Mayim Bialik is perhaps best known for her role in the Big Bang Theory (though TBH, in my heart I will always think of her as Blossom). But she’s also the founder of the online community Grok Nation and her own popular YouTube series, through which she often tackles controversial topics like divorce, open relationships, and breastfeeding older kids. It’s one of her recent videos that’s really getting attention from viewers everywhere, for its powerful argument against a common form of parental discipline: hitting.
In the clip, Bialik shuts down the idea that kids who aren’t spanked or hit will turn out to be spoiled brats who misbehave. Instead, she advocates for parenting with respect and compassion in a way that builds up the parent-child relationship.
Bialik opens the 6-minute video by first addressing a source of the most popular justification for corporal punishment: the Bible. Yes, the Bible may dictate that, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children,” but let’s be real, she argues — the Bible also condones throwing stones at a disobedient son. So, Bialik says, “Let’s not use the Bible as a parenting guide for the 21st Century.”
Instead, the actress, mom, and philanthropist says we should listen to science, which stands firmly on the side of not hitting children — especially as we’re starting to see the first long-term research studies of what hitting actually does to kids developmentally, mentally, and physically. In short: The results are not good.
According to Psychology Today:
“A large meta-analysis of studies on the effects of punishment found that the more physical punishment children receive, the more defiant they are toward parents and authorities, the poorer their relationships with parents, the more likely they are to report hitting a dating partner or spouse. They are also more likely to suffer mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse problems, and less likely to empathize with others or internalize norms of moral behavior.”
The opposing side of this argument often likes to say that “kids today are too soft,” “spoiled,” and “disrespectful.” And you know what? In comparison to previous generations, maybe they are. But I can’t help but think about my grandfather, who was born in the 1920s, when I think about all this. He went to war at 17 years old after having been an orphan his entire life. He was beaten regularly by foster parents and those in charge at the group home where he lived. And yes, he was tough.
My kids, on the other hand, have never suffered. They’ve never been hungry or had to work for much of anything. And they’ve never been hit. Yes, it’s my job to teach them respect. To “toughen” they up so that they can handle whatever challenges lie ahead. But I won’t be doing it by hitting them. They do chores. They face discipline if they do something wrong. They help around the house and they stick up for each other. Maybe they aren’t going to be quite as tough as their great-grandpa was, but I wouldn’t wish the pain of his childhood on anyone.
But other than “toughening up” a child, another reason parents might hit their kids is simply because it stops unwanted behavior. And as Bialik notes, it’s effective — in the short term, at least. She even goes so far as to say that she understands the frustrations of parenthood, and admits that she’s been angry and impatient with her own kids, too.
“I understand how tempting it is to look for quick solutions for behavior that you don’t want to see continue,” she says.
But even when it’s the harder choice, she chooses to parent with compassion and respect. For example, Bialik says it’s important to set boundaries and enforce them consistently, as well as remove children from situations where they’re being destructive. She shares a story of her son (then 3 years old) throwing trains, dangerously close to his baby brother’s head. Her response? She simply took all of his trains away and put them up high in a bin for several days. For several days he cried for his trains, but he did not get them back. Once he finally did, he never threw a train again.
Bialik also offers a suggestion for dealing with whining, saying, “A week of consistently saying ‘the answer to that voice is no’ makes it go away.” And she discusses the importance of follow-through, saying that if she warns her kids that the next time they throw sand they’ll have to leave the park and then they throw sand, then guess what? They leave the park. As a result, Bialik says she’s carried wailing kids out of the park on more than one occasion, because “that’s what following through looks like sometimes.” And while she admits her approach isn’t always the easiest, it’s far safer and more constructive than hitting.
And then there’s this: “Children intuitively want to trust their primary care givers,” Bialik says. “Being hurt by someone who says they love you make no more sense for a child that it does for an adult.”
By choosing other ways to discipline, Bialik says that she and her kids always have “emotional money in the bank.” When they have challenges, they can work from a “foundation that’s based on comfort, safety, and a mutual desire for growth.”
But perhaps the most poignant quote from her YouTube video is this: “You can’t hit your spouse, you can’t hit your student, you can’t hit a stranger, you can’t even hit your dog, yet we have laws protecting, defending, and justifying hitting a child. It makes no sense and it’s time to stop pretending it does.”
I could not agree more. And let’s be honest. It’s the 21st century: Most of our kids would straighten up their act pretty quickly if we took their phones or iPads anyway, and we all know it.