Daily Archives: October 9, 2009

Spanking: Discipline or Abuse?

There is debate going on about whether spanking should be abolished and made a criminal offence. Disciplining a child will result in no physical contact (the other extreme is that some schools are banning hugging…WTF). CBC Radio One interviewed a couple of advocates (for and against spanking) earlier this week, which included a human rights advocate in Sweden. The woman (a lawyer I believe) gave the instance of a woman whose daughter often ran away from home. When the girl was brought in by police she said she was afraid to go home because her mother might hit her.

After going home, she sassed her mother (according to this lawyer) and her mother smacked her across the face. The girl went to the police the next day with a red handmark on her cheek. The lawyer said she was so light-skinned anything showed on her face. This lawyer was for the mother. Not exactly a good advocacy for keeping corporal punishment. Light skinned or not, if a hand impression is still visible the next day it means that person was hit with undue force. The girl may have had a well-founded fear.

There are people who use no physical discipline on their children, instead withholding treats or doing timeouts and sending them to their rooms. For most children this is effective and they will obey the authority of the parent at this level. However, there will be a small percentage that may go against all of these forms of discipline, requiring a spank.

There are people who use spanking as a form of discipline, giving their child a smack on the butt, especially if they’re having tantrums. And who of us has not watched the tantrum child in a mall and thought the kid a monster? I have also felt sorry for the parent, embarrassed by their child’s behavior but afraid to spank because of ridicule, and stuck with the willful petulance of children.

There are those people who beat their children. These may include slaps across the face, spankings until welts or bruises show, and other forms of physical abuse. These people may think they’re using reasonable force or they may be out of control for some reason.

The debate is that a child who is physically disciplined does worse in school or has a lower IQ. I can’t imagine the genius I would have been if I wasn’t spanked. (note that intelligence doesn’t always equate with wisdom or success) I turned out a fairly law-abiding citizen with a couple of degrees. However, there were other repercussions.

Here is what discipline looked like in my family. Being spanked with wooden spoons: my younger brother was the only one devious enough to hide them. Being spanked with a leather belt (there was a stropping belt for a straight-edge razor which may have been a little softer than a real belt). Being spanked, okay beaten, with a thin (one-inch diameter), hard green rubber hose/tube. Being smacked across the face. These disciplinary actions only cover the physical ones. The results were bruises, welts and bleeding noses. The last time I was smacked I was sixteen and my mother gave me a bleeding nose and broke my watch (I stopped wearing watches for many years after that).

Some of these disciplines were for perceived infringements against parental authority. Some were for actual ones. However, I can’t remember one childhood crime, only the punishment. Besides the physical marks that healed, there were the emotional/psychological ones. Those were much more long lasting but are so mixed with other dysfunctions of the family it would definitely take an expert to unravel which abuse caused what problem.

My siblings and I survived. But there are many rifts in the family from those forms of corporal punishment. Was it reasonable force? In most cases, no. Most of us avoided a life of crime though not all of us even finished high school. Do I think parents should be allowed to spank their children?

Maybe, but I think that as long as “reasonable force” is left part of the law, a parent will interpret that to suit their way. Hitting anywhere but on the butt should definitely be banned. And really, there are many people who have lived with timeouts and have grown up to be quite healthy, functioning members of society. What is needed is balance. The good parents will be able to discipline their children without undue force. The bad parents will use it because they lack the skills and coping mechanisms of being a parent. Training parents wouldn’t be a bad course of action, just like prenatal classes.

All in all I’m not for force. I have the memories. But I have also seen a few children who are beyond control. Sometimes there are personality defects. Sociopaths and psychopaths are born, not created later. But in those cases parents should be seeking help. So to spank? Only as a very last resort, after having taken classes on child discipline.



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