GMA Panelist: 'No Spanking, Never'

To spank or not spank? The question that parenting experts love to raise was the focus of a segment on “Good Morning America” July 6.

Host George Stephanopoulos highlighted the ages-old spanking debate, showing how some parents' refusal to spank their children has created a divide between parents and grandparents.

Stephanopoulos featured Laura and Todd Mansfield of Oregon, two parents who were outraged after finding out that Laura's mother spanked their two sons one weekend that she babysat the boys. Laura said she and her husband don't believe in spanking their children because it “can be used as a form of abuse.”

To discuss this familial divide, Stephanopoulos interviewed two psychologists as panelists: Ann Pleshette Murphy, GMA's regular parenting contributor, and Dr. Kevin Leman, who has authored books on marriage and parenting.

Murphy adamantly said parents should never spank because “it hurts.” “Parents who say, 'It hurts me more than it hurts the child,' it's baloney,” Murphy said. Rather than teaching a child self-discipline or respect, Murphy said spanking instills fear in children and “erodes the parent-child relationship.”

“Bottom line, it doesn't work,” Murphy said. She also argued that spanking is ineffective because “when you spank a child, they stop thinking. They're not listening to you.”

Stephanopoulos didn't ask Murphy to expound on her statement that spanking “doesn't work,” brushing off examples of kids who were spanked and turned out alright. One example was Laura Mansfield's father, who said, “We all got our fair share of spankings growing up, so what's the big deal? We don't feel traumatized, our friends don't feel traumatized.”

Stephanopoulos could have mentioned the apparent flaws in connecting spanking and child abuse, according to an extensive study compiled by pediatricians Den Trumbull and S. DuBose Ravenel. Trumbull and Ravenel concluded that the studies conducted on spanking often fail to distinguish between cases of disciplinary spanking and full-blown physical abuse, giving critics ammo to condemn all forms of disciplinary spanking.

The report did feature a “pro-spanking” expert, Dr. Kevin Leman, who downplayed his own support for the practice, saying he was not a “big spanker.” 

Although Leman said there are times that parents should spank, he placed little emphasis on that form of punishment in his parenting book, “Have a New Kid by Friday.” Leman told Stephanopoulos that only one page of the book is devoted to spanking. Leman also gave his definition of spanking as, “a swat on a clothed bottom.”

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