We’re joined this week on the podcast by parenting expert Tedd Tripp. Dr. Tripp, the topic of physical punishment in raising children is in the news here in Minnesota, with the recent issues surrounding Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, and the accusations that he left his four-year-old son with dozens of wounds on his legs, crossing a line of what is reasonable for physical discipline. Most people seem to see a difference between discipline and abuse, but situations like Peterson’s expose a lot of folks in culture who simply want to do away with spanking altogether — “If there’s a chance it can be done wrong, let’s not do it at all.” So, speak to this biblically. What’s the purpose of reasonable, physical discipline in raising children — “the rod” as the Bible calls it? And maybe share with us your own story as a young parent and how you came to embrace this practice.
Well, spanking is a very unpopular topic. I often laugh about this. The first time I ever taught a series and talked about spanking was in 1976. I have talked about it more times than I can remember, and I am losing the battle because fewer and fewer Christian people are willing to embrace it. It is a hard thing for us in our culture. But, I know my personal story is that I came of age in the late sixties; I got married in 1968. I had a son in 1969. Even while I was a Christian, I had still very much imbibed the thoughts of the age — be a free spirit and all that kind of stuff. And so I wasn’t going to do anything to curb my young son who was born in 1969.
Spare the Rod?
By the early seventies we were in trouble. I mean this kid was wild and unruly, and we heard teaching from the word of God that talked about spanking and took us through the passages in Proverbs, and we were very compelled by those passages. And I remember wrestling with the fact that I did not want to spank my children. I didn’t. Everything within me — my whole political and social philosophy of life — was completely contrary to what I could see God was calling me to do. And I was brought reluctantly to embrace what God had called me to do and tried to sort out how to do this in ways that are gracious and appropriate and not destructive.
Now, you know, that son is now 45 years old. I cannot imagine what his life would be — or our lives with our other two children would have been — if we had never gotten a hold of this biblical truth. So, I think one of the reasons why I am an advocate of spanking is I am persuaded it is what God calls us to do. And it is a matter of faith and obedience for me.
Spanking Young Children
But what is the purpose of it? I think spanking is most effective with younger children. Spanking gets their attention. It gives weight to your words. It humbles them. They want to avoid it. And it becomes very effective, particularly with little children where you can’t really reason with them, and they are not capable of complex reasoning. It is a very effective way of helping them to understand the importance of obeying mommy and daddy. So I think that it is indispensable in those early years particularly.
“I was brought reluctantly to embrace what God had called me to do and tried to sort out how to do this in ways that are gracious and appropriate and not destructive.”
Now as kids get older, they get more stoic about it. And what it would take to make the same impression, say, on a twelve-year-old that you make on a two-year-old with a couple of swats on the fatty part of his bottom, you would have to be doing something very excessive with a 12-year-old. So I think obviously as kids get older, we are going to turn to other things. But I think in those early years there is no substitute for it.
And the nice thing, too, with spanking is that when a child is spanked, it is over. I mean, he is disciplined. I talk about steps to take in the book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, but he is disciplined. And then you take him up on your lap. You tell him how much you love him. You assure him. I used to say to my kids, “Daddy hates to spank you. I hope I never have to spank you again.” I told them that hundreds of times. And by and by, the day came when they didn't require that kind of discipline.
From Discipline to Restoration
I think the nice thing with spanking is that when you are done, you restore the child. You hug him. You pray with him. It is over. He is not in the doghouse. You do not have to ask yourself, “Should we do something fun later in the day? Should we bring him along? After all, he was bad this morning.” No, that was done. It has been cured. It is behind us. We are moving on. And I think it is just such a much more sane way to interact with kids — to be able to put the discipline behind you and move on — than other methods of discipline like time outs that require time, or sitting on the chair, or, “No one can talk to you when you are on the chair,” and that kind of stuff. In my mind, that is much more destructive than a gracious, timely, appropriate use of physical discipline with little kids.
“The nice thing with spanking is that when you are done, you restore the child.”
I was blessed to have been raised in a home where I did get disciplined as a kid for defiant behavior, at least a few times. And my kids love hearing stories of when dad got spanked as a kid. I find that whenever there’s a lack of attention in family worship, I know I can just weave in one of those spanking stories into whatever we’re talking about — even if I’ve told the story ten thousand times, I know it will arrest their attention.
All three of our kids — well, only three of them have children — were spanked, and I have nine grandchildren. They have all been spanked. And they are happy children, and my children are not abusive parents. So it really does bear good fruit for kids.