Spank Or Smack? When Child Discipline Becomes Abuse

Most adults have a way to discipline their children or others around them. But what happens when that discipline starts to leave scars and bruises? The result is almost always abuse, as young writers from The kNOw point out.
***Some names have been changed to protect identity***

I recall a time when I was shopping in Target and I saw this boy around the age of 3 or 4 walking around in the toy aisle and his mother found him and she began cussing him out because he wanted a Hot Wheel car. She made the boy cry and she began yelling at him even more because he was crying. She couldn’t stop him so she hit him a couple of times which made it worse.

The lady got embarrassed because her kid was crying so much that she dragged him by the arm all the way out of the store, his feet barely ever touched the ground. It made me sad to think this boy might get even more hurt when he got home.
-“Violet”, 17


From what I have learned, it’s okay to spank. Depending on other people’s background, they may disagree with me, but I can’t argue with that because I grew up in a household where I was spanked and I thought it was good because it taught me to become a more respectful person.

Now, I think discipline becomes abuse when parents begin to neglect their child or children, when parents start bringing down the child’s self-esteem and when the “spanks” start leaving bruises, cuts, and scars.

I’ve seen a few good examples of my uncle and aunt disciplining their children. Whenever my younger cousins threw temper tantrums or were being naughty and disrespectful, my aunt and uncle would sit them down and tell the child straight out with a stern face what he was doing wrong and told him (they only have sons) he’s going to go home and start on homework and he wasn’t going to have any game time.

The only time I remember my uncle spanking his son was when he was messing around with his youngest brother. My uncle wasn’t too rough on him, but it was a few times to the point where my cousin knew his dad was serious and he shouldn’t have bothered his younger brother. I really feel like my aunt and uncle set a good example of discipline because they don’t put their kids down.
-Gabby, 18


I believe that discipline is something that should only be used to teach a child what they did wrong, or what they shouldn’t do. It should be an absolute last resort. Child abuse, however, is never the answer. Abuse is discipline in excess, and I think it’s wrong. No one deserves to be abused. Discipline in excess only confuses the child. Later in life, they may think it’s okay to do it to others, and that’s how the cycle continues.

I have of course been disciplined, but it wasn’t on a constant basis. I was a very well behaved child. My mom only punished me if I did something that put me in danger. Even then, it hurt a lot because she would use a belt. When I was a child, I guess you could say that pain was my best teacher.
-Jaleesa, 21


There was a time I had to step in while my cousin was being physically abused by her stepdad. He was kicking her hard to the floor as she cried deep sobs. I was furious because first of all he didn’t have that right over her since he was her stepdad. I told him he was an f-en lowlife, that he didn’t have the right to be touching her at all.

My aunt came in and told me to shut up and leave. I did but I thought my aunt was stupid to let that man hit her daughter. To this day my cousin still leaves her house to go with the homeboys, the same ones who also took care of me when I was being abused a long time ago.

I remember being punished by my grandma for no reason, just because she felt like it. She had beaten me before but this time was different. I had worked up the courage to stand up for myself. I called her the b-word. I remember her threatening me, telling me to call her the b-word again. I did and she slapped me and started choking me. She stopped and started punching me and I was crying on the floor. She went for something and couldn’t find anything to beat me with. She grabbed my radio cable and whipped me over and over. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t move and all I could do was cry.

I thought about how much I hated living with her and how I thought she was the reason why my mom killed herself. I looked at her as she beat me and I said to myself, “Why do you hate me so much? Why don’t you kill me already?” I was only eleven years old. That whole night was uncomfortable. I cried uncontrollably. I couldn’t sleep. The next day there was school and all I could remember was thinking about how I was going to hide it.
-“Marina”, 15


I believe that abuse and discipline varies depending on the situation, the amount of force put into the action, and the reason for the abuse or discipline. I think if parents are trying to make a reasonable point and are lightly hitting their child, more of a spank, that would be discipline. But, if they are hitting them hard and for no specific reason, it is abuse.

My little nephew gets a light spanking from his dad once in a while when he does something wrong. He gets plenty of time-outs also but they don’t always work; maybe that’s why people hit instead. I’ve seen plenty of abuse also.

My brother is very abusive, especially when he’s angry. He believes that he’s right and so no one can argue with him. When my sister talked back to him, she had her hair pulled and she got hit. When my other brother talked back, they got in a brawl. I believed that he learned this from my dad. I guess I was never abused by him, only yelled at, but I’ve heard stories similar to what my brother does. I guess abuse is everywhere and in many people, but maybe they just think it’s discipline. Well, it’s not.
-“Duke”, 17


When I was little, I was deeply abused by my older brother. He was four years older than me and was evil. He would just come out of nowhere and beat us up. My parents were busy trying to make a living so they often left us younger kids for my brothers to baby sit.

There was this one time when my brother told me to do the dishes, but I was still very young and didn’t do such a good job rinsing them. My brother went to drink water and found a lot of soap in his mouth. He wrestled me to the ground and hit me saying that I was too lazy and didn’t know how to do anything. At that time I was just wishing for my parents to be home…but they didn’t come.

I cried myself to sleep and that was it. None of my other siblings ever really told my parents how our older brother would beat us up because we would get beat up again. What my brother did was cruel, but it sucks because I’m stuck with him forever. No matter how much I want to run away, my parents never really hit us. I only got spanked by them twice. And both those two times I knew what I did wrong and I know I deserved it. I’m sure those other parents beating their kids near death do love their kids, but they just aren’t properly prepared for the amazing gift of raising a baby.
-“Swan”, 17


One time my stepfather was watching me and my stepsister play. She said something I didn’t like so I pushed her. He saw and came running to me and pushed me and yelled at me, “You like pushing girls you faggot b—–!” After that was said he kicked me three times in the same spot. It left a big bruise but no one knew except one friend that I showed.

My stepdad had so much power over me but I got smart about how things worked for him. Another time I said a word that I shouldn’t have said and he slapped me. He slapped me so many times to the point it didn’t hurt. So I turned and gave him a look that made him hit me again, and he took a step back and said nothing to me. I was seventeen and he never tried to slap me again.
-“Omar”, 19

The kNOw Youth Media
The kNOw works to support and equip young people with the journalism and advocacy skills they need to tell their stories and the stories of their communities.

In 2006, over 25 youth began participating in weekly after-school writing workshops where they congregated in the hallway of a two-story building in West Fresno and learned the essentials of creating media and telling their stories. The group evolved over the next five years and is now proudly recognized as The kNOw Youth Media.

Through our program, we create opportunities for our youth participants, who in turn create long-term positive change in their communities. Our approach weaves youth development and youth media innovation to produce our biannual youth publication, multimedia projects, and community forums.

The kNOw began as a project of New America Media, which was the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations. In 2018 The kNOw became a project of Youth Leadership Institute.

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