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Grey World

Posted by Lewis on May 17, 2004

In Reply to: Spare the rod posted by Smokey Stover on May 15, 2004

: : : : : : : : Hi, I would like to kindly request from you the meaning of the phrase 'spare the rod,spoil the child'.
: : : : : : : : Thank you for your cooperation.

: : : : : : : Solomon (Prov. xiii. 24) says: ?He that spareth the rod hateth his son;? but Samuel Butler, in his Hudibras (pt. ii. canto 1, line 843), says: 1
: : : : : : : ?Love is a boy, by poets styled,
: : : : : : : Then spare the rod, and spoil the child.?

: : : : : : : From

: : : : : : : My interpretation is that a good parent who loves his child pays attention and guides the child's behavior in the right direction. A good shepherd uses a rod to direct his sheep to the right path.
: : : : : : :

: : : : : : Before it became illegal in many places, corporal punishment was inflicted by parents and teachers on children who misbehaved. The punishment usually consisted of slapping the child on the hands or legs with a cane or rod. The belief was that children who were not disciplined in this manner would become spoiled brats.

: : : : : ...which a lot did.

: : : : : it is not simply that corporal punishment is necessary, but that discipline, however maintained, is. failing to give 'boundaries' results in indiscipline - they are for guidance and to discourage potentially harmful behaviour. failing to give a lead through discipline is 'neglect'. there is a difference between corporal punishment and child abuse and it is not always easy to differentiate. just because it is not easy to distinguish the difference in all cases does not mean that they should be regarded as synonymous.

: : : : : I had a degree of physical chastisement as a child and recognised that there was 'good' and 'bad' behaviour without ever thinking that I was rejected by my parents. I grew up a disciplined person and think that my parents did a good job of raising me. Some kids had no discipline at home and made big mistakes as a result - most of them coped to some degree, but not all. how 'kind' was it for their parents to neglect discipline?

: : : : I always think of the many natural history TV programmes that the BBC excels in making. How often do we see the mother cuff a cub in order to disipline the youngster? If we go too far along the current road we're travelling, then we're going in the face of our evolutionary history - beware!

: : : The respondents listed above all command respect, and there is truth in this ancient adage. But a little goes a long way, and like many truths, this one can be perverted by people of ignorance or malignity into a hateful command to abuse your child. There is a line, and it's not all that fine. If you are quoting the adage to justify how you are treating your child, then you are probably an ignorant bully whose children are already being abused.
: : : I particularly appreciate James Briggs reference to, and respect for, natural history. If there is any question where the line should be drawn, then watch these wild mothers cuff their cubs. Do they draw blood? Do they leave scars? Do they seem to get an indecent satisfaction from terrorizing their infants? Or do they know when enough is enough? (Not all wild mothers are good mothers, just as not all human parents are fit to raise infants. But perhaps the offspring of unfit parents in the wild do not often live long enough, or well enough, to become unfit parents themselves. I don't know if that's the case, but it seems possible.)
: : : Can you have children who grow up disciplined without their parents using the rod? You bet. But you need a home where the self-discipline of the parents (plus a lot of luck) helps them provide discipline without physical force. It can happen, and often does. I think we have to take into account the tendency of virtually all adults to say, "That's how things were in my day (referring to child-rearing, employment, education, the over-working of medical residents, or any of dozens of other things), and it worked out okay then (or in my case)." That line is used as an excuse for a ton of bad practices.
: : : James Briggs is worried about "the current road we're travelling." I assume that he means today's children are undisciplined in a way that threatens evil consequences. Perhaps he's right. But are today's children (including the ones we raised) any worse than any other generation? From studies in natural history we learn (for instance) that male mice in the throes of mouse adolescence are unusually prone to getting into trouble. In every generation. And yet there continue to be new generations of mice, because trouble-making is something like a corollary of exploring and testing one's environment. Annoying adolescent human boys do that, too. But most of them survive to raise the next generation of annoying adolescents. (God, I hate to get preachy.) SS

: : :
: : : The fact that this saying, so easily subject to wrong-headed interpretaion, is so old shows that child-rearing has been a vexing problem ever since there have been children. SS

: : The problem is, at least in the U.S., that there are so many crazies who don't understand the difference between a light open-handed swat on the behind as a last resort and beating a kid to death. So, the official stance of child-welfare people, etc., has to be that a parent should never hit a child.

: Just in case there is some confusion about Samuel Butler, I want to mention that the author of Hudibras is often called the first Samuel Butler. The second one (1835-1902) wrote Erewhon, Erewhon Revisited and The Way of All Flesh. He also opposed Darwin's explanation of evolution. SS

I think I have been misunderstood - IMO corporal punishment should avoided if possible and is the last resort. I was supporting the adage in a metaphorical sense - as I use the expression 'carrot and stick' to refer to positive/negative reinforcement. Some parents are only too keen to beat up on their kids, but to create a society where any physical chastisement is confused with abuse is going too far. I have worked in child protection, so I don't need a lecture that some people get it wrong - but when reduced to fundamentals, there may be times when physical punishment is appropriate and we should not let simpletons who can only think in black and white determine things outside their understanding to the detriment of society.
We are free to do all kinds of things, but that does not make them wise. Judgment is called for in parental discipline as it is in life generally.
We are not morons who need to be told 'hugs are good - smacks are bad'.