Growing up, Black kids swapped spanking stories like Pokémon cards. It was an occurrence so common to Black childhood that we shared the stories, well into adulthood, like bonding moments. In the midst of laughing about our immature behavior and our parents’ calm or anger as they enacted the highest form of discipline, we bonded over the shared experience of being hit, spanked, whupped and even beat by parents who loved us and wanted to ensure that we grew up to be the type of people who respected authority figures. So many of our parents spanked us with the notion that if they disciplined us first and properly, we wouldn’t have to be whipped by an unkind world.
But increasingly, the conversation around spanking has shifted. While it might have been something that united our childhoods, perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to laugh it off. Author and speaker Dr. Stacey Patton, a child abuse survivor, has written books and speaks often about protecting children by advocating against spanking.
And last week, The American Academy of Pediatrics said that parents should never spank because not only is the method not effective for long term behavioral changes but there is an increased chance of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial and emotional outcomes for children.
As you can imagine, there are plenty of Black parents who operate differently in the confines of their home, swearing by the rod.
But there are other Black women who lie somewhere in the middle or Black women who don’t spank their children at all…and then those that do. We spoke to all of these women about their relationship to spanking. See what they had to say below.
Spanking Stance: No
Literally, when I was pregnant, that was the furthest thing from my mind was discipline. It was just adjusting because I was a new wife and I was like ‘Let me get my life together first.’ But with her, I came to find that she’s so soft-hearted and she’s sensitive. She doesn’t want to disappoint. I could just give her a look and she would break down in tears. Now, don’t get me wrong, she does get popped. I’ve never whupped her. In today’s society, I don’t think a lot of kids need whuppings. They need things taken away from them. Because we’re so connected to our phones, laptop, tv. So if we limit that stuff when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do, it will have more of an effect than a whupping. Because if I get this whupping, then I can go back to doing what I was doing.
But I don’t know about that study though. Because we come from a generation where we got whuppings and I don’t think any of us have any psychological or mental damage or anything and I think we respect our parents more too.
What does “popping” look like for you guys?
Like, I’ll hit her on her hand or on her forehead. Like, ‘What’d you say? Who you getting smart with?’ Because she tries to test me. But I’m not trying to inflict the maximum pain. Nothing like that. Just like ‘Aye, watch what you’re doing.’ And that gets her together real quick. If I had another child, it might have to go get a belt. It depends on the child.
Did you get spankings growing up?
When I was a child, we got whuppings. But I got three, maybe four, in my life. Because we weren’t bad kids and she isn’t a bad kid. There are some bad little niglets out here and I be looking at them like ‘I wish I had a belt. Sit down!’ But the last whupping I got my mother saw that it didn’t hurt me. I said, ‘Let’s just go ahead and get this over with.’ I was 13. It just didn’t have the same effect on me. But my stepfather figured it out. He said, ‘Taking stuff away from her does more damage.’
But my child, just sitting down talking to her, if I have a stern disposition about myself, she takes that to heart.
Do you think spanking is an effective method of discipline?
For some children, yes. Some kids need they ass beat. The ones who need it are the ones who are disrespectful to their teachers and disrespectful to forms of authority.
Daughters, 39, 36, 35, 30
Spanking Stance: Yes and No
[Not spanking my kids] was not a planned thing with us. And to tell you the truth, I thought I was whipping butts over here everyday. But after Maria got married, she and her husband were having a discussion about whether they were going to spank their kids. And she was dead set against it and she told him, she never got a spanking. And I said, ‘Say what? Are you serious?’ But my oldest son, he got whippings all the time. But it didn’t do anything for him. So it wasn’t like we didn’t plan to whip them, I just didn’t see where it was necessary, with all of them, I guess.
But now, the grandkids, they get whippings. My granddaughter learns from hers. They already know, if I have to take you back to my bedroom, it’s a problem. You’re too old for this. And very rarely does it happen. But I’ve whipped them more than I ever did with my kids. And I tell them all the time, ‘Y’all new to me. I don’t even know this type of stuff.’ I tell them, ‘This is so ridiculous. But you respond better to me having to whip your butt. So it’s getting ready to go down.’ And it works. That’s the sad part. I tell them, ’This is what they do to animals and they’re wrong to do animals like that. But to send me into this mode, I’m not feeling good about it at all.’
So you feel like it’s necessary for them?
Yes. When you constantly tell them not to do something or they do what they want to do when you say don’t do it like that. Or when discussion is getting out of hand and I say, ‘Let’s stop.’ And the next thing out of your mouth is you still yelling. ‘You getting ready to go lay across grandma’s bed.’ Because it’s a matter of being disrespectful.
Then you’ve got these studies that come out and I don’t agree with them because after the spanking, they have more of a realization of what they’ve done wrong.
To her granddaughter: Am I right about that?
Granddaughter: You’re right.
Were you spanked as a child?
My dad didn’t believe in it. He said you shouldn’t touch the flesh in that way. Now, mama, yes. Mama whipped somebody everyday. But not my father.
There were 13 of us. It was a like a tradition for my mother. My dad told my mom that she didn’t need to be whipping me because it was like I would have an allergic reaction. My sisters said it was like I was having seizures. I would fall on my knees and beg and plead, ‘Lord please don’t let me get this whipping.’ So for me, psychologically at that time, it was not the right thing to do to me. But now that I’m grown, I thank my mom because she kept me from getting into things I had no business doing. So I did learn a lot from her. And I don’t think that any of my brothers and sisters spank their kids.
Do you agree with the study?
It’s interesting because it depends. You have situations where people think they’re spanking their kids but they’re actually beating them. A girlfriend of mine had a situation with her daughter. We were in the gym and the next thing I knew, she was charging at her daughter like this was going to be a fight where everybody had to gather round. And I had to intervene. I said, ‘I can’t stand here and watch you do that.’ She said she was getting ready to beat her down. And she called to thank me because she now realizes the difference.
If you’re going to spank or whip your child, you do that in an orderly way. If you think you’re getting ready to beat your child, she’s going to beat you back. That’s the confusion that a lot of people have. Just because you’re my mother doesn’t mean you’re going to beat me like that. If you know you’re at that point, you have to remove yourself from that child. Just let them know you’ll be back.
I do believe if you promote an intelligent environment for your kids, I believe they’ll make better choices.
Spanking Stance: No
Me and my husband were back and forth. And I said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to beat my child because I didn’t get beatings.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, I got beatings. You beat them. I’m going to spank her.’ I wanted to say, ‘Look how you turned out?
How did you convince him that that was something you weren’t going to do?
It was no convincing. It was either my way or not. You’re not beating my child or I’m going to beat you. But she’s four so he don’t even have the heart to do it. He’s a punk. He’s not going to hit his little girl.
Since you don’t spank, how do you discipline your daughter?
I just take something away. I use the iPad as a pawn. Or when she’s really bad—like she colored my whole couch. And my friend was like, ‘Why didn’t you beat her?’ And I said, ‘What am I going to beat her for?’ She doesn’t know that you can’t color on the couch. So I just turned everything off. Find something else to play with. Or I just throw it in the trash. Since you want to color on my couch, I’m throwing this markers away. It’ll be interesting to see when she’s older and she’s really testing me. But I’ve never been spanked so I don’t know the first thing. And I’m a social worker. So I don’t think that I’m going to do it.
Did you realize that other kids were being hit or spanked?
I used to see my cousins get spankings. And even when they would talk about it in school, they would talk about it and I would say, ‘I don’t get beatings!’
What other forms of discipline did your mom use?
Punishment. I was on house arrest forever. She would take the phone, the house phone. And that was really all I needed. I wasn’t a bad kid.
Do you agree with the study? Is spanking emotionally harmful?
I don’t think it’s emotionally harmful because these kids will kill you. So you need to let them know who the authority is. But when a child is getting beaten everyday, what are you punishing the child for? What are you beating the child for? That can mess with them emotionally because everything doesn’t require a spanking or beating. And I think parents need to pick their battles. I think parents get tired and they’re not picking their battles. And if it’s endured multiple times then it can be and you’re going to pass it on because you think that’s the only way to get your message across to your children. And it’s not. I think I’m kind of in the middle. There are bad kids that need to be spanked. But that’s the thing everyone thinks someone else’s kid is bad and needs to be spanked.
Carol (Mommy), 65
Daughters, 31 and 29
Spanking Stance: Yes
Children need discipline. You can not rule out discipline and there’s different types of discipline and you have to govern yourself accordingly with each child. I never got spankings. I think I got one spanking because I looked at the rest of them and said, ‘It won’t be me.’
I had you who had the smart mouth and I had to pop her on her lips every once in a while. Your dad didn’t like it but to me that’s where the foulness came from. That’s where you had to get it. And you understood. I didn’t get much foul.
Do you agree with the study, that spanking is emotionally and psychologically harmful?
It all depends on how you do it. It can be damaging because the way your grandfather disciplined the boys, it was damaging. And with me growing up seeing that, you have to learn what to take in order to raise my child and what can I leave on the table.
Everybody can’t spank either. You’ve got to know yourself. If you know your temper is too bad then you have to be creative enough to say I can’t touch my child but you have to do something to let them know that there are limits. But you have to be creative in thinking in that way. And a lot of parents are lazy. They don’t want to think like that.
You weren’t spanked a lot. Neither one of you were spanked a lot. It is how you and your children interact with each other. Your children know you and you know your child.