Why do we hit our children?

And why are we so sure...
It is for their own good?


by Jordan Riak

1992, Revised 1994, Revised 1996
Copyright is waived on this publication.

And Reprinted with permission of Jordan Riak


*'Spanking' is a euphemism. That is, it is a pleasant-sounding word for a practice that is anything but pleasant. We use it here because it is the most commonly recognized term in our language denoting violent behavior by adults toward children. 'Hitting,' 'beating,' and 'battery' are more accurate and more honest words, but we've decided to stay with 'spanking' here for ease of understanding.

Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE) offers Plain Talk about Spanking for the benefit of children everywhere. The ideas that you will read in this booklet are not new or revolutionary. There have always been wise and perceptive people in every civilized culture who have advocated nonviolent methods for socializing children. But, for the most part, their good advice has been ignored or rejected and the consequences to humanity have been incalculable. In these few pages we have attempted to extract the essence of their message and offer it once again. We express our deepest gratitude to our many friends for their enthusiasm, expert counsel and generous support.

...The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of death..
William Blake (1757-1827)
Auguries of Innocence, Lines 73, 74

TODAY one finds no support for spanking in the research and writing of acknowledged leaders in the behavioral sciences. This informed consensus has been building for many decades and its beginnings can be found centuries ago.

That is not to say there are no advocates for spanking, as indeed it would be false to claim there are no advocates for wife beating. Both practices are widespread and people who engage in either of them usually believe they have valid reasons.

Spanking, like wife beating, is physically and psychologically dangerous. The perceived short-term benefits to the doer are far outweighed by the actual and potential harm to the receiver.

The Lasting Effect on Children

Some researchers claim that every act of violence by an adult toward a child, no matter how brief or how mild, leaves a permanent emotional scar. The effect of these scars is cumulative. To some extent we can demonstrate this from personal experience. Most of us must admit that the most indelible and most unpleasant childhood memories are those of being hurt by our parents. Some people find the memory of such events so unpleasant they pretend that they were trivial, even funny. You'll notice that they smile when they describe what was done to them. It is shame, not pleasure, that makes them smile. As a protection against present pain, they disguise the memory of past feelings.

In an attempt to deny or minimize the dangers of spanking, many spankers have been heard to argue, "Spanking is very different from child abuse," or "A little smack on the bottom never did anybody any harm." But they are wrong.

A good comparison to spanking is food poisoning. In the majority of cases, the victims of food poisoning recover with no apparent, lasting ill effects. But who needs it? The mere fact that a person is likely to survive is hardly proof that the experience is beneficial.

Informed parents recognize that spanking their children is like lacing their food with a toxic substance. No good can result and the risk is great.

But some parents will ask, "How can you claim to be a responsible parent if you don't grab the child who is about to run out into traffic and deliver a good smack so that your warnings about the danger of the street will be remembered?"

In fact, being spanked throws children into a state of powerful emotional turmoil making it difficult for them to learn the lessons adults claim they are trying to teach. Delivering a "good smack" may indeed serve an adult's need to vent rage, but at the expense of causing rage in the child. While the adult's relief is transitory, the effect on the child is long-term. Spanking does not teach children that cars and trucks are dangerous. It teaches them that the grown-ups on whom they depend are dangerous.

Lost Trust

The experience of being spanked erodes trust which bonds child and parent. The spanked child is less able to regard the parent as a source of love, protection and comfort which are vital to every child's healthy development. In the child's eyes the parent now appears to be the source of danger and pain. Nurturing and protection of the child, which should be unconditional, are displaced by aggression. The child who is thus betrayed, like the child who is denied adequate food, warmth or rest, suffers and fails to mature optimally.


Some parents rarely spank or don't spank at all, but threaten to do terrible things. "If you don't keep quiet while Mommy is on the phone, I'm going to sew your mouth shut with a big needle." Or, "Somebody is going to cut your fingers off with a big scissors. That's what they do to naughty children who are always touching other people's things." They find it easy to manage children by these means - at least temporarily.

At first, while children believe adults' threats, they obey out of fear. But they soon learn to sneak and tell lies in order to evade the terrible punishments they believe await them. Later, as they discover the threats are empty, they conclude (correctly) that grown-ups also are liars.

When trust between children and their closest caretakers is damaged in this way, the children's ability to form trusting relationships with others is also damaged. This may render them incapable of ever achieving cooperation or intimacy with anyone. People who have been hurt in this way see all relationships as negotiations, as deals to be won or lost. They see honesty and trustfulness in others as weaknesses to be exploited, exactly as it was once done to them.


Spanking teaches children that human interaction is based on force, that might makes right. The more a child is spanked, the greater is the likelihood that that child will become an adult who deals with others, not by reason and good example, but by force. What kind of person are we describing?

The bully is such a person. The rapist is such a person. The authoritarian spouse who dominates, manipulates and terrorizes his or her partner is such a person. The quack, the con artist, the rogue cop, the rogue Wall Street trader, the corrupt politician, the demagogue -- each of these is such a person. And so are cowards and panderers who derive their power secondhand by clinging to such people as those just listed.

Spousal Battery and Spanking

In the overwhelming majority of cases, husbands and wives whose relationship includes violence are also violent toward their children. Such parents probably were spanked when they were children and witnessed others being spanked.

Battering and battered spouses who spank their children are raising them to be batterers and victims exactly like themselves. The children learn from their parents' example that the way to vent frustration, express disapproval and assert authority is by hitting someone smaller and weaker than themselves. This principal is demonstrated for the children every time they see their parents fight as well as every time they receive a whipping.

They learn, once they are big enough and strong enough, they can control others by threatening or hurting them. They learn that it is okay for husbands and wives to batter each other and for adults to batter children.

When children, whose personalities have been formed in violent households, grow up and produce children of their own, they find it very difficult to break free from the behaviors they have witnessed and experienced. The skills they apply to family life will be the poor ones bequeathed them by their parents and they are likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence through their own innocent children.

As spanking disappears from family life, other forms of domestic violence will also disappear. Not before.

Sexual Molestation and Spanking

Spanked children don't regard their bodies as being their own personal property. Spanking trains them to accept the idea that adults have absolute authority over their bodies, including the right to inflict pain. Being hit on the buttocks, moreover, persuades them that even their sexual areas are subject to the will of adults. The child who submits to a spanking on Monday is not likely to say "No" to a molester on Tuesday. People who sexually molest or exploit children know this. They stalk potential victims among children who have been taught to "obey or else" because such children are the easiest targets.

Spanking the Buttocks
and Sexual Development

Spanking of the buttocks can stimulate immature sexual feelings in some children. They have no control over those feelings nor do they understand what is happening to them. The tragic consequence for some of these children is that they form a connection between pain, humiliation and sexual arousal that endures for the rest of their lives. Even though they may marry, raise families, hold responsible positions in the community and show no signs of emotional disturbance, they are secretly and shamefully tormented by a need which, in some cases, compels them to hire prostitutes whom they spank or from whom they receive spankings. The pornography industry does a thriving business catering to the needs of these unfortunate individuals.

Medical science has long recognized, and documented in great detail, the link between buttocks-beating in childhood and the subsequent development of deviant sexual behaviors. This should be reason enough never to spank a child.

Physical Danger of Hitting the Buttocks

Located deep in the buttocks is the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. A severe blow to the buttocks, particularly with an instrument such as a piece of wood, could cause bleeding in the muscles that surround that nerve, possibly injuring it and causing impairment to the involved leg.

The coccyx, or tail bone, a very delicate bone at the base of spine is also susceptible to injury when a child is hit in that region. And when children are required to bend over for beatings, their sex organs may be injured. Dislocation of the coccyx and genital bruising as a result of violent punishments are frequently reported by hospital authorities.

Some people, in their attempt to justify battering children's buttocks, claim that God or nature intended that part of the anatomy for spanking. The claim is brazenly perverse. No part of the human body was made to be violated.

Physical Danger of Hitting the Hands

The child's hand is particularly vulnerable because ligaments, nerves, tendons and blood vessels are close to the skin which has no underlying protective tissue. Striking the hands of younger children is especially dangerous to the growth plates in the bones which, if damaged, can cause deformity or impaired function. Striking a child's hand can also cause fractures, dislocations and lead to premature osteoarthritis.


Being shaken can cause a child blindness, whiplash, brain damage and even death.

Spanking and Home,
Performance in School

Most teachers will tell you that the children who exhibit the most serious behavior problems at school are the ones who are the most mistreated at home. Children who are spanked at home have been conditioned to expect the same kind of management by authority figures outside the home. For these children, the battle zone which is their home life extends to include school life. This sets them up for academic failure and dropout, and clashes with juvenile authorities and the criminal justice system.

In their attempt to erect a shield against what they perceive to be a comfortless, hostile world, these children naturally seek the company of other children with similar problems. "My parents and teachers don't understand me; my friends do," they say with cause. This is one reason street gangs evolve and why they are especially attractive to children whose self-esteem has been ruined by spanking, whupping, paddling, switching, humiliation, insults, threats, relentless criticism, unreasonable restrictions and physical and emotional neglect, etc.

We should not be surprised that many youngsters reject the adult world to the degree they believe it has rejected them. Nor should we be surprised that adolescents, who throughout childhood have been the brunt of violence, will utilize violence as soon as they are able. As it often turns out, the aggressiveness that many young people cultivate because they believe it is essential to their survival propels them toward failure or catastrophe. Our crowded prisons are proof of this.

Some teachers work tirelessly to redirect the aggressiveness which violence-ridden children have far too much of, and instill trust which violence-ridden children have far too little of. But that is a monumental task requiring specialized skills and a level of dedication which not all teachers possess or can maintain for extended periods. It requires extraordinary resources unavailable to the public school systems of the United States.

School dropout and juvenile delinquency would cease to be major problems wracking our nation if only it were possible to persuade parents to stop socializing their children in ways guaranteed to make them antisocial and/or self-destructive. In other words, to stop the spanking and start the nurturing

Spanking, Smoke, Drink and Drugs

To be spanked is a degrading, humiliating experience. The spanked child absorbs not only the blows, but the message they convey: "You're worthless. I reject you!" That message powerfully influences the child's developing personality. It instills self-hatred.

Sooner or later every child is exposed to substances that promise instant relief from feelings of worthlessness and rejection. Everywhere people can be seen putting things into their bodies to make themselves feel good. But no one teaches the child that such relief is an illusion, that it is impossible to repair damaged self-esteem by means of something swallowed, inhaled or injected, but easy to bury it deeper under the weight of new problems.

Spanking, Crime and Race

Racial discrimination and poverty are most often cited as reasons that a disproportionately high number of young black men come under the control of the criminal justice system. The assumption is reasonable and it is easy to demonstrate how discrimination results in poverty and poverty results in crime. This argument, however, leaves unexplained the fact that middle class black male youths commit significantly more crimes than poor white male youths. Clearly, poverty cannot be the only factor, or the primary factor influencing the crime rate. The principal cause lies elsewhere. It is revealed in research showing that African American parents generally favor the use of harsh physical punishments on their male children. We already know enough about the effects of corporal punishment on children of any color, either gender, rich or poor, to accurately predict what will result when a particular group relies on it as its chief socializing technique. The message here for all parents, irrespective of race, who hope to keep their young people in school, off the streets and out of jail is a simple one: NURTURE. DON'T SPANK.

Spanking, Racism and Collective Hatreds

Spanking fills children with anger and the urge to retaliate. But this urge is almost never directly acted upon. Even the most severely spanked children, as a general rule, will not strike back at their batterers. Instead, they are likely to seek relief in fantasy where they can safely vent their anger against make-believe adversaries. Sometimes younger siblings or family pets serve this purpose. Popular entertainment also caters to this need.

As children grow and come under the influence of the prejudices of their community, their anger is channeled toward approved scapegoats. Hate cults and extremist political factions beckon to them with open arms, offering an opportunity to convert fantasy into reality. In every generation, more than a few seize that offer. Their behaviors constitute the worst fallout of the spanking tradition.

Spanking at School

Throughout the developed world, spanking by teachers has almost disappeared. It's illegal in every European country. (In Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Italy and Cyprus, no one in any circumstance, including a parent, is legally permitted to corporally punish a child.) Among the major, developed industrial nations, the United States is the most resistant to reform in this regard. But gradually more states are banning school corporal punishment, and in the states that allow it, a growing number of school districts are forbidding the practice.

Still, there remain many teachers and school administrators who, like many parents, are unenlightened on this issue and persist in believing that it is okay to manage pupils by means of physical violence or the threat of it. What should enlightened parents do?

If you knew that a school bus had bald tires and faulty brakes, you would not let your child ride that bus and you would demand that your school authorities correct the problem immediately. If you knew that the air ducts in your school were contaminated with asbestos, you'd remove your child immediately and alert other parents to the danger. Corporal punishment is no different. It is very dangerous and all sensible people in the community should unite in opposition to it.

As a parent you have a right and an obligation to protect your child from known danger. Inform your local, regional and state education authorities that no one has your permission, nor the moral right, to endanger your child at school.

Plain Talk about Spanking, Part II


"Any form of corporal punishment or spanking is a violent attack upon another human being's integrity. The effect remains with the victim forever and becomes an unforgiving part of his or her personality - a massive frustration resulting in a hostility which will seek expression in later life in violent acts towards others. The sooner we understand that love and gentleness are the only kinds of called-for behavior towards children, the better. The child, especially, learns to become the kind of human being that he or she has experienced. This should be fully understood by all caregivers."
Ashley Montagu, Anthropologist, author, educator

"Corporal punishment of children actually interferes with the process of learning and with their optimal development as socially responsible adults. We feel it is important for public health workers, teachers, and others concerned for the emotional and physical health of children and youth to support the adoption of alternative methods for the achievement of self-control and responsible behavior in children and adolescents."
Dr. Daniel F. Whiteside, Assistant Surgeon General, Department of Health & Human Services (Administration of President Ronald Reagan)

"Punitive measures whether administered by police, teachers, spouses or parents have well-known standard effects: (1) escape -- education has its own name for that: truancy, (2) counterattack -- vandalism on schools and attacks on teachers, (3) apathy -- a sullen do-nothing withdrawal. The more violent the punishment, the more serious the by-products."
B. F. Skinner, Ph.D., author, Professor of Psychology, Harvard

"Corporal punishment trains children to accept and tolerate aggression. It always figures prominently in the roots of adolescent and adult aggressiveness, especially in those manifestations that take an antisocial form such as delinquency and criminality."
Philip Greven, Professor of History, Rutgers University

"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 the 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."
Dr. Morris Wessel, Pediatrician, Clinical Professor of Pediatric Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine

"I have always been an advocate for the total abolition of corporal punishment and I believe the connection with pornography that is so oriented has its roots in our tradition of beating children."
Gordon Moyes, D. D., author, Pastor of the Uniting Church, Superintendent of the Wesley Central Mission Sydney, Australia

"The much-touted religious argument to support corporal punishment is built upon a few isolated quotes from the Book of Proverbs. Using the same kind of selective reading, one could just as easily cite the Bible as an authority for the practice of slavery, the rigid suppression of women, polygamy, incest and infanticide. It seems to me that the brutal and vindictive practice of corporal punishment cannot be reconciled with the major themes of the New Testament which teach love and forgiveness and a respect for the beauty and dignity of children, and which overwhelmingly reject violence and retribution as a means of solving human conflicts."
Thomas E. Sagendorf, United Methodist Pastor, Toledo, Ohio

"The development of self-control, which we call conscience, results from the appropriate interaction of children with their caretakers. Children's experience of love and respect promotes the development of conscience, whereas the experience of fear or pain, as results from spanking and paddling, interferes with this development. Physical punishment of children must end if our society is going to become one that is governed by conscience and self-control rather than be governed by their absence."
H. Patrick Stern, M.D., Asst. Prof. of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Behavioral Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

"Infliction of pain or discomfort, however minor, is not a desirable method of communicating with children."
American Medical Association, House of Delegates, 1985

"Chide not the pupil hastily, for that will both dull his wit and discourage his diligence, but [ad]monish him gently, which shall make him both willing to amend and glad to go forward in love and hope of learning... Let the master say, "Here ye do well". For I assure you there is no such whetstone to sharpen a good wit and encourage a love of learning as his praise... In mine opinion, love is fitter than fear, gentleness better than beating, to bring up a child rightly in learning."
Roger Ascham, (Tutor to Queen Elizabeth I), The Schoolmaster, England, published ca. 1568

"The birch is used only out of bad temper and weakness, for the birch is a servile punishment which degrades the soul even when it corrects, if indeed it corrects, for its usual effect is to harden."
Saint John Baptiste de La Salle, On the Conduct of Christian Schools, France, 1570

"Children ought to be lead to honorable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows and ill treatment."
Plutarch c. 46-120 A.D., "The Education of Children," Vol. I, Moralia, Ancient Greece

"When children are beaten, pain or fear frequently have the result of which it is not pleasant to speak and which are likely subsequently to be a source of shame, shame which unnerves and depresses the mind and leads the child to shun the light of day and loathe the light... I will spend no longer time on this matter. We know enough about it already."
Quintilian c. 35-95 A.D., Institutes of Oratory, Ancient Rome


Q: What do juvenile delinquents all have in common?
A: They have been raised by spankers.

Q:What was a common feature of the childhoods of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Charles Manson?
A: Each one was relentlessly, severely, physically punished as a child.

Q: What do prisoners on death row all have in common?
A: Plenty of spankings during childhood.

Q: What do rapists, arsonists, terrorists, torturers, serial killers, mass murderers, sex murderers, serial bombers, kidnappers, snipers, assassins, muggers, product tamperers, vandals, wife beaters, child abusers and stalkers have in common?
A: Violent upbringing.

Q: Which child is destined never to join the company of felons?
A:The one who is nurtured, not spanked.

Q: To turn a friendly puppy into a vicious guard dog, what must you do to it?
A: Restrict its movement and beat it often.


There are people in your community who have never heard the ideas expressed in Plain Talk about Spanking. It's time they heard, don't you agree?

You can help plant the seeds of a more caring, more cooperative and less violent next generation by sharing Plain Talk... with others. Give copies to friends, neighbors, relatives, the parents of your children's friends, community leaders, religious leaders, your children's teachers and your representatives in government. We believe all people in child-related professions and in positions of public influence should hear this message.

We know that some people in your community will reject what is written here. Some people will refuse to think about it or may even become annoyed or hostile because this information makes them feel very uncomfortable. That doesn't discourage us. It shouldn't discourage you. There are others in your community who want to know why the old familiar method of socializing children works so poorly. Also, there are those in your community who already are raising their children without violence but who need to be reassured that they are doing the right thing. Your role is to reach out to those people and to let them know what you know about spanking. The easiest way to do that is by putting a copy of this publication in their hands.

We are confident that the day will come when civilized humanity will look back with astonishment and pity at the time when people believed hitting children was good for them.


Gibson, Ian, The English Vice. London: Duckworth, 1978.

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. Booklet available from PTAVE. Access later through Table of Contents.

Miller, Alice, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983. (PTAVE strongly recommends all of Alice Miller's works.)

. . ., 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.

Montagu, Ashley, Man Observed. New York: Tower Publications, 1971. Especially see Chapter Three, "Crime and Society."

Newell, Peter, Children Are People Too: The Case Against Physical Punishment. London: Bedford Square Press, 1989

Riak, Jordan, How to Prevent Violent Criminal Behavior in the Next Generation. Booklet available from PTAVE. Access later through Table of Contents.

. . ., Hablando francamente sobre el pegarles a los niños. Booklet available from PTAVE. Access later through Table of Contents.

Straus, Murray A., Beating the Devil out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families. New York: Free Press, 1994.

Welsh, Ralph S., "Severe Parental Punishment and Delinquency: A Developmental Theory." Paper presented at the American Psychological Association Convention, New Orleans, 1974. Reprint available from the author: 2591 Main Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut, 06606.

De Zulueta, Felicity, From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc, 1994.

How to Prevent
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 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 other's 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, 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's 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, 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.


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.


We are 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


And Always Keep In Mind The Most Important Factor

  "What we live with we learn,
and what we learn
we practice, and what we
practice, we become...
and what we become
has consequences"...
AND almost always, I have
found, who we become
has little to do with who
we were meant to be.

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(Est. 4.15.96)

DISCLAMER: Before you start to look at the material that I have assembled for you I want to make clear that I claim very little original authorship here. Even where I don't give credit I probably should because there are very few original words of wisdom left in recovery. I want to especially thank Terry Kellogg, whom I do believe has a lot of original stuff, John Bradshaw whom I believe has the ability to synthesize others material better that anyone I know, and I guess if we wanted to be completely accurate we should not quote the serenity prayer out of content nor without giving credit to the author. I also want to give permission to anyone to use anything on this site for the benefit of recovery as long as they do not make any more money off of it. This offer only extends to what I have the right to give.

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