To Spank or Not


Though he’s received ample attention for being an exceptionally good football player, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has made his greatest headlines in recent days for the documented bruises he delivered to his young child. Mr. Peterson regrets the lacerations he left behind, but still justifies his actions to do what he deems best as a father to teach his child right from wrong. He stands by his prerogative to employ corporal discipline if he so desires.

Boom! After being fairly quiet in recent years, the never-ending debate once again has been ignited: “Is it right to spank your child?”

Personally, I agree with many in the general public that the bruises left behind on this child give evidence that Adrian Peterson crossed the line from responsible parenting into unwarranted mistreatment. But I disagree with those who argue that we should never spank our children. I believe corporal disciple when administered in a way that is consistent and controlled, loving and reasonable, providing a sting and not a bruise and directed to the bottom of a child is not only a viable, but also an advisable way to disciple our little ones.

Here’s why…

1. It’s biblical – Parenting carries the most responsibility that any human being can receive. Yet sadly, this awesome obligation is often met with much negligence and confusion. Thankfully God has given us a playbook called the Bible. There is not much in the Bible when it comes to specific instructions for parents, but the two prominent commands are to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:7; Psm. 78:4; Pr. 22:6; Eph. 6:4) and discipline them effectively (Pr. 13:24; 23:13; 29:17; Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:7-10). Disciplining children is mandated for all parents, but we need to ask, is the mode of discipline mentioned in the Bible? Consider the following verses from Proverbs:

a. “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (13:24).
b. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him” (22:15).
c. “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die” (23:13).
d. “You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol” (23:14).
e. “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (29:15).

As Tedd Tripp remarked, “The use of the rod [the hand or as many prefer, a thin instrument] is an act of faith. God has mandated its use. The parent obeys, not because he perfectly understands how it works, but because God has commanded it. The use of the rod is a profound expression of confidence in God’s wisdom and the excellency of His counsel (Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Shepherd Press, 1995, p. 131).

2. It’s practical – As a children grow older the discipline from parents never changes, but the methods of discipline do. At a certain point, the rod should be incorporated with other approaches and then eventually the rod should be put away. Let’s remember that our goal in discipline is not retribution (giving the child his or her due for the wrongdoing), but rather correction – using the offense to teach a lesson whereby the child will forsake the wrongdoing and turn to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and spiritual strength. This shepherding of a child’s heart requires firm discipline, but also corresponding instruction that promotes righteous behavior. As a child ages, reasoning becomes a powerful tool. Yet when a child is very young, the cognitive abilities are not trained in this regard. Only corporate disciple has the ability to get a child’s attention and allow him or her to connect pain with sinful choices.

3. It’s charitable – Though many agree that children need to be disciplined, opponents of the rod see other methods as more charitable. Is that true? While the purpose of discipline is always love and all discipline is to be administered in love (not in anger or disrespect), can we really say the other methods commonly employed are more loving for a little one? Is it best to yell at them? How about isolation? The loss of a treasured privilege? When the rod is administered effectively, the child knows what he or she will receive, the punishment is delivered swiftly, nurtured discussion permeates the entire event and the relationship is immediately restored in mutually affirmed love.

I know it is never easy to discipline, much less spank one of our precious little ones. If we do it effectively, it should hurt us more than it does the child. Yet when we follow the Lord’s ways which employ the right methods and attitudes, it does yield a blessed harvest of righteousness.

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