By Chris Dugan
Paperback - 143 pages (May 1997) Little Palm Pr; ISBN: 0965608719
This is a book for parents determined to put their own feelings and needs first and their children's needs last, or nowhere. Author Jamie Pritchett makes this clear beginning on page one. She writes about spanking, "there is no carry-over guilt, resentment, irritation or anger" (p. 1). She means, of course, that she doesn't feel these sorts of emotions after she hits her child "hard" (p. 7) with a 15" paddle. The child's feelings don't enter into her picture at all, except as "back-talk" or "defiance" requiring yet another spanking.
Pritchett asserts that other discipline methods "don't work." However, it quickly becomes clear that she never seriously investigated any nonpunitive methods aside from total permissiveness. She reveals that she had already decided on her spanking method of discipline before her daughters were even born and never actually tried any other approaches before declaring that none of them "work." She thinks the only alternatives to spanking consist of other forms of punishment, or simply letting children run wild with no discipline at all. This is absolutely false.
Pritchett says she asked parents with polite obedient children how they disciplined, and in every case they told her they used spankings. However, she then admits that virtually all of these parents were fundamentalist christians like herself who interpret literally Biblical verses about "the rod" - hardly a representative sample of the world's parents or the world's child discipline approaches.
Pritchett's only concept of an "alternative" to spanking consists of alternative punishmentssuch as extra chores, scolding, time outs, etc. Pritchett appears completely unaware of the existence of nonpunitive approaches to discipline such as author Thomas Gordon outlines in his excellent book "Parent Effectiveness Training." This lack of awareness is difficult to excuse in someone writing a parenting book and holding herself up as an authority on the subject of child discipline.
Scientific investigation fails to support the view that spanked children behave better than nonspanked children. Straus & Mouradian (1998-Beh. Sci. Law 16(3):353) found that children in their study whose mothers had never spanked them in their lives were significantly more well behaved than even the most rarely-spanked children, and MUCH more well behaved than the frequently-spanked children. Gunnoe & Mariner (1997- Arch. Ped. Adol. Med. 151:768-775), two prospanking researchers from a conservative christian college, attempted to debunk Straus's results with a study of their own. But they only wound up replicating the same sorts of findings as Straus's group. Not one published peer-reviewed study has ever found any measurable evidence of any form of long term benefit to children from spanking - and evidence of negative long term effects continues to mount.
Spanked children may behave better immediately afterwards, but in the long run, parents with the wisdom, patience, humor, and imagination to raise children without hitting are rewarded with the best behaved youngsters.
Pritchett explains how irritating she finds "whiney" children, explaining "by whiney I mean, as soon as the mother would sit down to chat, the child would start fussing and interrupting constantly in an effort to gain the mother's attention" (p. 2). This child is best characterized not as whiney but as needy. This child's needs are not being met on some level. But Pritchett's only concern is how the child's behavior affects herself, and her solution is to spank the child repeatedly until all outward signs have been suppressed and then write a book exhorting the rest of the world's parents to follow her selfish example. Meanwhile, the child's original unmet need remains unmet - a fact which will have serious consequences later on.
Pritchett claims that her Parent Wins/Child Loses punitive method is the optimum way to raise children, but at various points in the book she reveals that she actually has no idea how to parent any other way. On page 80 she writes, "When my [twin] daughters were about ten years old I asked myself, 'Are they getting too old to spank?' I did seriously consider using other discipline methods [i.e. other punishments - c.d.]. But what would I use as a substitute that would be as effective in dealing with defiance or disobedience? I could think of nothing." In fact, children are extremely intelligent creatures. It is not necessary to hit them in order to train them.
Despite the book's subtitle, Pritchett does not believe there is any age in which a child is too old to spank. Pritchett even relates a couple of folksy stories about how well spankings allegedly "worked" on 16 and 17 year olds! A parent who has to "spank" a child this age - old enough to drive and practically old enough to vote - has admitted their failure as a parent. What rational justification exists for hitting someone this age? Is it because they are "incapable of reason?" Of course not. Parents who hit teenagers are parents who, like Pritchett, "can think of nothing." Their relationship with their children has always been built on their power to punish and control through force, and they have no idea how to change, even when their child is practically grown. The streets of major US cities are full of runaway teenagers many of whom have voted with their feet and fled homes in which their parents attempted to take Pritchett's bad advice on teen discipline.
For spanking, Pritchett recommends using "A flat piece of wood approximately 15" long and 3" wide and 1/2" thick" (p. 9) but adds that "As children get bigger a more substantial sized paddle may become necessary" (p. 10). She also recommends keeping one of these monstrosities in every room of the house as well as the car.
When Pritchett's daughters are grown and preparing for parenthood, I predict that they will ask their mother why she never even bothered to read the abundant literature available to their mother when they were young - literature which would have suggested an abundance of nonpunitive nonpermissive methods of discipline. Faber and Mazlish's "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk" is loaded with creative win/win methods of dealing with child discipline issues - methods which Pritchett never attempted to use because she was so sure of herself she never made any attempt to learn.
Earlier generations of parents can say that they didn't know about nonpunitive/nonpermissive alternative methods of discipline. Jamie Pritchett and today's parents do not have that excuse.