Biblical Proverb with Colloquial Use


“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”


JN is a 50-year-old freelance writer in Minnesota, where she grew up as well. When asked about any proverbs she knows, she mentioned this proverb, that her parents used to say to her when she was growing up. She described it as “children in the 1970s and 1980s were sort of in the way.” Meaning that they were seen as a burden sometimes and weren’t viewed in a positive light. She mentioned that this proverb is based on a biblical proverb that children were supposed to receive corporal punishment (like spanking) so they don’t get spoiled.


Proverbs like this can give a good insight into what values were important in different times. This is a proverb that isn’t as common nowadays because corporal punishment is usually looked down upon as a form of discipline, but it used to be very normal and not seen as an issue/abusive (as we might consider it now). It gives insight into generational differences in values and how children are treated as a result of those values. The verse it comes from reads “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (The Holy Bible, Prov. 13.24). The use of this proverb also showcases the importance of religion in this context, where people derive their treatment of children (and others) from biblical teachings (even if they misinterpret or loosely interpret the teachings themselves). People can use proverbs like this to justify behavior, even if we would consider that behavior wrong, using a common saying makes it seem like it is advisable.