Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

There is No “Spanking Debate”

spanking article

An excellent article by journalist Lisa Belkin was posted over at Huffington Post a few days ago called Why Does Everyone Pretend There’s A ‘Spanking Debate’?. It is a decisive blow against physical punishment of children and a searing indictment of false balance in the media, giving equal time to science and quackery.

Sure, Huffington Post puts out a lot of articles that are crap, but this one is golden.

Spanking was a subject of debate on every parenting website on the continent during the past week, and I don’t understand why.

Yes, I know why it was a topic of conversation — the prestigious journal Pediatrics released a study early in the week showing a possible link between childhood spanking and mental health struggles later in that child’s life, and that was news worth talking about.

What I don’t understand is why it was a debate. By definition, that would require two sides. I see only one.

Precisely. There is no real debate. The evidence is clear-cut and it is against physical punishment of children. It is ineffective for obtaining long-term compliance. It is associated with more physical and verbal aggression and less capacity to feel empathy. Children who are physically punished are more likely to develop mental conditions as children and as an adult. It causes the relationship between the parent and child to deteriorate. The list of the negative impacts of physical punishment of children can be made long. In fact, calling it “spanking” is just an Orwellian way to make it sound less harmful.

A suitable analogy for vaccine denialism is made:

. In that way the spanking conversation is like the vaccine “debate.” In spite of no credible evidence of a link with autism, and many studies that tried and failed to find such a link, there are some minds that just won’t change.

Belkin also tackles some of the excuses people use for using physical punishment:

Your parents hit you, and you are okay? They probably smoked around you, too, and they didn’t make you wear a seatbelt, either, but we know better now. Also, might I respectfully ask how you know that you’re okay? Perhaps if your parents hadn’t hit their kids, you wouldn’t feel a need to hit your own?

It is the only thing that works when your children won’t listen? Swedish children are not running amok in the streets, and spanking has been illegal there since 1979. Sweden was the first of 32 countries — including Costa Rica, Israel, Kenya and most of Europe — to approve such a law.

Finally, Belkin points out the flawed nature of the he-said-she-said false balance in the media:

Some questions really don’t have two sides. “Is it okay to do something to your child that would land you in jail if you did it to a stranger on the street?” is one of those. You can phrase it other ways too — like “Is it okay to hurt a child because it serves your immediate goal when science shows it can lead to long-term harm?” But there is still just one answer.

And yet, we keep seeing it presented as a disagreement.


But there aren’t two sides. There is a preponderance of fact, and there are people who find it inconvenient to accept those facts.

Where, exactly is the debate?

Indeed, where exactly is the debate? Nowhere. It does not exist.

2 responses to “There is No “Spanking Debate”

  1. pulpjunk July 7, 2013 at 11:13

    I agree there is no debate in spanking, its child abuse

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