There aren’t many family-related topics that parents get as heated about as spanking. It can quickly divide a group of friends with judgment, arguing, hurt feelings and unkind words.
I saw this play out firsthand when a study released last year reported that spanking can lead to mental health problems as a child (not to mention the plethora of other research showing the adverse effects of spanking kids).
As this particular article circulated around Facebook, I noticed two reactions emerge in the comments: vindication and defensiveness. The line in the sand between those who spank and those who don’t grew even wider.
Is it possible to ever bridge that divide, I wondered? How can we talk about spanking in a way that doesn't polarize an already contentious issue?
First, do your research
This "Scientific American" article explores the science of spanking and can be a useful starting point when discussing the influence of spanking on children.
And, of course, if you're worried the discipline may be abusive, seek out resources including this from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.
Next, engage in a healthy discussion
Share your viewpoint and respectfully listen to your friend's. Provide research about spanking including the American Academy of Pediatrics' stance against all forms of physical discipline including spanking or this piece about research that shows the negative impact spanking can have on a child's relationships.
When you just can’t keep your opinions to yourself, approach your friend privately. Don’t start a war on their Facebook wall or bash them to mutual friends. Say what you need to say as gently and tactfully as possible. Remember that this is someone you care about.
Be quick to apologize
Sometimes boundaries get crossed or opinions get misstated when people feel very strongly about an issue. If things get heated or out of line, accept accountability right away and refocus on the point you're trying to make.
If you have to, make the topic off-limits
If one or both of you get too heated, step away from the conversation. You or your friend may feel too passionate to have calm and rational discussion about spanking at this time. So make the subject off-limits (for now). Cool off and revisit the subject at a latter date.
This conversation won't be easy (and you may have to have it more than once) but it's an important one to pursue — both for your friend and for you.