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When Is It Ever Okay to Spank Your Kid?
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Readers debate the question, prompted by Olga’s interview with parenting expert Alan Kazdin. Join the debate via hello@theatlantic.com.

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Is Spanking Your Kid a Form of Sexual Abuse?

That’s what reader Carly believes, turning a previous reader’s argument against itself:

“One example [of acceptable spanking] would be a little kid messing around with his sister. You have to stop that instantly; it’s a sex offense, and they do prosecute little kids for it.”

I really don’t think sexually abusing your son to stop him from sexually abusing his sister is the right approach. Therapy would be a wonderful alternative.

And spanking IS sexual abuse.

Olga has a really popular interview this week with Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, who advises parents not to punish their kids in any way, not even time-outs, let alone more controversial methods like spanking. Here’s how Olga sums up Kazdin’s outlook:

Punishment might make you feel better, but it won’t change the kid’s behavior. Instead, he advocates for a radical technique in which parents positively reinforce the behavior they do want to see until the negative behavior eventually goes away.

But reader Ethan doesn’t buy it:

My disagreement with this method is that it conditions children to expect praise for doing almost anything beneficial, even just less violent versions of negative behaviors like a tantrum. While this might work well through adolescence to moderate things, college and/or life beyond the home rarely comes with such rewards for doing what is expected of all members of society. Raising children with the “carrot” and without the “stick” might be effective within the artificial confines of youth, but the adult world involves far fewer external “carrots” and much harsher “sticks.”

The extreme example? Few police officers offer praise for obedience if you’re told to “get on the ground” or “put your hands above your head,” but you can guarantee that there are severe consequences if instead you choose to disobey. That might not be right or fair, but it’s real, and that for me is the huge hole in this article’s suggestion.

There has to be a balance; if children never learn that there are real consequences for disobedience in life, parents might be setting them up for failure.

Your thoughts? Drop us an email. Another reader, meanwhile, shifts the conversation to corporal punishment:

I see spanking as something you do when patient, reasonable efforts are likely to be dangerous to the health or welfare of your child or someone else.