Time with CNN reports on a new study by researchers at Tulane University that indicates spanking children leads to more aggressive behavior. The analysts claim to have controlled for other variables that could account for aggressive behavior in children including alcohol abuse by the parents or violence between the parents, etc. Time also reports that "The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking for any reason, citing its lack of long-term effectiveness as a behavior-changing tactic."
What should we make of this research? Does the Bible say anything about spanking children? God's Word does address the issue; and surprisingly, at a surface level, the research makes a good point. Dr. Jayne Singer, clinical director of the child and parent program at Children's Hospital Boston, who was not involved in the study, noted that "spanking instills fear rather than understanding. Even if a child were to stop his screaming tantrum when spanked, that doesn't mean he understands why he shouldn't be acting up in the first place." Now, Dr. Singer is not our authority, God is. But she's hit on something the Scripture actually tells us. If we spank the way most people do, that is, out of anger, frustration, or a lack of patience or will to talk to our children biblically, then we do what the Bible tells us not to do; we provoke our children to short-term anger and long-term bitterness (Eph. 6:4). We're told in that same verse to bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
What is admonition? The biblical concept based on the Greek word Paul actually uses refers to imparting understanding and dealing with related heart issues. We want our children to understand what the problem is and be motivated to seek God's solution. We want them to understand the sin involved and be moved from the heart to repent and receive God's grace of forgiveness and grace for power to do better. Admonition is rooted in love and gives what is needed in the moment whether encouragement, warning, instruction, rebuke, correction, guidance, etc.
Have you ever seen a mom talking with someone while her three-year-old tugs on her skirt? Have you seen that mom turn around and swat the child and angrily tell her to be quiet? That's not biblical, loving discipline. That's mom being selfish, not wanting to be interrupted because what she's doing is more important than the spiritual well-being of her child, and not taking the time to deal with her child properly.
God's way to raise children involves loving them unconditionally, praying for them regularly, engaging in Bible instruction constantly (Deut. 6:4-9), not provoking them to bitterness, and disciplining them properly. That discipline is different depending on the situation. Paul says we're to "warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thess. 5:15). He mentions three different responses to three different heart issues and instructs us to be patient in all cases.
Now, we come to the opening question: should we ever spank our children? In contrast to what the world says, with the preceding understanding of course, there is a time to spank our children. The Bible is clear on this point. "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly" (Prov. 13:24). It's a loving thing to spank our children in appropriate circumstances. If we don't, they're in danger of continuing down a path that becomes more dangerous over time and leads to destruction. That's why we actually hate our children if we don't discipline them appropriately. Discipline is not pleasant but it produces the "peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Heb. 12:11). Of course, even when we spank, we must do so in love and not out of anger.