Friday, April 15, 2005

On being "blessed with compliant children"...

In conversation, recently, someone remarked that my wife and I were "blessed with compliant children." The remark was probably motivated by the fact that our children are a slightly better behaved (to put it mildly)than the child of the person who made the remark. Apparently this person believes that a child's behavior is directly tied to whether or not the child is "compliant," which must be, if we were simply lucky enough to be "blessed" with them, purely a matter of their genetics. My response to her was that if she thinks our kids are compliant, then she needs to spend some time at our house to see how they act throughout an entire day. Now, most of the time, our kids are reasonably well behaved. But there are certainly times when their human self-centeredness shines through and they prove to be difficult (to say the least). Our four year-old, for instance, has recently been putting us through a loop with regards to her direct defiance of direction from either me or my wife. It is taking a lot of effort for us to consistently address such defiance. But therein is where we find the actual heart of the matter. It's not at all a matter of parents being "blessed with compliant children." It's a matter of parents applying consistent effort with regards to the discipline of their children. Child psychologists, such as James Dobson, have described how we all have unique, in-built, personality traits. While anyone's personality is certainly a complex matter, the two general categories that Dobson describes (for children) are known as the "strong-willed" child and the "compliant" child. Yet, I think the whole idea of the "strong-willed" child has been misinterpreted by a great many parents. While Dobson has given us the two categories in the hopes of helping us understand how to discipline each personality style, many parents simply see the "strong-willed" category as the reason (or excuse?) for their child's ill behavior. After all, so they rationalize, they obviously weren't "blessed with a compliant child." But such thinking misses the point entirely. If it were merely a matter of chance - that is, whether or not a couple was blessed with a child possessing a certain personality style - then I should consider my wife and me pretty "lucky." After all, it was a 50/50 shot with each kid, and we came out ahead on two shots in a row! That's nothing, however, for there seems to be an endless supply of luck for other couples. Indeed, we have a family in our homeschool group that has nine children (that's right! The number 9. 5 plus 4, 108 divided by 12... NINE). Despite the fact that each one of their nine kids is an individual, they can still be identified as generally fitting within either one of the two broad categories referenced above. Some are compliant and some are strong-willed. But, and here's the kicker, they are all well behaved. Wow! Consider that for a moment - the sheer luck involved in the cards they happened to be dealt. But is it really probable that these parents defied the odds and were simply "blessed" with nine compliant children? Let me state what should not have to be stated:
Disciplining your kids takes time and effort, regardless of their various personality styles. While their individual personality style may explain their behavior, it does not excuse it (nor does it relieve you of the responsibility to address it). Understanding the complexity of their personality styles will help you determine the best approaches to take in effectively raising them.
Don't lose hope, though, for your efforts won't have to go on forever - only for about the first 18 years of your child's life.

20 comments:

Paul said...

Wow, quoting with approval a man who advocates beating other human beings who won't do what you want them to. Another area in which our moralities differ.

LotharBot said...

Equating spanking one's children with beatings is an abuse of the English language, and a cheap rhetorical device.

Rusty said...

Paul,

I defy you to produce the evidence of Dobson advocating the beating other human beings.

If, by chance, you consider the practice of corporal punishment equivalent to that of beating another human being, then I can see why you're confused. If you are unable to differentiate between the two acts, then please DO NOT ATTEMPT to use any physical means with which to discipline your children. You're misunderstanding of the concept may prove to be too great a risk to take.

Also, I would recommend you do a bit more research on the concept of "discipline," as advocated by Dobson, before you make a blatantly false statement such as, "a man who advocates beating other human beings who won't do what you want them to."

Jared White said...

Good post Rusty. I think it's a myth that some kids are "nice" and some kids are "unruly". Every kid has a different personality, but, no matter what, it's up to the parents to (a) communicate honestly, fairly, and lovingly to the kid and teach him/her what's right and wrong, and (b) expect the kid to behave himself/herself. Kids actually love responsibility, so parents need to make the kids feel responsible.

I say "kid" like I'm talking about someone else, but I'm only 22 now, so it wasn't all that long ago when I was a kid myself. So I know. My parents disciplined me when necessary (and yes, they spanked me, but only with their hands, not rods or paddles), and I see it now as being extremely helpful. We have an incredibly wonderful relationship, and I find little to fault them with.

All I can say is, at the end of the line, let's see who's kids are more well-behaved, eh? :)

Jared

Paul said...

Equating spanking and beating isn't an abuse of language, it's a simple equivalence. Both are intended to impart kinetic energy in a form intended to hurt the person targeted on a physical level, and to humiliate or deprive them of respect on an emotional level. They are both acts of violence, and if you want to toy with language to make some of them acceptable that's your act of denial, not mine.

Let's look at the closest we have to an authoritative guide to the English language, the OED.

beat: Strike repeatedly, thrash, defeat
spank: Slap or smack, esp. (repeatedly) on the buttocks with the open hand, a slipper, etc. [...] defeat heavily.

So the difference is one of technique, not in the impact (literally and figuratively) on the intended victim.

Now to Dobson's belief in beating another human being to make that person bend to your will. From Dare to Discipline (p7) "it is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely."

Or to highlight the fact that it is done to someone who doesn't agree with you, we have a line from The Strong-Willed Child (p53-4): "two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, 'You must obey me.'" If that isn't the beating of another human being, specifically because they won't do what you want them to, then *I* defy *you* to tell me what is, Rusty.

My favorite is perhaps from the Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide (I don't have the page I'm afraid) "Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less but may continue for five. After that point...I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears."

Yup, if the initial beating doesn't work, well I think the cliche "The beatings will continue until morale improves" seems apposite.

Although there's strong competition from page 73 of The Strong-Willed Child: "Some strong-willed children absolutely demand to be spanked, and their wishes should be granted." I don't know what sick pervert dreams he's acting out, but I've never met a child who demanded to be spanked. Unfortunately I have met people with such limited intellect and ingenuity that the only way they could influence a child was by beating them.

And lest the question be asked: My parents didn't commit acts of violence against me, and from an early age I was noted for being polite and respectful. The same is true of my wife, and judging by the feedback I get from school the same is coming true of my children in turn. I don't claim that any of us are perfect, but using acts of violence to bend another's will without the greatest provocation is what I count immoral. And a child's sulky "No!" never counts.

Paul said...

Equating spanking and beating isn't an abuse of language, it's a simple equivalence. Both are intended to impart kinetic energy in a form intended to hurt the person targeted on a physical level, and to humiliate or deprive them of respect on an emotional level. They are both acts of violence, and if you want to toy with language to make some of them acceptable that's your act of denial, not mine.

Let's look at the closest we have to an authoritative guide to the English language, the OED.

beat: Strike repeatedly, thrash, defeat
spank: Slap or smack, esp. (repeatedly) on the buttocks with the open hand, a slipper, etc. [...] defeat heavily.

So the difference is one of technique, not in the impact (literally and figuratively) on the intended victim.

Now to Dobson's belief in beating another human being to make that person bend to your will. From Dare to Discipline (p7) "it is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely."

Or to highlight the fact that it is done to someone who doesn't agree with you, we have a line from The Strong-Willed Child (p53-4): "two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, 'You must obey me.'" If that isn't the beating of another human being, specifically because they won't do what you want them to, then *I* defy *you* to tell me what is, Rusty.

My favorite is perhaps from the Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide (I don't have the page I'm afraid) "Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less but may continue for five. After that point...I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears."

Yup, if the initial beating doesn't work, well I think the cliche "The beatings will continue until morale improves" seems apposite.

Although there's strong competition from page 73 of The Strong-Willed Child: "Some strong-willed children absolutely demand to be spanked, and their wishes should be granted." I don't know what sick pervert dreams he's acting out, but I've never met a child who demanded to be spanked. Unfortunately I have met people with such limited intellect and ingenuity that the only way they could influence a child was by beating them.

And lest the question be asked: My parents didn't commit acts of violence against me, and from an early age I was noted for being polite and respectful. The same is true of my wife, and judging by the feedback I get from school the same is coming true of my children in turn. I don't claim that any of us are perfect, but using acts of violence to bend another's will without the greatest provocation is what I count immoral. And a child's sulky "No!" never counts.

Rusty said...

You're equivocating, Paul.

When White slave owners beat their Black slaves in the South, they did not administer two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch. They beat them. Prisoners who were beaten in the Gulag, or at Abu Grahib, were not given a little bit of pain to go a long way. They were beaten.

Words have meanings and context matters. You would do well to use them properly.

As I said before, if you are unable to distinguish between spanking and beating, then I suggest you refrain from using any physical means of discipline.

LotharBot said...

"Spanking" and "beating" don't differ in their fundamental nature of imparting kinetic energy to another person in order to inflict pain, but they do differ in degree, and also in intent.

Similarly, if one sends their child to bed without dinner one night as punishment, that does not differ from starving someone in the sense that both involve withholding food, but the two differ very much in degree and intent.

Or, one may choose to discipline their child by giving them extra work around the house, which does not differ from slavery in the sense that both involve unpaid involuntary labor, but again, they differ in degree (including duration) and intent.

Failure to recognize the distinction does not erase the distinction. Equivocating is, as I said before, a cheap rhetorical device that does violence to the language. It's an attempt to cast your position in the best possible light, or someone else's position in the worst possible light, rather than honestly evaluating the merits of the positions. You've attempted to substitute emotionally loaded terminology for reasoned discussion, and you've resorted to insulting your ideological opponents ("sick", "perverted", "limited intellect", "denial", etc. - indirect insults, but insults nonetheless) rather than reasoning with them. Such rhetorical nonsense does not benefit any of us.

---

Lest the question be asked: I don't yet have any children, but I likely will in not too many years, and I haven't yet decided what forms of discipline are acceptable (but I have some strong pacifist leanings, which gives the "no spanking" side a foot in the door.) I'm open to discussion, and I'm open to being convinced, but the linguistic games you've tried to play here and the subtle insults you've used do not help your cause, and if you can't move beyond such things they're likely to hurt it.

Paul said...

Rusty - Tell me how hard I have to strike someone before a spank becomes a beat. How much kinetic energy needs to be delivered, exactly what force are we talking about? Or is the force just the same, and it's the number of times the determinant? If I hit them three times is it spanking, but 5 times is a beating?

Of course I'm aware of the linguistic differences between the two, but I'm not the one getting beaten (though presumably I'm defying your authority, so I'm up for a spanking). The 15 month old child being spanked, however, doesn't see the difference. The baby that can scarcely talk doesn't understand that the spanking will stop after 2-3 strokes (or is it 5?), or that the way to stop the spanking from continuing is to stop crying within 5 minutes ("what's a minute?"). That 15 month old doesn't understand that you've got love in your heart, that it's concern for his future self that guides you hand. As far as that 15 month old is concerned you're beating them, and beating a child is wrong.


LotharBot - As you may get from the above, I don't have much time for this 'intent' argument. I hold some things to be wrong on their face, and hitting a child, however you may couch it, is wrong.

Regarding your examples; your right, sending a child to bed without dinner doesn't differ from staving someone. The rest of your sentence is irrelevant though - sending a child to bed without dinner *is* starving them, especially when at such a young age they are so dependent on regular food intake. You might think of starving as not really 'counting' until you can see the victim's ribs, but that's down to you, not the word.

On the other hand the defining factor in slavery isn't involuntary labor (bad as that is) but ownership; forced labor is servitude. So I don't see the relevance of this argument.

I do think this gets to a core part of this argument. I don't believe that I own my children, so I don't get to do what I like with them. I do believe that I have an overwhelming and preeminent duty of care for them, which means it's up to me to be concerned for their future, and current, welfare.

As to my use of loaded language such as 'sick'. I've grown up among cousins, friends, and strangers. I've lived in roguh areas and prosperous areas, in different cultures and countries. In all that time I have seen plenty of children that have needed to be 'pulled up short' as my mother might say. I have certainly felt like lashing out at a child or two when reason and exercises of authority didn't seem to be working. But I have never, *never* seen a child who 'demanded to be spanked'. Now the person who genuinely sees that, who really believes that a child is *demanding* to be spanked, is either sick or lacking in ingenuity (though not, clearly, in imagination).

And for both of you, while we're busy criticizing my language skills, let's stop describing it as equivocation when what you mean is closer to sophistry. My argument isn't ambiguous, nor is my use of the word 'beating'; I'm stating something clearly, it's just that you think I'm using language and inappropriate ideas to mask the weakness in my argument.

Paul said...

On rereading my post I'm happy to drop the word 'beating' and replace it with 'acts of physical violence', if you think that will help the discussion move forward.

LotharBot said...

I'm a seasoned internet debater; I've seen every rhetorical trick in the book (and I even used quite a few of them when I was younger.) I make it a habit to criticize the use of those methods when they make up a substantial part of someone's position. I'm not interested in a contest of debate skills or a battle of rhetorical tricks -- I'm interested honest presentation and evaluation of ideas. (I wrote more about honest debate on my blog so as not to muddy the waters too much here.) In this case, your argument seems to hinge upon your use of loaded language, so I'm going to criticize that, and try to scrape that layer of spin off of your argument so we can talk about the actual substance of your position.

---

The main point I wanted to make with all the examples I gave is this: no matter how loving, mild, and correct your method of discipline, I can come up with emotionally charged, broad terminology to describe it. I can equate spanking to beatings (or violence, which is worse), or sending your kid to bed without supper to starvation, or making them do extra chores to slavery (or servitude), or telling them to behave to verbal abuse, or grounding to imprisonment, just to name a few. Typically, what's actually being done to the child differs significantly both in degree and in intent to what the loaded terminology suggests (but the terms are broad enough to technically apply.) Use of such terminology only serves to demonize those who believe differently.

You ask how hard you have to hit a child before it "counts" as a beating, and the implication you suggest due to the lack of a clear line is that any physical strike that causes pain qualifies as a "beating" and is morally reprehensible. I can play the same game. For example, I could ask how much food you have to deprive your child of before it becomes appropriate to call it "starvation". If you leave them to die, that's obviously morally reprehensible. But if you make your 12-year-old skip dinner, or deny your 8-year-old ice cream for dessert, that hardly deserves to be called "starvation". Even if the word *could* be applied, it's morally quite different to starve a kid to death than to deny him ice cream (and since your original response was about the difference between your morality and Rusty's, you'd do well not to use the ambiguity of the language to mask such moral distinctions.)

On the issue of "*demanding* to be spanked", you're taking that figure of speech awfully literally (and I think you're being far more pedantic about it than you are about your own choice of language.) You're far too quick to insult your ideological opponents, and while that doesn't directly reflect on your position, it does make me slow to trust your judgement. (I don't mean that as an insult, just an honest assessment of why you're doing a poor job of bringing me over to your side.)

---

Misuse of terminology, failure to draw reasonable distinctions, and insulting your ideological opponents are all a part of the form of your argument -- they're all rhetorical devices, and I've spent enough time criticizing them. Again, my hope is that you can move beyond that. What I'm really interested in is the substance -- the underlying ideas behind your position. You did say one thing that I think showed your core idea, and I'm hoping you can clarify it and substantiate it a bit.

You've made the claim that "hitting a child... is wrong." You talked about 15 month old's inability to comprehend the cause of a spanking, though I don't see anything in Rusty's post or in the Dobson quotes you gave to suggest they're talking about a child that young. I see no room for disagreement about hitting a child too young to understand (and I won't quibble over the 15 month figure.) But why is it wrong to give a 6-year-old a good solid whack to the behind if they know they're misbehaving? What sort of discipline and/or punishment would be morally acceptable in that circumstance? More generally, how do I determine what forms of discipline are acceptable? Why is "reason and exercises of authority" OK, and what exactly do you mean by "exercises of authority"?

I totally agree with the point that we don't own our children, and we don't have the right to just do whatever we feel like. But we do have the duty and responsibility to care for them, and that implies we have a responsibility to teach them appropriate behavior. So, what teaching methods should we use in order to fulfill that duty, and why are those the only OK methods?

Paul said...

Lotharbot,

You seem to think I'm trying to use loaded language, an assumption that is incorrect. I'm merely trying to characterize a spanking correctly. Spanking is inherently different to any of the other acts you describe, not in shades of grey but in significant terms. Depriving a child of dessert has nothing to do with starvation, chores have nothing to do with slavery, but spanking means committing an act of violence against another being. I'm not trying to game the words - that's what it means. If it will help, could we call it 'hitting'? Or does spanking have no relation to any other method of imparting kinetic energy over a contained area to another person?

The reason it might appear that I'm trying to manipulate language is that we don't like to think of spanking as violence, because that would make many of us violent people. I'm guilty of tham myself - I don't acknowledge the term 'partial birth abortion' as being meaningful, for example, (the correct medical term is intact dilation and extraction), and if I think about it there are probably many other examples I don't even recognize in myself. If it makes people feel better to see spanking as different to other forms of violence...well, I can understand that wish, but that doesn't make it correct. Incidentally, Dobson advocates that acts of violence against (or the hitting of) children start at 15-18 months old.

Now to the substance of the issue.
1. "Demanding to be spanked" - I'm not assuming that Dobson's reference is literal. In fact in the literal sense I *have* seen one or two kids demand to be hit. I was thinking he meant it figuratively, as in there was no other course of action that would reasonably be open to put the child back on path. Personally I find the ability to perceive that in a child suggests a lack of ingenuity or some form of mental illness. I'm not criticizing anyone by that statement - I just cannot conceive of a situation where I could possibly see that in a child. "She was asking for it" isn't a reasonable defense in cases of rape for exactly the same reason.

2. On a practical level, spanking teaches the child two lessons:
a) You have gone way beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable, and I will not stand for it.
b) There are some problems in your everyday life that need to be solved with violence.
Some people find that a reasonable trade-off. I don't.

3. Alternatives. I find this one very difficult. I've never had to hit my children, and hope that their behaviour is kept sufficiently in check that such an extreme measure might seem necessary. Very briefly, stage one of modifying their behaviour is to persistently ask them, politely, to do the thing I need them to. If that fails then consequences will be explained (e.g. time out, restriction of treats etc.). Less commonly I will shout at them, which is generally enough to make them cry, and as I recall has always been sufficient to modify behaviour. As the child becomes familiar with what is and isn't acceptable, the escalation happens quicker (the first time they are uncooperative I may ask half a dozen times for them to do the right thing before threatening a time out, the second time they would get 5 requests, etc).

4. The final issue, I think, is morality. I find it immoral to commit acts of violence against somebody, with only two exceptions:
a) Mutual consent (e.g. sports)
b) As a reaction to acts of violence against you - I'm not a pacifist, and in these circumstances morality has already been broken (an odd phrase!) and it's up to you to defend yourself. If you accept that striking a child is an act of violence (however much the magic love-beams you are transmitting to your child at the same time might modulate that violence), and if you accept my definition of morality (which rests on a different moral relativism than, say, Rusty's) then hitting a child is wrong.

papa said...

Paul,

I agree almost entirely with LotharBot, but wanted to add my two cents:

1. You equate spanking with "violence."
That is a nice opinion, but it is merely that. "Loving discipline" is possible, and is not abuse. In fact, I would argue that shouting at your children is more likely abuse because it is done in anger.

Physical spanking done correctly causes no physical harm, and studies have shown (don't make me look them up) that loving consistent discipline seems to create balanced kids, and less psychopaths than other methods, especially those who recieve NO discipline.

However, if we want to get into it, I am sure we could both dig up studies that support our point.

However, I believe that the effectivness of spanking will never be absolutely proven to be 100% effective, nor harmful.

2. Some Spanking is Training, Not Discipline
Many conservatives love the book To Train Up a Child by Pearl. This book is sometimes a little extreme, but it makes the following valid point - before a child has the ability to reason, careful negative physical feedback (like a stroke to the back of the leg with a wooden spoon) helps them realize that there is a consequence to disobedience. This is not abuse, nor is it discipline for disbedience - it is merely training.

For example, when my 12 month old daughter crawls near the fireplace, I tell her in a firm voice "No." But she doesn't listen - she would rather go to the hot glass and put her hand on it. It would be cruel for me to "let her figure it out" by burning herself.

I have often picked her up, redirected her attention, etc., but the fact is, she likes the pretty fire. So Daddy instead says No and inflicts some slight pain on her leg - she doesn't even know I am doing it, but she associates pain with not stopping.

And now, she obeys promptly, for her own safety.

You may find that type of training incomprehensible, but actually, that is how children learn before they can reason, and even after. You know why she doesn't put her fingernails into her eyes anymore? She learned that it hurts!

3. What spanking teaches children
I agree with you that it teaches limits, and that authority should be respected.

Respect is also earned through doing discipline properly, which means
- resorting to spanking only when necessary. there are many methods of discipline
- appealing to reason when necessary
- making punishments fit the "crime"

Etc. But the long and short is, being anti-spanking seems moral and kind, but really, it is foolish - "he who spares the rod hates his child" - which means, at best, they are foolish because they don't realize that they are putting their child at risk by NOT spanking.

If you ever get a strong-willed child, you may change your mind.

We are all against abuse, emotional and physical. But physical discipline, administered correctly, is a valid method which is beneficial to the child. You'll have a hard time proving otherwise.

I used to be a pacifist, until I saw that the nature of man requires both mercy *and* justice. Even wars can be just - just look at wwII. I'm glad somone stopped Hitler by force.

This same nature can be well addressed through physical punishment - but not ONLY that.

I realize I haven't done an overly compelling job here, but I don't have time to do more. Enjoy.

Paul said...

seeker - you raise many points, so I'm sure I'll miss some...

"shouting at your children is more likely abuse because it is done in anger."
I've done the courtesy of assuming that parents hitting their children as a disciplinary measure is not done in anger, I hope you'll extend me the same courtesy. I don't shout at my children in anger to discipline, I shout (or perhaps 'raise my voice' would be more accurate) to help indicate that a boundary has been crossed. Many times I don't need to do that, particularly if I can reason with them.

"loving consistent discipline seems to create balanced kids"
Very true, and discipline does not require hitting your child.

"You may find that type of training incomprehensible"
Not incomprehensible, just unnecessary. You're trying to instill a negative reaction to something. I choose to do it by raising my voice, you do it by hitting your child.

"resorting to spanking only when necessary"
You haven't yet explained when it is necessary, only when it's easy

"being anti-spanking seems moral and kind, but really, it is foolish"
You haven't demonstrated why, you've merely asserted why. I assert the opposite.

"If you ever get a strong-willed child, you may change your mind."
I have two strong-willed children, and encourage them to be that way. I don't make assumptions about your life or family, you might want to take a similar tack.

"physical discipline, administered correctly, is a valid method which is beneficial to the child. You'll have a hard time proving otherwise."
I didn't realize that this was the standard we're trying to meet, but I will embrace it gladly. You'll have a hard time proving that capital punishment deters future crimes, so we should abandon that. You'll have a hard time proving that same-sex marriage will lead to the downfall of civilization, so we should abandon prohibitions against that. The list goes on, almost endlessly.

"Even wars can be just - just look at wwII. I'm glad somone stopped Hitler by force."
Well technically I don't believe wars can be just, but participating in one as a matter of national defense or the defense of innocents can be, which is why I argued that in my earlier post. So I'm glad we're agreed on this, but I don't get your point.

Now to a general response. I was talking about the morality of this, not whether it works or not. To use a stupid example, neutering everyone with some hereditary disease would eradicate that disease (putting aside any tendency to random reintroduction of the defect in the gene pool). We don't do that, not because it wouldn't work, but because it would be immoral. Similarly I acknowledge that hitting a child can teach them a lesson (though one of the things it teaches them is to use violence to solve problems). I just find it immoral.

Jeremy Pierce said...

I strongly caution using the OED, which aims to capture real usage but often fails, as a guide to settling a dispute about words' meanings. They list racism as a view that you can take (rather than an attitude), and the view they describe it as is a view that could be empirically provable. That's obviously not what racism is. According to their definition, you're a racist if you think black people have slightly lower intelligence capacities, for whatever reason, but you're not one if you simply hate black people but think they're all as smart as every white person. That's nuts, and the examples they give to support their definition actually conflict with the definition. Dictionaries are a good reference, but they're extremely fallible, and I wouldn't rest any controversial philophical claim on a dictionary entry. Most philosophy professors I know take off points if a student cites a dictionary to support a point.

By the way, Dobson's latest books, even the later editions of books you quote, endorse a completely different view. I'm pretty sure he restricts the ages and contexts of when spanking is appropriate as compared to the original book. I believe this had something to do with more recent research on how children at different ages learn. I don't know the exact details offhand, but you should make sure your information is up-to-date if you want to criticize his views as they really are as opposed to his views as they used to be.

Also, the vagueness of categories does not constitute the lack of a category. It just means the boundaries are vague. We know what red is, when it's a clear example. We also know lots of things that aren't red. Yet there are plenty of things at the boundaries of what looks red. That doesn't mean there isn't a clear distinction between red and pink, say. The argument that there isn't a clear boundary between spanking and beating amounts to the same fallacy, just as it does for real starvation and simply missing a meal.

As for knowing differences between discipline and hate, the young child knows no difference between being locked in their room because they're hated and being locked in their room because the parent loves them. That's a poor argument against spanking, because it rules out any discipline at all of kids who can't tell that difference.

When Dobson said a kid might be asking for a spanking he did not mean it literally. This is a pretty common idiom. Dobson meant that some kids are testing their parents to see if they've grown soft since the last time they acted up. A friend of mine who I'm sure does not spank his son was just telling me about how his son does exactly that every now and then, and I'm sure he'd be happy to describe it in terms of his son asking to be disciplined. You don't need to believe in spanking to use such an idiom, and it's just as appropriate an idiom when you use it for any method of discipline that a child can expect to receive for acting up, spanking included.

Wayne M said...

While it is true that great discipline of children generally pays off, there are also children that are very very very strong willed.

Some kids have the attitude of "I don't care if you kill me I will not do what you say". And this can happen in families that are very well disciplined. I have seen it. No, it did not happen in my own family but a family that we are very close to. All the other children are obedient and "compliant" and one is "strong willed".

Be grateful, you have been "blessed with compliant children".

Rusty said...

Thanks for the clear and concise clarifications Jeremy.


Hi Wayne,

The human psyche is incredibly complex and I'm sure that there are exceptions to the general rule of discipline. Before I would declare a kid very very very strong willed, though, I would want to take a look at how he was disciplined up to about age 3 or 4... for if the balance of power up to that time was tipped in his favor, then it is highly improbable that it will ever tip back in favor of the parents - regardless of their efforts after that time. In other words, if the child establishes that he is in control from the outset, expect the task of disciplining him from childhood through adolescence to be a long, hard, and potentially impossible journey.

Of course, I could be wrong.

;^)

Paul said...

"Most philosophy professors I know take off points if a student cites a dictionary to support a point."
Good for them. The dictionary was used to prove a point about language, however, not philosophy. I'm afraid I'm not as well acquainted with professors as you - do English teachers take off points if a student cites a dictionary to support a point?

"Most philosophy professors I know take off points if a student cites a dictionary to support a point."
So the stuff he felt sure enough about to advocate that parents hit their 15 month old is now wrong, but this time he's really sure? I don't see how this is anything but reinforcement for what I'm arguing.

"The argument that there isn't a clear boundary between spanking and beating amounts to the same fallacy"
You just said that boundaries are vague, and now you're saying that the boundary is clear. So which is it? If the boundary is clear then exactly how hard, and how many times, can one spank a child before it turns into a beating?

"That's a poor argument against spanking, because it rules out any discipline at all of kids who can't tell that difference."
No, it just rules out acts of violence against your child. Of course children have to be disciplined, but if I do something that in other circumstances would be considered battery then the fact that a child is unable to tell the difference in motivations means it essentially is battery to them.

"When Dobson said a kid might be asking for a spanking he did not mean it literally."
And, as I've already said, I didn't take it that way. To repeat:
"I'm not assuming that Dobson's reference is literal. In fact in the literal sense I *have* seen one or two kids demand to be hit. I was thinking he meant it figuratively, as in there was no other course of action that would reasonably be open to put the child back on path. Personally I find the ability to perceive that in a child suggests a lack of ingenuity or some form of mental illness. I'm not criticizing anyone by that statement - I just cannot conceive of a situation where I could possibly see that in a child. "She was asking for it" isn't a reasonable defense in cases of rape for exactly the same reason."
Incidentally, there's a difference in implication between 'asking' to be hit and 'demanding' to be hit, if we're trying to be precise about our language.

irene said...

My dad spanked me when I deserved it and, looking back, I thank him for it. It wasn't the spankings that traumatised me; it was the excessive criticism of everything I did and the lack of praise to balance out that criticism.

Rusty said...

Yes Irene, words can cut deeper and their effects last much longer.