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.
When do we spank then? Spanking is reserved for those who demonstrate a heart of rebellion. We all make mistakes and we all sin. All sin is rebellion but there is a difference between giving in to temptation and shaking one's fist so-to-speak and defying authority. Have you ever seen a child say to his mother through clenched teeth, "I won't clean-up my room and you can't make me!?" That's rebellion. Prov. 10:13 says, ". . . a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding." The one void of understanding in that context is one speaking in wicked rebellion. Prov. 26:3 says, ". . . a rod is for a fool's back." Again, the "fool" is one in rebellion against God. That's why the Bible tells us, "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Prov. 22:15).
It's our job to love our children and be patient with them. That means we must talk to them about what they've done wrong even when spanking is required. They must understand so they won't be provoked to bitterness and so they won't think they can simply change on their own. The problem is sin in the heart and only God can take sin away and change that heart through grace. It is not spanking that leads to aggressive behavior in children but the wrong kind of spanking. That's why we must follow God and not the world. We must spank our children at times but we must do so biblically for God's glory and their good.
Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at