Why We Need to Stop ‘Whupping’ Our Kids

ather around, BLAC Nation, we need to have a serious talk about spanking. Or, as we so affectionately call it, “whuppings.”

I know. You were spanked, and so was I. And, to come clean, I spanked my kids when they were little. Sometimes that was a pat on the backside. Sometimes, it was much worse. But two things have gradually opened my eyes to the terror, abuse and damage we mete out when we whup our children:

1. Having grandchildren
2. Meeting Dr. Stacey Patton

About the grands: Everyone knows that grandparents are far more permissive than they were as parents themselves. So much so, that many adult children gawk at them and wonder: Are these the same people who raised me? Maybe it’s because grandparents have lost their umph, or because they see their role only to spoil their grandchildren, not to discipline them. But maybe it’s also because we are standing a generation apart, looking from the outside in, and can see whuppings for what it is: bullying violence that destroys the sense of trust and security that our children deserve.

Which brings me to Dr. Patton. She’s an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Morgan State University in Baltimore and the author of the new book, Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won't Save Black America (Beacon Press 2017). I actually met her about 10 years ago when she wrote a memoir about her life as an abused foster child and adoptee. It’s that harrowing experience – and her courage to address a deep pathology in the black community – that have given her enormous street cred on the topic of child abuse and the detrimental effects of whuppings. Now, she’s amplified the cause in her most recent book, which should be seen as a love letter to black parents and their children.

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I hope that you will read her book as quickly as you’ll laugh at every black comedian who brags about how his beloved mama (or grandma) beat him black and blue. Sadly, it’s a point of pride for many African Americans that their mother’s strap or switch or belt buckle kept them out of prison.

Well, asked Patton, how’s that working for us? “If beating children was so effective in keeping kids out of prison,” said Patton, in a recent phone interview, “we wouldn’t have the problem of mass incarceration of black people in this country.”

Whuppings don’t keep kids out of prison; it locks them behind the bars of physical and emotional damage. Patton cites studies from Harvard biopsychiatrist Martin Teicher who has established that the stress of corporal punishment can profoundly impact the development of the part of a child’s brain that controls behaviors like empathy, impulse control, attachment and aggression. Spankings can also cause developing brains to equate pain and abuse with love, she added. And, she cited research that shows that constant whuppings can provoke early puberty in girls, as their bodies perceive a life threat and are prompted to reproduce more quickly.   

That threat is all too real for an average of 360 children a year who die at the hands of their parents, according to Patton, who reviewed a decade of child maltreatment reports released by the Children’s Bureau.

“From 2006 to 2015, which were the latest available numbers, black people have killed over 3,600 children as a result of maltreatment,” said Patton. Many of those, she added, were not murderous rampages, but a spanking that went too far.

“You’ll hear black parents say ‘I brought you into the world, I‘ll take you out,’” she said. “That’s one of the most destructive things you can say to a kid. Why would you threaten to take a child out of this world when you’re supposed to be the one person here to protect them?”

Whuppings may also be a wedge in black male-female relationships.

“I interviewed many black men who were beat by their mothers,” said Patton. “Their mothers were unconsciously cosigning the racist narrative that black children grow up to be problems, deviants, rob, steal and knock their mothers down.”

The result, said Patton, is that our men can become misogynistic, lacking empathy for black women. “It’s uncomfortable to realize that we’re unconsciously teaching black boys to mistreat women,” she said.

There’s much more to the book, including a critique of the religious underpinnings of spankings and, even more disturbing, its roots in slavery. Suffice it to say that you need to get the book, read it and talk about it in your family and community. In the end, I hope that we all will begin to turn an old adage on its head: Spare the rod, cherish a child.  

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