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Thoughts on disciplining children from 6 world religions

This drifts from the subject of peaceful parenting and unschooling, but the topic of whether spanking as a religious mandate is specific to fundamentalist Christians or many religions comes up occasionally and I thought this was interesting. It's the viewpoints of 6 different religious leaders (Mainstream Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, fundamentalist Christian) on the subject of spanking.


Should parents spare the rod when punishing kids?
By Lisa Haddock Staff Writer


"He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him takes care to chastise him."


This maxim from Proverbs 13:24 is often cited by proponents of corporal punishment. Child-psychology experts differ on whether parents should punish their children physically. Nine European countries have gone so far as to ban spanking.


We asked representatives of North Jersey's religious communities: "According to your religious tradition, under what circumstances can a parent strike a child? How far can a parent go when correcting a child's behavior?"


Here's what they had to say:


The Rev. Steven R. McClelland

Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Hackensack

"He who spares his rod hates his son" was never meant as an endorsement of corporal punishment. The rod mentioned in Proverbs is the same rod mentioned in Psalm 23, "Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." This rod was the round end of a shepherd's staff used to keep a sheep from wandering off in the wrong direction and getting hurt. It is analogous to a concrete divider on a highway separating the right and left lanes in order to prevent collisions.


In this day and age there is no theological or psychological need to use corporal punishment. When parents hit children, they show that they have lost control of their tempers. As a result, their children are filled with fear. Almost any child psychologist worth his or her salt will recommend "time out" as the preferred method of disciplining children. It requires more work for a parent, but is far more effective in the long run. Consistent, predictable, non-violent discipline is what children need -- not spankings.


Eliezer C. Abrahamson

Talmud Torah Center for Basic Jewish Education, Lakewood

In Proverbs, King Solomon teaches us in several places that it is important to discipline our children. Such discipline includes, but is certainly not limited to, corporal punishment. As King Solomon teaches us in Proverbs 22:6, "Educate the youth according to his way, even when he is old he will not depart from it." We must always take into consideration the nature of the child in our discipline or the education will not have its proper impact. We cannot press a child to do more than he can at his current stage, but must bring him through a reasonable progression according to his nature.


In Proverbs 13:24, we are taught, "One who holds back the staff hates his son, and he that loves him disciplines him in his youth." While it may be tempting out of our love for our children not to discipline them, if we do so we will end up hating them for they will become wicked.


Perhaps the most important rule regarding discipline can be learned from Proverbs 19:18-19, "Discipline your son for there is hope, do not be swayed by his protest. A person of great anger will bear punishment, rather save him and continue later." The first verse teaches us not to give up hope on our children if they seem incorrigible, but to continue to work with them, for there is always hope. According to interpretations found in the commentaries, the second verse warns us not to discipline our children when we are angry, for if we do so we will be punished for any excessive punishment, just as if we had hurt a stranger.


According to Jewish law, parents are not permitted to cause any injury to their children. We are also instructed not to use corporal punishment on an older child because this violates the prohibition "do not put a stumbling block before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14), which forbids us from putting someone into a situation where he would be tempted to sin. Since an older child might well be tempted to strike back or curse his parents if subjected to corporal punishment, we are forbidden from putting him in that situation.


The Talmud teaches us that a father who strikes an older son is to be excommunicated. Jewish legal authorities inform us that while this law only mentions an older child, it is actually true of any child who might possibly react improperly.


The Rev. Kobutsu Malone

Buddhist priest and prison chaplain, Engaged Zen Foundation, Ramsey

I can only speak from the perspective of a simple Buddhist priest. Working over the years with my own children, students, prisoners, and my fellow human beings, I have learned that any form of punishment, be it corporal or psychological, is counterproductive. It is uncivilized and serves no purpose other than to perpetuate oppression. The practice of punishment involves the deliberate infliction of physical or emotional pain by one person who has power over the other. It instills fear, creates trauma, and damages the punished as well as the punisher. The net result is humiliation and degradation for the giver and the receiver.


Each time we are punished, we are taught that punishment is acceptable. Out of fear, we modify our behavior in the presence of our oppressor. When our punisher is no longer present, we feel resentment. In time, these feelings can turn into hatred for ourselves and others and lead to depression and alienation. When these feelings are directed outwardly, we oppress others. We come to believe: "I was punished; therefore it is justifiable for me to punish another." We, in effect, have learned to become the oppressor. We pass on the cycle of violence to our families, our children, and our society.


Inflicting pain after a child has misbehaved does not change the original event nor does it educate the individual. Communication, education, restraint, and discipline are the only effective means for parents to direct and guide their children. Punishment, corporal or otherwise, is unacceptable and inexcusable, because it destroys any possibility for real healing and learning.


Rakesh Chhabra, M.D.

Member, Hindu Samaj of Bergen County

The Hindu religion is based on the concept of kindness and non-violence (ahimsa). Ahimsa means not causing harm to any living being through words, deeds, or thoughts.


Corporal punishment is violence, and it is not sanctioned by Hindu tradition or scriptures. Spanking teaches children that violence is acceptable. It will make them violent with their peers, siblings, and their own children. It also makes them more stubborn and aggressive. They may tell lies or manipulate others to get away from the punishment. It may also decrease their self-esteem.


Instead of corporal punishment, the Hindu religion recommends using words, explanation, and personal example to motivate and change the behavior of children. Children are considered to be a form of God, according to Hindu tradition, and should be treated with love and respect.


Mohammad Moutaz Charaf

Principal, Hidaya Weekend School, and regular speaker, Dar-Ul-Islah Mosque, Teaneck

Islam teaches that children are a gift from God to parents. Our faith teaches parents to take good care of children and to show patience toward them. The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) was merciful, caring, and kind to children. He gave us excellent directions on how to raise children. Some of his many sayings include:


  • Spend time with your children.

  • Become a child for your child.

  • Discipline your children and teach them good manners.

  • Teach your children well because they are created for a different time than yours.

  • Love children and have mercy on them, and if you promise them, fulfill your promise.


Islam recognizes that each child differs in disposition, level of understanding, and cleverness. So in Islam, we can teach children by a variety of means, such as talking, reasoning, explaining, relating stories, setting good examples, being consistent in expectations, offering encouragement and rewards, and sometimes by distancing ourselves from them.


If all other ways fail, only then is light spanking permitted to protect a child from a dangerous situation. Anger is to be separated from this process. This option is not mandatory and should not become a pattern. Spanking should not leave any mark on the child. The head, face, chest, and stomach are never to be touched.


Showing love and mercy toward children and educating them in the proper way to behave usually prevents the need for drastic forms of discipline.


The Rev. Ramon Muniz

Pastor, Christ Community (Southern Baptist) Church and its daughter Hispanic congregation, Mission Church of Christ, Waldwick

According to my religious conviction, not tradition, I believe that spanking is appropriate only when a child (typically from 2 to 12 years of age) defies parental authority. In this case, the parent is biblically authorized and mandated to spank the child.


Spanking should be the last resort in the discipline process. When a child disobeys a parent, a family member, or an authority figure outside the home, the child should be spoken to in a loving fashion. If this first attempt is not successful, other disciplinary options should include "time out," loss of privileges, or imposition of tasks.


When spanking is necessary, it should be restricted to the buttocks and never done in anger. A good parent should always take the child away to a private place and explain why he or she is going to be punished. The parent should pray with the child for God's guidance. Finally, the parent must reassure the child that he or she is still loved.


Few parents who spank their children do so appropriately. Unfortunately, many desperate, abusive, angry parents exist in our communities. As a religious leader, I teach parents to obey the biblical mandate to discipline children in a loving, gentle manner. Only then will children understand that we are not trying to hurt them, but rather helping them understand right from wrong.


Copyright © 2000 Bergen Record Corp.



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