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Spare the Rod or Go to Jail?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Current law in California permits parents to spank their children “unless the degree of force is excessive or not appropriate for the child’s age” (“Calif. Lawmaker...,” 2007). Earlier this month, however, California State Assembly Democrat Sally Lieber indicated that she will introduce a new bill that would make “spanking, hitting and slapping a child under 4 years old a misdemeanor,” in which “[a]dults could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine” (“Calif. Lawmaker...,” 2007). According to Lieber, the bill will be broad enough so that “any striking of a child, any corporal punishment, smacking, hitting, punching, any of that” will be prohibited (Zapler, 2007, emp. added). Although some doubt whether the legislature ever will pass the bill, the Associated Press indicated that Governor Schwarzenegger “may be receptive to it” (“Calif. Lawmaker...,” 2007).

Efforts to protect children from legitimate child abuse are to be commended. Every year, thousands of children are abused or neglected by their parents. Without question, parents who burn, electrocute, strangle, viciously beat, torture, or kill their children should suffer the highest penalty possible for their ungodly actions (cf. Romans 13:4). Such treatment of children reveals a lack of emotional control and an inability to distinguish between rational correction that leads to increased wisdom (Proverbs 29:15; Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21) and actual child abuse.

Attempting to eradicate all forms of corporal punishment for children under the age of four, however, is extremely foolish. Simply because some parents disregard the health of their children and demonstrate a lack of emotional control in their handling of them, does not mean that all spanking should be banned. Will lawmakers propose a ban on all pharmaceutical drugs because hundreds of thousands of people abuse them? Will Lieber propose that the use of paints, glues, and various cleaning supplies indoors should be illegal because some misuse these products as inhalants? Where will it end? Truly, the abuse of a thing is not a valid argument against the legitimate use of it.

The decision our forefathers made to spank their children was not because they were not creative enough to think of other forms of punishment. Many of our predecessors were very intelligent men and women who incorporated a variety of disciplinary methods for children (e.g., standing in the corner, grounding, going to bed without supper, surrendering a toy, etc.). But one corrective measure that was highly effective then, and still is today, when done properly, is corporal punishment. It can and should be carried out calmly, rationally, promptly, and effectively.

“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24).

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).

“The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).

[For a more in-depth discussion on the subject of corporal punishment, see “Children and the Rod of Correction” (]


“Calif. Lawmaker Seeks Ban on Spanking” (2007), Associated Press, January 20, [On-line], URL: SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT.

Zapler, Mike (2007), “No-Spank Bill on Way,” The Mercury News, January 18, [On-line], URL: source=rss.

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