977.
Bermant, Gordon, ed. Perspectives on Animal Behavior. Glenview, Il: Scott Foresman, 1973.
Center for Effective Discipline. “Corporal Punishment Fact Sheet”. Columbus, Ohio: 1998.
deMause, Lloyd. The History of Childhood. New York: The Psychohistory Press, 1974.
Evans, R. I. Dialogue With Eric Erickson. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1969.
Leach, Penelope. Children First. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
Neill, A. S. “Freedom Works.” Children’s Rights. Ed. Paul Adams. New York: Praeger, 1971.
Salk, Lee. How to Raise a Human Being. New York: Random House, 1969.
Schwartz, Theodore. Socialization as Cultural Transmission. As quoted and referenced in Nanda, Serena. Cultural Anthropology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1987. 131.
Spock, Benjamin. Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957.
Turtle, W. J. Dr. Turtle’s Babies. New York: W. B. Saunders, 1973.

This essay was authored by James Kimmel, Ph.D

Biography of James Kimmel (1928 – 2001)

James Kimmel was born and grew up in New York City. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology from New York University and worked for twenty years as a clinical psychologist and a psychotherapist. His significant teachers, supervisors, mentors and personal analyst were primarily associated with The William Alanson White Psychoanalytic Institute2 and followers of the interpersonal theories of Harry Stack Sullivan3.
@@As a psychologist, Dr. Kimmel worked in various settings including the pediatrics ward of a chronic disease hospital, a mental hospital, out-patient therapy centers, a residential center for children and his own private practice. In addition, he supervised the work of child psychotherapists and teachers of emotionally disturbed children. He was the clinical director of a school for autistic and psychotic children and a co-founder and director of For Children – A Child Therapy Center.
@@Dr. Kimmel had three children; he learned a great deal from his children: about himself, child development and what it means to be human before parents and culture impose their ideas. According to Dr. Kimmel, none of his children were ever spanked, punished or even disciplined. They were all breast-fed.
@@According to Dr. Kimmel, his involvement with all three of his children and his participation in their development and growth to adulthood was easily the most profound experience of his life.
@@In 1971, Dr. Kimmel and his wife moved to a small town in the mountains of New York and in 1978 to Nevada. Following these moves, he began to write and develop his skills in his long time interest in sculpture; he became a sculptor, a toy-maker, a poet, an author, and a student of anthropology, animal behavior and the history of parenting.
@@In later years, Dr. Kimmel and his wife lived in Tucson, Arizona. He grew to believe that our conventional ways of caring for infants and children promote emotional disturbance, anti-social behavior and general misery in our population. His efforts in the mental health field became devoted to the prevention of emotional disturbance in our society rather than to the amelioration of an individual’s problems in living.

To read more of Dr. Kimmel’s essays, please visit


2For more information about The William Alanson White Psychoanalytic Institute, visit

3For more information about Harry Stack Sullivan visit:

Noted child advocate underscores historical roots of ‘whoopings’

EVERY THREE MINUTES of every day, a black child is abused or neglected, and one dies from that abuse or neglect at the hands of parents or parental figures.
@@That cycle of corporal punishment in black families has historical roots, according to Stacey Patton, who was keynote speaker at Friday’s 22nd annual forum on child abuse and neglect at Indiana University Northwest.
The forum was sponsored by the IUN School of Public and Environmental Affairs in observance of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Continuing education credits were available to foster parents and licensed social workers who participated.
A noted author, scholar and child advocate, Patton knows firsthand about the trauma of physical abuse. Born in Montclair, New Jersey, Patton spent the first five years of her childhood in foster care before being adopted by abusive parents.
At age 12, she ran away from home and spent the next few years being shuttled between foster homes and youth shelters before winning a full scholarship to Lawrenceville Prep School near Princeton, New Jersey.
In 2007, Patton published a book about her experiences, That Mean Old Yesterday. The book includes a discussion of the historical roots and impact of physical discipline of children in African-American families. In April 2011, she launched an online portal designed to teach alternatives to physical discipline of children.
“My adoptive mother would say ‘I whoop you because I love you’ before and after her beating rituals,” Patton said.
The history of African-Americans in America has “conditioned us to accept that having somebody control and beat us when we are young is somehow at the heart of our success and ability to become law-abiding productive adults,” she said.
It’s a style of parenting that is passed on from generation to generation, Patton said.
“The fact that so many black people legitimize abuse as a form of responsible parenting, effectively demonstrates how the inter-generational transmission of trauma continues to mentally shackle us and perpetuates rampant abuse which feeds a disproportionate number of young into the foster care and juvenile justice industries,” she said.
Helping black families — both biological and foster — break that cycle involves learning important parenting skills such as patience, empathy, communication skills and the ability to solve problems, Patton said.
She urged child welfare professionals to appreciate why some parents are incapable of nurturing their children in healthy, nonviolent ways.
“To fight child abuse, it’s not enough just to remove children from dangerous situations or to investigate allegations of child abuse,” Patton said. “Social service professionals and others engaged in the fight need to become culturally competent by developing a stronger understanding of the link between child abuse and the history of personal and cultural trauma.”
The preceding article article appeared on April 28, 2012 in, it was authored by Lu Ann Franklin, Times Correspondent.

Dr. Stacey Patton is a friend and fellow Board Member of
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education.

Dr. Patton’s memoir is That Mean Old Yesterday.
She can be reached at
Visit and

How to Prevent Violent Criminal Behavior in the Next Generation

“The child’s inclination to cooperation is challenged from the very first day. The immense importance of the mother in this respect can be clearly recognized. She stands on the threshold of the development of social feeling. The biological heritage of social feeling is entrusted to her charge. She can strengthen or hinder contact by the help she gives the child in little things, in bathing him, in providing all that a helpless infant is in need of. Her relations with the child, her knowledge, and her aptitude are decisive factors … It may readily be accepted that contact with the mother is of the highest importance for the development of human social feeling … We probably owe to the maternal sense of contact the largest part of human social feeling, and along with it the essential continuance of human civilization.”1
Alfred Adler

“Becoming a biological parent, parentage, is a matter of a few minutes; becoming a responsible parent, parenthood, is something else again, a matter of adequate preparation … Every birth should be regarded as a contribution to society as well as to the family and to the child that has been born. A gift to be treated with gratitude and reverence, so that every child may be from birth assured of the optimum conditions for development and fulfillment. Anything short of this is to disinherit the newborn of his birthright and to deprive his society of a cooperating and contributing member.”2
Ashley Montagu

One of the worst diseases that ever ravaged humanity was smallpox. There was a time when about one in five who became infected died and almost everyone became infected. Survivors were left scarred and sometimes blind. In those days, no one could have foreseen that a simple procedure, vaccination, would eventually provide protection to everyone and cause the eradication of smallpox from the earth.
@@The smallpox virus and criminal behavior have several features in common. Both affect only the human species. Both are spread infectiously from one person to the next. Both are preventable by making the potential host immune. Once eliminated, neither spontaneously regenerates.
@@Today it is equally possible to immunize a child against criminality as it is against smallpox.

How can it be done?
We can answer this question by examining our prison population and determining who’s not present. We must ask, is there a common ingredient in the lives of those who don’t become criminals and is also consistently absent from the lives of those who do become criminals?
The answer is yes, there is. This key ingredient, this precious stuff that seems to be associated exclusively with people who never become candidates for the penitentiary has been identified, and there is no reason that it cannot be introduced universally. When that is done, crime and violence will go the way of smallpox.

Who’s not in prison?
The person whose closest caretakers used methods of infant care and child rearing that were gentle, patient and loving is not in prison. The person who sensed from earliest infancy that adults are the source of safety, security and comfort is not in prison. The person who always felt wanted is not in prison. The person who was respected, encouraged to explore and inquire is not in prison. The person who grew up seeing family members and others treat each other with respect and honor each others’ privacy and dignity is not in prison. The person who had ample exposure in childhood to people who used reasoning, not violence, to solve problems is not in prison. The person whose physical and emotional needs during infancy and childhood were met is not in prison. To summarize: The child who is reared in an attentive, supportive, nonviolent family will never spend time behind bars.
@@To the skeptical reader, I offer the following challenge. Visit any prison and try to identify just one incarcerated felon who was brought up in a household where harmonious interaction was the norm. You will not succeed!

Who is in prison?
You will find people who were born into households where every other adult family member, including older siblings, had the right to inflict whippings at whim and often did. You will find people who in childhood were never cuddled, hugged, played with, protected, guided, comforted, soothed, read to, listened to or tucked in but mainly growled at, barked at, insulted, smacked and ignored. You will find people who never had a single possession that was not subject to being wrenched away by somebody stronger. You will find people who grew up in families where the late night sound of someone whipping a colicky infant with a wire coat hanger was nothing out of the ordinary. You will find people who in childhood, even in infancy, were targets for adults’ sexual appetites. You will find people who throughout their developmental years were rarely or never touched by any hand except in ways that frighten, hurt and leave bruises.
@@Dr. Morris Wessel puts it this way: “Beaten and battered children are more likely to become adults who have inadequate control of their aggressive feelings, who therefore strike out mercilessly against children, spouses, friends and at times even other members of society. The violence inflicted on children by their closest relatives and caretakers has a long-lasting and horrifying effect. These children grow up with the idea that, when another person’s behavior is displeasing to them, violent acts against that person are appropriate ways to deal with feelings of displeasure. In short, members of each adult generation tend to reproduce in their interpersonal relationships the violence which they experienced in their childhood.”3
@@In the same vein, Dr. Philip Greven writes: “The most visible public outcome of early violence and coercion in the name of discipline is the active aggression that begins to shape the character and behavior in childhood and continues, in far too many instances, throughout the lives of those who suffered most in their earliest years. Aggressive children often become aggressive adults who often produce more aggressive children, in a cycle that endures generation after generation. Corporal punishments always figure prominently in the roots of adolescent and adult aggressiveness, especially in those manifestations that take antisocial form, such as delinquency and criminality.”4

Blaming poverty
Many experts blame violence and criminality on poverty. This is the standard view among advocates for the disadvantaged, but the theory falls apart the moment we attempt to apply it to violence and criminality among the affluent. Consider the Mafia. The source of their bad behavior has nothing to do with the state of their finances but everything to do with how they were treated as children.

@@ “… And later, when I got to meet their kids, I was amazed at how much trouble the kids gave them. The kids were always in trouble. They were always in fights. They wouldn’t go to school. They’d disappear from home. The women would beat their kids blue with broom handles and leather belts, but the kids wouldn’t pay any attention …” Nicholas Pileggi, Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, p. 73.

The real culprit
Mistreatment of children beginning at infancy, perpetrated by parents and other primary caretakers, is what infects children with the virus of violence. In much the same way that it interferes with the bonding process between child and parent, it stunts the child’s ability to become socially integrated with the larger law-abiding community. It handicaps the child with a lifetime supply of anger. It makes every future irritation seem a mortal attack; every delay of gratification, a personal insult. It models for the child no essential problem-solving skills, but instead: selfishness, aggression, rage and tyranny. It makes escape by means of drugs and alcohol appealing options, irresistible to many. The worse and the earlier the mistreatment, the more severe the outcome.
Researchers Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck have found that the first indicators of delinquency are usually recognizable in children between the ages of 3 and 6, and almost always before 11.5 Yet programs and services that purport to address the delinquency problem almost invariably are aimed at adolescents and young adults. Obviously such programs are of no value to the babies still at home, being abused and neglected, for whom intervention now would make all the difference later. As for parents whose children have been removed by the courts for their safety and who are required to take parenting classes as a condition for being reunited with their children, such intervention comes only after the damage has been done. In many cases, that is too late to significantly benefit either child or parent.
Precisely because their most urgent needs are not met, abused infants grow into adults who remain fixated on their own feelings of frustration. Such people have difficulty recognizing anyone’s needs other than their own. When they become parents, they are unable to cope with the demands placed on them by an infant. They remain at a stage of arrested development, all the while searching for relief from the chronic anger that derives from events impossible for them to remember — anger that smolders beneath the surface and erupts all too easily when a defenseless target comes within arm’s reach.
Being deprived babies themselves and feeling rudely displaced by their own offspring, they are spontaneously hostile to them. They spank as naturally as they were spanked. They bully their growing children as they were bullied. They produce damaged children who in turn become inept parents who produce more damaged children.
When such a pattern is the norm in society, the courts stay busy and the prisons stay filled.

Condoning violence against children
Our laws and cultural values are unambiguous concerning adults who physically attack or threaten other adults. Such behavior is recognized as criminal and we hold the perpetrators accountable. Why then, when so much is at stake for society, do we accept the excuses of child batterers? Why do we become interested in the needs of children only after they have been terribly victimized, or have become delinquents victimizing others?
@@The answer is not complicated. Until we can honestly acknowledge the mistreatment we’ve experienced in our own childhood and examine the shortcomings of our own parents, we will be incapable of feeling sympathy for any child abused as we were. To the extent we feel compelled to defend our parents and guard their secrets, we will do the same for others. We will look the other way. By insisting that we “turned out OK” we are really trying to reassure ourselves and to divert our own attention from deeply unpleasant memories.
@@That’s why when someone says, “spanking is abuse,” many of us react as though a door that has been locked since infancy is about to be flung open, a door that has prevented us from committing the most dangerous, most unpardonable act of disloyalty imaginable: disloyalty to the parent. We fear that by unlocking that door we might fall through into an abyss, abandoned and cut off from any possibility of reconciliation with the parents we love.
@@That fear is irrational. Dishonesty about what was done to our generation and what we are doing and allowing to be done to the next generation is the real danger and the real sin.
@@Reconciliation and healing can only begin with an acknowledgment of the truth, for it is futile to hope that lies, evasions and excuses can somehow erase the memory and the pain of past injuries.

Three Steps Toward a Solution

Repeal bad laws
We should rescind legislation regarding children’s status that is based on the mythical distinction between spanking and battery. Every state in the U.S. has such laws.
@@There can be no rational excuse for giving children less protection against battery than adults have. Because of such exclusions and the anti-child prejudices they reinforce, children in the United States today receive no better legal protection against cruel treatment than did slaves prior to emancipation. Now is the time to repeal the Jim Crow laws against children and extend to them the same constitutional guarantees that are taken for granted by every other class of citizen.

Educate for parenthood
The person who was raised by incompetents never witnessed competent parenting and has been taught nothing about the needs and nurturing of infants is seriously, educationally deprived. Such a person poses a far greater potential problem for society than the person who has not learned to read or calculate. Enlightened educators must finally assume the responsibility for preparing young people for their most important role in life: parenthood.

Counsel new parents
All new parents should receive sound advice about nurturing, nonviolent parenting. Programs for counseling, monitoring and early intervention with high-risk parents, similar to the one now in place in Hawaii, should be implemented everywhere. Families deemed high-risk should be enrolled in programs of ongoing counseling and home monitoring. Where needed, skilled counselors should help convince mothers and fathers, grandparents and other caretakers that the traditional examples they have been shown and the advice they have been given about “disciplining” children are bad examples and bad advice.
@@In cases where babies need to be rescued, it should be done with a minimum of delay. Experience has taught us that when we fail to protect them early, we pay a hundredfold later.

I am confident that our society will find the moral courage to end its denial of this simple and terrible truth: Violent criminals are made. We ourselves create them at home.
@@Clearly, the solution does not lie in more prisons and swifter, harsher punishments nor in heroic efforts to rehabilitate profoundly damaged, dangerous adults. By now we should have had enough of these high-cost, low-yield, after-the-fact remedies. Honest answers lie in true understanding of the disease at its source, active prevention and compassionate early intervention.

1. Alfred Adler, Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind (1939) quoted in Ashley Montagu, Man Observed, New York: Tower Publications 1971, p. 65.
2. Ibid., p. 45.
3. Communication to the author from Dr. Morris Wessel, Professor of Pediatric Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine.
4. Philip Greven, Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), pp. 193-194.
5. Sheldon Glueck,”Ten Years of Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency: An Examination of Criticisms,” in Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, Ventures in Criminology: Collected Recent Papers (London:Travistock Publications, 1964), p. 285.

Crosby, Gary, Going My Own Way. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1983. Especially see Chapter Two, “Getting it.”
Gibson, Ian, The English Vice. London: Duckworth, 1978.
Gilmore, Mikal, Shot in the Heart. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1994.
Greven, Philip, Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse. New York: Random House, 1991.
Hyman, I. A., Reading, Writing and the Hickory Stick: The Appalling Story of Physical and Psychological Violence in American Schools. Boston: Lexington Books, 1990.
Johnson, Tom, The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
Miller, Alice, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,1983.
. . ., Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.
. . ., Banished Knowledge. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
. . ., Breaking Down the Wall of Silence. New York: Dutton,1991.
. . ., The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self. Basic Books, 1981
Montagu, Ashley, Man Observed. New York: Tower Publications,1971. Especially see Chapter 3, “Crime and Society.”
Riak, Jordan, Plain Talk about Spanking. PTAVE, 1982
. . ., Hablando francamente sobre el pegarles a los niños.
Straus, Murray A., Beating the Devil out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families. New York: Free Press, 1994.
De Zulueta, Felicity, From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1994
This essay was authored by Jordan Riak in 1995.

Readers are invited to listen to this article narrated by Stefan Molyneux (host of at–I0X3-tOwE

Jordan Riak is the Founder and Executive Director of
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, Inc.
(founded in 1978)

Mr. Riak can be reached at

P.O. Box 1033
Alamo, CA 94507-7033

(925) 831-1661

A Bright Line Not Yet Drawn

HAVE YOU EVER hit a child? If so, join the club: Roughly 80 percent of American parents admit that they have slapped, spanked, or struck their children. And 19 states still allow corporal punishment in public schools, where about 225,000 students are “paddled” each year.

That’s in stark contrast to the rest of the world, which has increasingly prohibited the physical punishment of children. Americans like to see themselves as being at the forefront of historical change, leading humanity to ever more freedom and progress. But when it comes to corporal punishment of children, we’re well behind the curve.

Exhibit A is William Adams, a county judge in Texas who was captured on video beating his then-16-year-old daughter with a belt while cursing and shouting for some seven minutes. The 2004 video recently went viral after Adams’ daughter posted it online. The judge was suspended from the bench with pay pending an investigation, but he is unlikely to face criminal charges.

In many other countries, however, any physical punishment of a child is by definition criminal. Starting with Sweden in 1979, 31 nations have passed laws barring parents from striking their children. Another 70 have banned corporal punishment in schools.

Puritan influence
So why not America? It begins with our Puritan foreparents, whose true motives are often blurred in the turkey-fed haze of Thanksgiving. Rather than seeking religious freedom for everyone, as many Americans still believe, the Puritans wanted everyone to follow the dictates of their religion. So they set up rules and institutions reflecting biblical teachings, including that of Proverbs 13:24: “He that spareth the rod hateth his son, but he that loveth him chasteneth him.”

And chasteneth they did — with rods and more. “Surely there is in all children a stubbornness, and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride, which must in the first place be broken and beaten down,” one Puritan minister wrote. “For the beating, and keeping down of this stubbornness, parents must provide carefully.”

If they didn’t, schools stepped into the breach. Established to teach children how to read the Bible, Puritan schools also disciplined them according to it. “Because the Rodd of Correction is an ordinance of God … the schoolmaster for the tyme beeing shall have full power to minister correction to all or any of his schollers,” the town leaders of Dorchester, Mass., resolved in 1645, “and no parent or other of the Inhabitants shall hinder or goe about to hinder the master therein.”

As the last clause suggests, some people were already resisting the Puritans’ harsh regime then. And when the Founding Fathers established a new national government a century later, they took pains to separate it from religious authority.

They also limited its powers, leaving Americans free to pursue their happiness as they saw fit. Likewise, the new state governments gave citizens extraordinary leeway in conducting their lives. That meant most forms of corporal punishment continued, in homes and in schools. Campaigns against the practice tended to focus on its most extreme cases, which became known as “abuse.”

It wasn’t until the 1960s that most states passed laws requiring the reporting of child abuse to authorities. And the federal government didn’t address the issue until 1974, when it authorized funds to help states prevent acts resulting in “death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation” of children.

Yet the very effort to define child abuse actually reinforced corporal punishment by legitimizing acts that did not meet the definition. In 1977, the Supreme Court declared that corporal corrections in schools do not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Any “severe” or “excessive” punishments were already barred under existing “civil and criminal sanctions for abuse,” the court noted.

That’s the standard governing parents, too: Hitting is OK, but abuse isn’t. When does one shade into the other? We leave that determination to adults like William Adams, who has presided over many child-abuse cases as a judge.

Where his own behavior is concerned, though, Adams can’t seem to tell the difference. “In my mind, I haven’t done anything wrong other than discipline my child,” he told an interviewer after his daughter posted the video.

In the video, Adams shouts as he strikes his daughter repeatedly with a belt: “Bend over the fucking bed! Lay down or I’ll spank your fucking face!” His daughter, by the way, has ataxic cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder affecting physical coordination.

The infraction that earned her this punishment? Illegally downloading games from the Internet.

Do we want William Adams — or anybody else — deciding when corporal punishment descends into abuse? To really stop child abuse, we need to stop adults from hitting children — period. The rest of the world is already figuring that out. Let’s hope America catches up soon.

by Jonathan Zimmerman
as published in the Philadelphia Inquirer November 29, 2011 © 2011

Jonathan Zimmerman, Ph.D. is Professor of Education and History and Director of the History of Education Program, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. He also holds an appointment in the Department of History of NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

A former Peace Corps volunteer and high school teacher, Zimmerman is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory (Yale University Press, 2009). His academic articles have appeared in the Journal of American History, the Teachers College Record, and History of Education Quarterly. Zimmerman is also a frequent op-ed contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic and other popular newspapers and magazines.

Prof. Zimmerman can be reached at