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   Friday, April 12, 2002  11:33 AM EST  

'Connectedness,' Not Spanking, Best Way to Raise Kids, Says Author
By Jason Pierce Staff Writer
April 12, 2002

( - A new book that argues parents should avoid spanking their children and instead form emotional connections with the kids is re-igniting the debate over how best to raise children in modern-day America. One member of the American Academy of Pediatrics calls the book, A Better Childhood Without Discipline, "all theory," and insists, "Nothing could be further from the truth."

San Francisco-based clinical psychologist Dr. Theron Alexander explains his theory of "connectedness" in the new book.

"Where discipline can bring about only temporary obedience through the rules and threat of punishment, connectedness forms the basis for long-term results," Alexander said. "The absence of discipline does not imply a lack of caring and guidance.

"Rather, it is the creation of trust and a parent's belief in a child," he said. "This teaches the child that he or she can depend on the parent for support."

Alexander adds: "Connectedness does away with conflict in family life."

However, Dr. S. DuBose Ravenel, a pediatrician in High Point, N.C., and a member of American Academy of Pediatrics, serving on the AAP's section on developmental and behavioral pediatrics, scoffed at Alexander's assertions.

"A laugh is the best response," Ravenel said. "I think what he is expressing is all theory and nothing could be further from the truth."

Alexander holds that mental illness, including depression, is passed on from generation to generation, through parents' flawed notion that spanking their children is the best way to raise them.

"Mental illness has its conception in childhood and [the] relationship with the parents, and often the child's problems stem from the parent's problems," Alexander said. "As a result, much of mental illness beginning in the childhood is passed on from one generation to another.

"When children grow up, they establish families, and often say, 'well, this is the way I was raised, I will raise my children this way,'" Alexander said.

Spanking children as a means of discipline also sends mixed messages to kids about their relationship with their parents, Alexander insisted.

"The relationship with the child is damaged by conflict, and if you say to the child, 'I love you, I care for you ... and I'm going to hurt you,' this doesn't make any sense," said Alexander. "The child does not understand it. Discipline, punishment, rules and regulations all mean that there is lack of trust and confidence."

However, Ravenel said recent research has shown, "disciplinary spanking has not been found to be related to detrimental outcomes." He added, "parents who don't combine a high level of discipline, especially spankings, with a high level of nurturing have the worst outcomes.

"Research shows that what [Dr. Alexander] says is not true," Ravenel said. "Common sense clearly tells you the reverse of that."

Despite the traditional use of corporal punishment as a means of discipline, it is not now, and never has been useful, Alexander maintains.

"It's never been effective, and it's been harmful," Alexander said.

"I think [spanking] is harmful, and it teaches the wrong thing-that 'might makes right. If I am bigger than you are, I can beat you up. You need it,'" he said.

Ravenel countered that physical discipline actually creates closer bonds between parents and children.

"I would argue quite the reverse-what it teaches a child is the reverse of that," Ravenel said. "Children whose parents have displayed powerful love and powerful discipline are the children who have the highest level of trust and confidence in their parents."

Ravenel added that focusing on techniques of childrearing, such as spanking, is the wrong way to go about parenting. Instead, parents need to find a balance between affection and discipline by which to raise their children.

"I would submit that techniques are relatively unimportant compared to the importance of parents raising children with a proper balance of powerful love and powerful discipline," Ravenel said. "A parent finds they can employ powerful discipline and powerful love --they don't need to spank -- that's great.

"However, there is no evidence, none, that has been published that shows that appropriate parental use of spanking has been shown to cause any detrimental outcome," Ravenel said.

Since both parents work in many families, leaving them little time to spend with their children, a 'connectedness' approach to childrearing is more important now than ever, according to Alexander.

"Parents are spending less and less time with the children and often have turned to drugging the children to control their behavior," Alexander said. "They don't provide the time, affection and love the children need. There is a basic need for that -- a concerned, close, affectionate, trusting relationship with parents. And you can't do that by hurting, by control, by rules, regulations and threats," he said.

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