“My parents hit me and I turned out okay”


The recent Adrian Peterson story has brought the issue of spanking your child to the forefront of news and conversation. I think that’s a good thing. It’s important to constantly re-examine the status quo and reflect on our actions and thoughts. After all, as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

My parents spanked me as a child. They were quick smacks on the butt. They stung a bit, but the lead up was always worse than the actual hits themselves. The spanking I received was nowhere near what would generally be considered “abuse” by today’s standards.

But I turned out alright. So did a lot of other people who were hit by their parents when they were kids.

Is this a good argument for spanking being an element of good parenting? On its surface, you might think so. In reality, however, that cheapens everything else that goes into being a good parent.

So while I’m not trying to play the role of a victim here, I don’t think it was right for my parents to do it. I believe that one of the reason I turned out alright as an adult is because my parents did a lot of other good things for me as I grew up. Overall, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a loving and supportive environment that had an important role in shaping me into what I am today. Were my parents perfect? Of course they weren’t, but even they would tell you that. I’d be unbelievably suspicious of any parent who said they were perfect.

Despite parents making mistakes in raising their children, they can still do a good job. This is very similar to the way economics work: you can predict an outcome of some function like prices by changing a variable and holding the rest equal. When all of the variables are in play, however, watching a single variable change may or may not predict the outcome of the price because of the effects of all the other variables.

To claim that corporal punishment for children is okay because one or some people turned out okay amounts to cherry picking and ignores a bulk of other factors. If you want to make a case that striking a child is good for their development, then actually make a case.

Addendum 22Sep2014: The discussion in the comment section helped me to clear my thoughts up a bit. Maybe it’s not best to call it cherry picking, but instead a red herring. To respond with “Well, it works” or “I turned out okay” to “Is it okay to spank your child?” is not an actual answer to the question. If your neighbor’s barking dog keeps you up at night, killing it does not mean it was the right thing to do simply because it achieved your end. Using what would commonly be considered actual child abuse could actually work for discipline, but no one would accept its effectiveness as justification. But with spanking, people seem to tend to accept it as justifiable partly because it is a generally accepted practice.

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I think this article misses on the most important point. I don’t think most people who say “my parents hit me and I turned out ok” are claiming that this is a good argument for hitting kids. Instead they are claiming it’s evidence that being hit as a kid obviously didn’t screw them up. It says nothing about the merits of hitting your kids, just that plenty of people have been spanked and turned out fine.

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