Thursday, February 16, 2006

Effects of Corporal Punishment - Testimony from a Childhood

On the subject of the effects of using hitting as a method of training your child, the following is a letter written to Roy Lessin, church minister and author of a book called Spanking, whose views appear to be in the same sort of territory as those of the Pearls.

Open Letter to Roy Lessin on the Subject of Spanking

Dear Roy,

After 19 years I have found the courage to write you this letter declaring how your choice to teach and write about spanking has affected me. My purpose in writing you this open letter is to share with you and others that the spanking approach you recommend is harmful. My parents both know my view on this issue. I have talked to them, as well, about how their decision to implement your spanking recommendations affected me.

I have a mission. My mission is to warn new parents who are innocently trying to raise happy, healthy children. Should just one parent spare their child the kind of pain that I endured at the hands of my parents implementing your spanking recommendations, my pain will have more meaning than it does now.

I want to begin by talking about your spanking approach so that we'll both be using the same language. In your book, you describe a process by which a parent performs a spanking on their child:

* The first step is to use the right instrument; if a parent uses their hand, the child might become fearful of the parent's hand.
* The second step is to spank promptly.
* The third step is to find a private place in which the parent can conduct the spanking.
* The fourth step is for the parent to explain to the child why they are going to be spanked.
* The fifth step is to get the child into a good spanking position (when my parents and other adults—such as your wife, Char— spanked me, the ritual involved removing the child's clothing); you recommend bending the child over a bed, or bending a smaller child over the parent's lap.
* The sixth step is to hit the child on the buttocks with a stick or other spanking implement.
* The seventh step is to continue spanking until the child yields a broken cry, which indicates a broken will.
* The eighth step is reconciliation. You recommend that parents comfort the child until sufficient time has passed, and then ask the child to stop crying. You recommend that parents spank a child who displays a "wrong attitude" by continuing to cry too long after a spanking.

The language in your book is much more "sugary" than what I've just written. But my description does not come close to what it feels like to receive a Roy Lessin spanking. So I'll describe what a Roy Lessin spanking is like.

My first spanking was when I was six months old. My mother spanked me for crying after she put me to bed. She had to spank me repeatedly to teach me to not cry when she put me down. I know about this incident because my mother used to tell all new mothers about how young I was when she started spanking me. My last spanking occurred when I was thirteen years old. The Roy Lessin spankings that I remember most vividly took place between the ages of three and seven, because I hardly went a few days without a spanking at that time.

I'd like to share with you, and others, what it was like receiving a Roy Lessin spanking. The moment I found out I was going to get a Roy Lessin spanking, I felt physically ill. Because the Roy Lessin spanking is a ritual, the ordeal could take a long time. (When I refer to a spanking ritual, I'm referring to the steps you outline in your book.) This was hard for me because I had a child's sense of time. The dread bubbled up and consumed me, and stayed with me until the spanking ritual was over. My parents usually sent me to a private room, such as my own room, and there I would wait until one of my parents came. (My dad spanked me the most, so in my illustration let's assume my father is conducting the Roy Lessin spanking.) My father would explain the reason for the spanking. This was an excruciating process because I had to listen while knowing what was coming. Since I might face back-to-back Roy Lessin spankings, I had to be careful not to be disrespectful in my listening to my father. I had already developed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and would feel my guts cramp up with anxiety during his speech. Then he would ask me to take off my pants and underwear. I would feel deeply embarrassed because my father was not supposed to see me naked. (My family had a high standard for modesty.) My humiliation and fear would grow immeasurably as I leaned over the bed, my father's knee, or whatever was around. My private parts were helplessly exposed as my dad laid his hand on my back. Trying to pull away and defend myself would only mean that the spanking would be longer, or I'd get a back-to-back spanking. The stick, paddle inscribed with scripture verses, or belt would swish violently through the air before slapping painfully on my buttocks or thighs. I would scream in pain and anguish.

I cannot remember a moment of thinking of resisting, rebelling, or trying to"win" anything, as you recommend parents should watch for as they hit their children. I just tried to survive the best way I knew how. The screaming, the hitting, and the pain would continue for unknown amounts of time. When the gruesome pain ended, I would begin to battle with my emotions and my body. I knew that crying too much could mean that my father would start a Roy Lessin spanking ritual all over again to correct my "wrong attitude."

My parents were never concerned about the marks they left on my body. We never we talked about the painful marks on my body, or how clothing, baths, chairs, etc. hurt. The message was clear: there was no pain. Pulling up my pants was incredibly painful, and so was sitting on my father's lap. Because "there was no pain," I had to pretend my buttocks and thighs didn't hurt even though they did, while my father would wrap his arms around me and "comfort" me.

I was not like the idealized children you describe in your book, not knowing the difference between the spanking implement and the parent. My father caused me that pain—not a stick! My father's arms scared me, and I feared my father like I've feared no other man. His touch repulsed me. I was the same with my mother. (To this day,I cannot physically tolerate either parent touching me. I feel physically ill at their touch.) My father would pray, and I could hardly go along but for fear of yet another Roy Lessin spanking. After we prayed, it was time for me to be happy. But my insides would be a mess. Tears would threaten to come back and cause me more pain and anguish. I had to pretend that I wasn't sad, and that I wasn't in pain.

This would be my greatest lesson: to be happy no matter how I felt inside. It would take me a few back-to-back spankings, but I would learn. It would be a lesson I'd learn for life—being falsely happy regardless of how my body felt.

One aspect of receiving a Roy Lessin spanking is the sexual aspect. It's taken me years to even begin to allow myself to speak of this aspect. You see, as a child I had no idea what sex was. I just had this funny sensation that came and went during the Roy Lessin spanking ritual. To my great dismay, I learned that sexual stimulation can be cross-wired with the painful ritual of spankings. This cross-wiring was a real problem for me. Because I couldn't cope with the double message of love and pain, I avoided developing an intimate relationship with a man for a very long time. It took years for me to find a healthy sexuality outside the memories I have of the Roy Lessin spankings. I struggled with this double message as a child. I feel a deep sense of shame as I remember hitting and torturing my dolls and Barbies when no one was around. I needed some way to express the fear, pain, and sexual confusion I felt inside; yet my childish mind couldn't comprehend the significance of what I was doing.

My parents were your "A" students. They followed your eight steps occasionally reducing the entire Roy Lessin spanking ritual to a few swats—not very often, though. My butt and thighs would sting for a long time after a Roy Lessin spanking ritual, so I'd go into the bathroom and use my mother's mirror to look at my behind. I remember seeing red stripes crisscrossing my buttocks and my thighs. At times, I had old marks underneath the new marks. My parents conducted several Roy Lessin spanking rituals a day when I was a young child. I remember a teacher at school asking me one day why I didn't just sit still. I couldn't tell her that it was because the marks on my butt hurt so bad sitting in the little wooden chair.

Now that we've established what a Roy Lessin spanking is and what it felt like to receive one, let's move on to wrong attitudes. I'd like to begin by telling you a story of what it was like having an adult, in this case your wife, address my "wrong attitude."

One day my parents were moving. I was four, and woke up to a house that I no longer recognized. I asked my mother what was happening. Whatever answer she gave, I didn't understand. She sent my brothers and me to your house, where your wife Char was to baby-sit us. On the way out the door, I saw our small parakeet Chirpy sitting in his cage outside our house near some bushes. Now, Chirpy wasn't supposed to be outside. A dark feeling of dread came over me. I was frightened as I walked to the car, looking at Chirpy frantically chirping in his cage next to a stack of boxes. At some point, at your house, Char put all of us down for a nap. The confusion and fear filled me, and I wondered if I'd ever see my home again. When the room was quiet, my emotions burst out of me. I cried. Char came in and told me to stop, and I couldn't. So she performed one of your spanking rituals. I went back to my napping spot. I lay there for the remainder of my nap—unable to sleep, afraid to move, filled with emotions of dread and fear so large I thought I'd explode. But I had to make Char believe that I was cheerfully obeying her. I put on whatever face I could to convince her, and pretended to be asleep. I had to pretend I felt different than I did inside.

There are two points I'd like to make about bad attitudes. The first is that, as you can see above, adults do not have "powers" that allow them to read the minds of children. My parents made this mistake over and over again. They weren't much better at reading my mind or how I felt than your wife was that day I stayed at your house. You see, parents make mistakes. There's no getting around this. But when a parent uses a force as violent as a Roy Lessin spanking, mistakes are truly damaging, especially when the spanking ritual involves breaking the child's will—or breaking any part of a child's psyche!

The second point about "wrong attitudes" is that you tell parents that their children will be happy with your mode of discipline, or even prefer being spanked. I want to say that I didn't experience that joy. I built myself a cheerful, obedient shell. I lived in that shell, only peeking my head out when I felt safe, for 30 years. It took me another seven years to actually try taking the cheerful, obedient shell off—only to run back into it when something felt like the "old fears of my childhood." I have not been happy living in this shell, constantly pretending to be happy when I felt miserable inside. When I think of a happy child, I think of a child who feels free to express their ideas, thoughts, and emotions. I think that a parent's job is to teach a child how to express their emotions, not hit them with a stick until the child displays the emotion of the parent's choosing.

You write about parents disciplining children for disobedience. It seems pretty simple. The parents set up some rules and the children follow them. When disobedience is based on a child doing or behaving just as the parent asks, following those rules becomes much harder. As your teachings played out in my growing-up years, I found that I violated more rules than I could keep track of. Not only that, one of the rules was to follow through without my mom or dad asking a second time. So perfection became the rule, and perfection was something I failed at miserably. Even in the cheerful, obedient shell, I was not completely safe. The life lesson I took away was that there is no such thing as a second chances. I took this lesson to school, and found that I was afraid to try. Not that my parents didn't encourage me—it was just that if the encouragement didn't work, which it often didn't, they'd spank me for getting letters backwards, words wrong on spelling tests, and so forth. Basically, they spanked me for not trying hard enough.

I haven't even mentioned the hundreds of other issues they spanked me for. I learned how to live helplessly. Not only did I face my own internal disappointment at not getting something correct, I faced a Roy Lessin spanking at home when I wore out my encouragement. I grew up thinking that I was mentally handicapped. Later, as a grown adult, I found out that I'm dyslexic—something a Roy Lessin spanking would never cure.

For most of my life, I worried that I'd remembered all this wrong. About eleven years ago I called Char and asked her to listen to while I recalled a Roy Lessin spanking for her. I described to her in as much detail as I could remember the beatings I endured again and again. Char told me that my memories were exactly what you and she had taught my parents. I had not remembered wrong! I read your book a few weeks ago. I was again surprised to realize I knew and remembered your teachings very well. After the years of growing up around your family and hearing you preach at Outreach, your book brought back your painful teachings and the painful memories I've been trying so hard to live with. I kept wanting to grab my cheerful, obedient shell because to this day I feel scared when I think of all theRoy Lessin spankings and teachings.

Both Char, during my call with her, and you, in your first book, talk about spankings having a higher purpose in saving the soul. You reference Proverbs 20:30: "Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts." Those "blows" left horrible marks on my body that made sitting difficult and bathing with soap sting horribly, and they terrified my spirit.

Feeling terrified isn't the only outcome I live with. Ten years ago a gastroenterologist diagnosed me with IBS, a condition I've had since I was around three years old. Because of the fierce anxiety I felt because of the Roy Lessin spankings, I had terrible chronic stomach aches and diarrhea while I was growing up and as an adult. Five years ago my psychiatrist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I began to work through my deeply rooted fears of my parents and the Roy Lessin spankings. Later a physician associate (PA) diagnosed me with asthma and severe allergies from a poor immune system, a result of mychronic anxiety. The same PA told me that I'm at high risk for colon cancer because of the years of IBS as a result of my anxiety.

Roy, these problems are all due to my parents implementing your teachings using Roy Lessin spankings to correct a multitude of childhood blunders and attitudes. I can't imagine why a parent would want these outcomes for their child. I may have looked happy and acted lovingly towards my parents, but I was emotionally and physically sick inside! Your teachings gave me no option but to live a horrible lie of looking happy when I was miserable.

For almost every day of my life, I fear people. If people like my parents, and friends of my family such as you and Char, would hurt me this badly, what horrible things would others do to me? I was supposed to be safe with my family and friends growing up! I especially fear men in authority roles. I occasionally look even at people I know, and who I know to be safe, with terror just because they've spoken in a tone that reminds me of those early times. I fear making mistakes. I choose not to have children of my own because a child's screams scramble my insides.

Remember all those sermons at Outreach that you, Don Leetch, Dean Kerns, and a few others delivered? I still hear children screaming as their parents spanked them outside the church sanctuary during Sunday morningservice during those sermons. I remember the screams of my siblings. I remember on a Friday night, someone was preaching and a dad took a baby outside for a spanking, and a neighbor called the police. We stopped the church service, and you went out with your bible to explain to the officer why it was fine for the parent to spank their baby. All of us inside prayed that the officer would understand and not take the baby away.

As a grown woman I still fear Roy Lessin spankings. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night begging my husband to "not let them get me." "My father and I have talked several times about Roy Lessin spankings. He has asked for forgiveness, and is horrified by what he has done.
These conversations have been incredibly painful for both of us, and I'm now 37 years old! I believe that he thought he was doing the right thing. You were a leader in the church he believed in, and you were his friend. Our families socialized together. This was not some teaching he picked up somewhere, and then went off to make the best of it.

I hope that by this point you begin to see how your simple, sweet words about raising children are actually harmful. Perhaps you're wondering ifI want to have a dialogue with you, and talk about what you really meant by your early book. Perhaps you've adopted a policy of grace, and now recommend that parents spank less and not on bare skin? The truth is, I don't want to know. If I needed justification or reasoning for your teachings, I could use your book as a reference.

What I'd like you to do is reconsider your position after carefully looking at how your teachings affected me. Would a loving parent really want to raise a child to fear people, to wear a cheerful and obedient shell, or to live with PTSD and other ailments? I hope the answer you come to is No. I hope that you realize that hitting a child for any reason is not loving. Then, I hope, you join the cause to end corporal punishment in the homes of children.

I came into this world a happy, healthy baby. For no other reason than the Roy Lessin spankings, I now fight for my physical and mental health. Please help others and me so this doesn't happen to any more children.

Help end corporal punishment. Help end child abuse. If Jesus said, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42), I can't image that God would condone such behavior in people who claim to be loving parents.

Sincerely, Bethany A. Fenimore


Anonymous said...

There was a sickening bit, too, in the letter from the daughter of the Pearls, describing how her parents laughed when they spanked her and how, in her warped mind, that made it all right.

Bethany's letter is a very comprehensive description of the damage that physical abuse can do and for the first time I can understand how the sado masochistic tendency can develop from such treatment. The consequences of brutal treatment are terrifying. It's also hard to believe that people advising such things will receive a welcome anywhere in the UK, but then 15 years ago Toddler Taming with its spanking message received widespread acclaim here.

Is it too much to hope that only the parents who would hit any way will actually listen to such things?


Anonymous said...

And for some good news :) Under pressure from HEors, the Newcastle date of the TOSH tour has been cancelled and pressure is on to put a stop to the others.

Anonymous said...

Strange you post this, I just read it the other day. It's quite impressive how she thinks so clearly about this and remained good inside.

Anonymous said...

Horrible. Such extreme spanking would be bad enough, but the cold, methodical way it's been done is... cruel. Beyond cruel.

Growing up, I'd get a slap when my mother was at the very end of her patience - this was pretty rare, mind. It didn't bother me much then, and it's certainly nothing to dwell on now. More often I would be sent to my room, which was a bit more upsetting at the time, but at least all my toys were up there. But both were done in the heat of the moment; that is, it was lashing out, not rationalised actions.

Compared to what goes on now, with the 'naughty step'. Obviously there's a significant difference between canine and human behaviour, but such ostracising always reminds me of the pariah dog. It's the *coldness* of such punishment.


Carlotta said...

Yep, re your last point! I do wonder what sort of primordial instincts this type of behaviour is appealing to.

Apparently Roy Lessin's book sells well via the other type of spanking sites...:(((

Anonymous said...

After reading your letter to Mr. Lessin, I have to say that your parents and all who spanked in that manner were, in fact, abusing you. This is not at all how the Pearls behave with their children. They would not take off their clothes to spank. That's humiliating. Do you know the Pearls? How can you correctly judge them to be in the same boat with Mr. Lessin? Have you met the Pearl children? How can you correctly judge that their parent's practices were abuse and have harmed them in any way? It seems to me that you are 'casting stones' at people whom you do not know. Write to them and find out from them and their children if your suspicions are correct. In their case they do not live in the "ideal" is truly the way they live.

The knotted stomach that you describe is very similar to what I experienced myself from a father who was abusive...physically, sexually and emotionally. I never felt knotted up in my stomach after spankings...only when I knew he was going out for a drink...I knew that we would be in for a loud, cruel night (sometimes all night) of beating and destroying our home after he got in. When I grew up I found it in my heart to truly forgive him and see him as God sees him and was able to even have compassion on him as an adult.

One thought, the Pearl's are not coming to the UK. Only people who want to encourage the homeschool movement in the UK which is greatly needed. Homeschooling is not widely practiced or sometimes even known about in the UK. I took one of my children to hospital and when asked what school they went to, the lady behind the desk asked me if homeschooling was even legal.

I have also been stopped a number of times by truant officers during the daytime when I was out with my children and made to feel like a criminal.

I'm sorry for your abusive experience as a child that has affected you through life and I pray that forgiveness truly comes to your heart so that your parents can begin to touch you in a loving way and you'll be able to receive it. Jesus never meant for you to be mistreated. Mistakes are made but, restoration is always being extended to those hurt by other people's mistakes.

Please give deep thought to your crusade to stop this visit to the UK from some people that would be able to lend help to hungry, (some struggling) homeschoolers. Homeschooling in the US is quite accepted and growing immensely. I've lived in both the US and the UK. The US is about 25 years ahead of the UK in the homeschool movement. The UK is still in the pioneering stage in many areas and should welcome help from people who've already pioneered the way in the US and not find ways to keep them out.

I want to encourage you to search your heart in your own personal matters. I'm not sure it was the spanking that wounded you so severely. It may have been the suppressed anger and resentment and unforgiveness that you suffered because you had no one to turn to. It seems that you and your parents did not have open, warm, loving communication like the Pearl's do. It sounds like your parents did not spank at all in the spirit in which it was meant nor the method that should have been carried out.

I have one child that has told me that he's glad that I have spanked him before and we have very loving, open times after he has received a spanking. He'll even remind me when we get home from somewhere that he was due a spanking. Our love relationship is the part that matters the most and the part that is tended to the most and he never thinks he is not loved because he gets spankings. We are all very close and open with each other about everything. I have 4 children.

I wanted to ask if you had checked the laws in the UK? I'm wondering if you've opened yourself up to lawsuits by publishing all the venues of the meetings and encouraged people to write to them or contact them in a negative way. Britain is pretty picky about those such things.

I wanted to write and say that there are more 'Testimonies from a Childhood' and it may not be a good idea to build a doctrine or a movement based on just your own personal experience. There are many factors that play into your childhood it sounds from your story. I can only go by what you have written in your testimony but, what you have written is sad. I'm sorry that your parents treated you this way and I'm sorry that you have suffered this long from it. I'm sorry that you were spanked as an infant and saw others have the same done to them. It was wrong. I have spatted little hands that play with electrical cords, but it was for their safety. That's not the same as 'spanking'. Please don't judge everyone else by your parent's mistakes. Not everyone is going to follow through the way your parents did. It sounds as though they are the exception and not the rule.

Spanking, when done correctly and with love, is not child abuse. I do spank, but I never use sticks or boards or hands to spank. My children's hearts are so soft that even just a firm word from me usually takes care of the problem. Usually by the age of 2 or 3 they've gotten the obedience thing down because of consistency. I have one that has taken longer to learn everything so he was a little older.

I agree, as one who has experienced it personally, that child abuse has lasting affects and no one should ever abuse a child ever. Your parents may have abused you during your spankings but that doesn't mean that the spankings in every situation are always wrong and that everyone who spanks their children is going to abuse or is abusing them. You need to witness it done right in a loving way...not a legalistic list that is read off and practiced every time you get a spanking. That is legalistic and intimidating and is a religious ritual that ends up making children believe that God is a big bully who is mad at them and to be feared. That is so opposite from the truth and is also not effective at all. God is a loving God who wants to embrace us. No wonder so many think church is irrelevant. People haven't seen the real thing. I'm sorry for that and for your experiences and will be glad to hear when complete forgiveness has taken place in your hearts toward each other. That there will be no sickness nor cringing when your parents touch you.

I did feel, though, that I needed to write these other things in response to your crusade to keep people who want to help you out. There is a bigger picture that needs to be looked at.


Carlotta said...

Dear F,

In teaching the doctrine of non-violence to my children, I say: use the minimum possible effective force in order to provide yourself and those to whom you have a duty to protect with adequate defence.

My siblings and I were never,ever spanked. I can say of my siblings at least, that they are the most wonderful people. They are witty, charming, optimistic, beautiful, kind, professionally successful and extremely good parents. Given that this was achieved without any corporal punishment and given that I want to encourage non-violence whenever it is possible, WHY HIT???
There are other MUCH BETTER POSSIBILITIES. A little imagination, reason and creativity would make this abundantly clear.

Anonymous said...

It seems strange that anyone can think children are so stupid that they can't respond to reason (which might be in the form of mime or some such thing when very young) and that they require beating like animals to 'train' them.

If, as you say, 'Spanking, when done with love, is not child abuse'
does this mean that:

'beating your wife, when done with love, is not abuse'?
Or that:
'taking aside a work colleague and giving them a quick going over to correct their evil ways, when done with love, is not abuse'?

Adding love to any old irrational, unpleasant behaviour doesn't make it suddenly ok.

So there was a child who asked you to spank him? Imagine what sort of world a person must live in to have to ask the people in their lives to dish out physical abuse - it must be that this was a way he knew he could get your approval. And, when we are totally dependent on a powerful being who controls our lives we sure want approval. Maybe asking for spanking was a jolly clever way of diminishing punishment in advance. This is no justification for so called 'spanking with love'.

Maybe when this child grows up he will go to his wife every now and then, when he needs some approval, and ask for a bit of a beating. Perhaps we'd all be happier if we lived like that.

Anonymous said...

Curious to know why you didn't post my comments of the other day? A little bias going on?


Carlotta said...

Dear F,

I am very sorry. I wasn't aware of having moderated any comments that I hadn't spoken to the person about, and therefore don't think that I moderated yours into non-existence, as I don't appear to have been able to contact you.

However, I admit to multi-tasked overload, particularly over end of last week and weekend, so I may have made a mistake, and certainly didn't intend not to publish adverse criticism, as it is a policy of this blog to accept criticism, as long as it is substantive.

In other words, do post your comments again!

Anonymous said...

I'm pleased to see this letter published here and elsewhere on the net. It shocks me that Lessin's books are sold by mainstream outlests such as Amazon. It shocks me that parents would consider using his methods. It saddens me that my mother was given a copy of one of his early books and used his techniques to discipline me and my sister.

I can't write such an eloquent passage, but can, as a result of my own experince confirm just how abusive the techniques are.

Spankings were bad enough without all the drama and ritual that went with a spanking following Lessin's advice.

It may have made me behave, the imapct of a rubber soled sandal on my buttocks made me comply. The other impacts were less desirable.


Tammie Schrum Vaughn said...

Proverbs 20:30 ABUSE -

Anonymous said...

This was sick, and it reminded me of my childhoods whippings. Being whipped with a strap was terrifying enough, but having to strip completely naked made it so much worse. You feel so vulnerable and exposed. It was so easy for my dad to go from whipping my bare bottom to whipping my genitals and breasts, since they were right there, bare, in front of him. This was truly physical and sexual abuse.