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In July, an appellate court in New York ruled that a Long Island father’s spanking of his 8-year-old son constituted a “reasonable use of force." The perennial debate about corporal punishment is back.
It’s a slippery slope, opponents of spanking say, between a brief physical reprimand and child abuse. But what about those well-intentioned parents who only use spanking as a valuable teaching method? Won’t anti-spanking laws unjustly penalize them?
Sometimes, parents...snap. But when snapping leads to slapping, not only is the parent out of control; he or she is telling their child that violence is an appropriate solution to daily challenges.
No. This line of questioning assumes that spanking, hitting, pinching and other pain-inflicting punishments can be justified. They can’t. We don’t need to argue that laws that protect a parent’s right to spank might also protect child abuse, because spanking itself is a form of abuse.
Of course, raising children can be a stressful and draining endeavor. Sometimes, parents, even really good and patient and resourceful ones, snap. But when snapping leads to slapping, not only is the parent out of control; he or she is telling their child that violence is an appropriate solution to daily challenges. It’s much better to model the behavior and problem-solving skills we hope to cultivate in our children.
Childcare experts agree. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association oppose the use of physical punishments. They argue that they don’t work; that adults who were spanked as children show a higher rate of mental illness; and that it is seriously damaging to the health of young, developing brains.
But even all this misses the mark. We don’t need to prove that spanking is bad; we know that spanking is bad. That’s the point. It’s painful and frightening, and it is for this reason that it’s supposed to be an effective form of behavior modification.
The only thing that can justify inflicting pain and fear on a child is that it's completely necessary to a child’s development, health and welfare. A Tetanus shot, for example, hurts. Most kids are scared of needles. But a great many parents submit their children to the fleeting hurt and fright of a vaccine for the sake of their health.
There is no such justification for spanking. There are many alternative and superior approaches to education and discipline. Some claim that increasingly lax parenting has led to an out-of-control youth population, but don’t believe it. Teens today are exceptionally well-behaved according to various measures, and the past two decades have seen a dramatic decrease in juvenile crime.
So why would anyone conclude that hitting children is ever necessary? Even if there were evidence that corporal punishment was as effective as other disciplinary measures, we should insist as a society that parents use the methods that avoid unnecessary harm.
Think of all the things we try to teach kids: use your words; be nice to each other; respect others' personal space; treat others how you would like to be treated. Without a hint of irony, some parents will try to use physical force to instill these lessons.
We recognize this when the object of violence is another adult. It’s illegal to hit a co-worker, friend or romantic partner, even if they act inappropriately or offensively. We don’t have discussions about whether or not offices would run more efficiently if bosses were allowed to physically punish their subordinates. These kinds of considerations are irrelevant, because hitting people is wrong.
So why do we ignore this kind of violence when it is done to children? The same reason any violence is accepted: it’s part of our culture. Plenty of adults will say that they endured spanking as children and are none the worse for it. Human beings can rationalize anything, not the least of which is their own suffering. The fact that someone can survive, persevere or overcome some transgression does not mean that it should be permitted.
Think of all the things we try to teach kids: use your words; be nice to each other; respect others’ personal space; treat others how you would like to be treated. Without a hint of irony, some parents will try to use physical force to instill these lessons. We would be better off listening to the wisdom of our own counsel before we use intimidation and coercion to educate our most vulnerable citizens.
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