Spanking as Child Abuse? Check Out Motherlode

21 10 2008

October 21, 2008
When Is Spanking Child Abuse?
by Lisa Belkin

travelIllustration by Barry Falls

A hearing is underway in a Wisconsin courtroom, for Barry Barnett, a 43-year-old pastor. He and the state department of social services both agree that the father of nine and minister at the Lighthouse Family Ministries in Poynette, Wisc., used a wooden paddle to punish his 12-year-old son for lying last spring. But they differ on whether that paddling, which left bruises on the boy, was child abuse.

. . .Spanking, which has never really gone away in many parts, is back in the news. Sometimes it is still the schools doing the hitting. This summer, the Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union issued a joint report, estimating that more than 200,000 children were spanked at American schools during the previous school year. (Corporal punishment in school is still legal in 21 states.)

Sometimes it is the parents. Alan E, Kazdin, director the Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic at Yale, where he is a professor of child psychology, wrote in Slate late last month, that “Despite the rise of the timeout and other nonphysical forms of punishment, most American parents hit, pinch, shake, or otherwise lay violent hands on their youngsters: 63 percent of parents physically discipline their 1-to 2-year-olds, and 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents.”

Is it legal? In the United States, yes. While the United Nations has set a target date of 2009 to end corporal punishment by parents, and while 23 countries have already banned hitting kids, the United States is not one of them. All states prohibit “abuse” of children, and some specifically prohibit the use of “unreasonable force,” against children, which is what Barnett is accused of doing.

Isn’t all hitting child abuse? That’s what the hearing in Wisconsin is trying to decide. But however it starts, warns Kazdin, who is also the author of “The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child, it usually escalates.

“More than one-third of all parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on,” he writes. “Children, endowed with wonderful flexibility and ability to learn, typically adapt to punishment faster than parents can escalate it, which helps encourage a little hitting to lead to a lot of hitting.”

The message that has not gotten through, say those who are trying to spread the word, is that spanking doesn’t work. Six years ago the psychologist Ellen Thompson Gershoff, of Columbia University, published a review of 62 years of research, analyzing 82 separate studies. And while there was a lot of evidence that spanking makes children do what they are told in the very short term, it seems only to teach children not to get caught. What it doesn’t do is teach them to do better.

I can’t imagine using spanking as a deliberate and proscribed punishment. I have, however, hit my boys a small handful of times, in white-hot anger. They were already stronger than I was, and practically taller than I was, so I didn’t really have the power to physically hurt them. Yet I still cringe at the memory of my own loss of control, of the knowledge of what that could mean in a stronger parent with a smaller child.

We tell our children “do not hit.” Shouldn’t we all practice as we preach?

******
About The Motherlode
The goal of parenting is simple — to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids. The road from here to there, however, is anything but simple. In The Motherlode, Lisa Belkin tackles it all — homework, friends, sex, baby sitters, eating habits, work-family balance and so much more — subjects culled from the news, from her own experience as a parent, from the latest books and studies and, of course, from reader input. So take a look at what Lisa has to say, and join the discussion about the way we raise our kids now.

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24 responses

21 10 2008
Deanne

“Despite the rise of the timeout and other nonphysical forms of punishment, most American parents hit, pinch, shake, or otherwise lay violent hands on their youngsters: 63 percent of parents physically discipline their 1-to 2-year-olds, and 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents.”

Wow! Those are frightening numbers! I really had no idea that I was in such a small minority. I thought we had come farther than that as a country. 😦

21 10 2008
Deanne

We tell our children “do not hit.” Shouldn’t we all practice as we preach?

Uh…..yeah!

21 10 2008
JJ

Wonder what percentage of them are churchy and conservative?

21 10 2008
JJ

We just received a comment from a stranger, and to be fair — I’m in the mood — yet because it seems a bit creepy and goes nowhere that can be verified as legit identity to join a real Thinking Parent conversation, I’ve decided to post the content but only here, inside my own comment. Then we’ll see if the OP going by “George” wants to come out of the shadows and talk like a real person rather than a godbot troll. Or not. Either way, real commenters known here, feel free to discuss:

Understandably your blog is biased- actively seeking dirt on Christians via child discipline, a political and moral slant, which is your right to express yourself.

Oops!

Inescapably- discipline using spanking worked for thousands of years,
yet the non-spanking discipline appears to be contributing to a general
social breakdown.

Could spanking to discipline prevent you from being accidentally zapped in a hold up?

We don’t know do we. But it is something to consider.

Hang in there. But if mugged at gun point, hold to the same views if the hammer happens to drop on you.

21 10 2008
21 10 2008
Nance Confer

How can we comment on a comment that is so completely incoherent?

No need to, I guess. . .

Nance

21 10 2008
COD

So he’s equating self-defense with spanking? Who exactly is the spanking parent defending him or herself from?

21 10 2008
JJ

Maybe it’s a sort of social compact theory, where if everyone beats his children then all will grow up obedient and so there are no muggers in the next generation to prey on anyone?

21 10 2008
JJ

No wait, that can’t be right. It’s the kids who are worst mistreated in the name of “discipline” who wind up in prison — not the kids of creative, evolved and highly intelligent parents with plenty of better ideas than hitting.

22 10 2008
Betty Malone

You know where conservatives get this view…Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child.

General breakdown in society….I wonder what the Orphan Trains of the late 1800’s were, and the Robber Baron societies of that time with child labor, and virtual child slavery,…Do these people read history? Or only their santized, We were all saints back then propaganda?

I can only offer my own personal anecdotal evidence that you can raise healthy, hard working, capable, law abiding children without ever laying a physical hand on them..We did it..It worked..For all five of them..who can’t comprehend this subject. And they are now..raising their children, no spanking, no physical discipline. It’s called parenting. I can’t believe that what worked for us simple parents..wouldn’t work for anyone else. I, on the other hand, was physically beaten by foster parents, parents, …and bear the emotional and physical scars to this day. It’s why I was so adamant that we would raise our children differently.

I hate the thought of children being spanked with a wooden paddle by a group of “church men”..I really hate it. Put them in jail!!

22 10 2008
JJ

Betty says:
“I hate the thought of children being spanked with a wooden paddle by a group of “church men”..I really hate it. Put them in jail!!”

JJ says:
Now THAT’S a social compact I can understand and support!

31 10 2008
Michelle

Betty – where on earth in the reporting that a “group of church men are spanking with a paddle” This was the man’s son, not one of his students. I’d wish you could come and tell his 9 children and 2 grandchildren that you wish he was going to jail and see what they would tell you. Shame on you for pushing your own agenda. This is America, where we have the freedom to choose how we raise our kids. There is more to the story here and it isn’t abuse. Putting a swing on the comment making it look like clergy are a bunch of abusing men is just a shameful comment. We get enough swayed journalism in this country without the regular Joe jumping on board.

31 10 2008
JJ

Michelle, maybe this is the only such news story you’ve ever read but if so, you’re really not very well informed yet, certainly not to a level sufficient to join Snook’s discourse. Ever read the books peddled by “church man” Michael Pearl and his “ministry” to teach the brand of godly child abuse that got Sean Paddock KILLED in his own home, in the name of religious “freedom to choose how we raise our kids?” Or the tragic decades-long case in California of the Long family or the Andrea Yates case, ad nauseum and to our national shame, all in the name of authoritarian church men teaching people it is god’s will that they do horrific things calculated to cause emotional and physical pain to children and even babies in the crib unable to walk or talk, not just with paddles but whips and canes and even pipes. In the name of LOVE???

. . .I’ve been reading at Parenting Beyond Belief, a series of posts examining the Christian control meme as semi-pornographic advice online and off, advice on spanking with love, no — that spanking IS love. And that love is control, shown through an elaborate system of limits and consequences.

And that the child’s resistance is natural; expect it and prepare to subdue it early and often. Beat it out of the children you love, show them who’s boss every minute of the day and night. This is divine commandment and the more ritualistic and intimidating, the more memorably painful, the more thoroughly it breaks the child’s spirit, the better. Love is thereby defined as power, absolute control by any escalating means that crushes challenge to authority of any kind.

I tend to focus mainly on the horror of all that actual hitting, but along comes Pam to remind me love-as-control is a whole mindset, a parenting meme. There are ways to control and disrespect (and spoil) a beloved child, to reap what you’ve sown with your “love as control” even while congratulating yourself for not PHYSICALLY abusing your child’s precious spirit, trust and love for you.

Not pro-family. Not pro-life. Not even arguably moral. Also increasingly not legal, for which I give thanks to all that is good in the real world (not to church men!)

Shame indeed, for this IS America.

31 10 2008
JJ

Michelle won’t be capable of understanding and discussing but the rest of you might want to revisit this post from early May before the election, and discuss:
What John McCain Could Save His Soul By Learning

. . .is that this evangelical meme about a Christian god ordaining and constituting our government isn’t harmless, and it doesn’t put “Country” first. It doesn’t even put Americans as people first, much less our government.

And John, since you and everyone who speaks on your behalf keep bringing it up, let’s talk straight about it. The ideological Christian control meme now active in government power isn’t just about controlling government but lives and minds and bodies. Indoctrination, thought control, censorship.

Captivity, yes, and even torture. Never mind the immorality of torturing terrorist prisoners, what about domestic torture, of wives and teenage daughters and worst of all, little innocent children, even small babies, both physical and emotional?

Many suffer and some actually die as a result of such dangerous, dominionist beliefs being glossed over with lipstick!

Calling that faithful or loving or godly or Christian or principled or prolife is not straight talk. And it certainly isn’t “leaving the families and children alone” and unmolested by politics or ideology.

3 11 2008
Michelle

spanking isn’t hitting any more than surgery is stabbing

3 11 2008
JJ

Bumper stickers, is that all the conservative authoritarian baby-beater dominionist pod people meme has left? Okay, I’ll play. How about:

God is love
Time is money
Human life isn’t mere biology
We are Marshall!
Abortion is surgery, not baby-killing
Guarantee all babies are wanted — honor every mother’s choice
If you can read this, thank a teacher
If you’re born, thank your mother
If you weren’t born, take it up with god

3 11 2008
Nance Confer

Yes, we can!

Oh, am I in the right pew? 🙂

Nance

3 11 2008
JJ

Sorry Nance, no matter where you sit, I think they have you pegged as not part of REAL America (you, know that delusional island nation they think they live in?)

4 11 2008
NanceConfer

Well, fortunately the local polling station hasn’t figured that out yet. 🙂

DH and I have early voted, so I have been as involved as I can be. A neighbor and I went to two rallies and the amazing Obama machine scooped us up as volunteers. So we were out putting door hangers on doors half the day yesterday. And today I’ll see if there are any people in line who need some water. It really does get thirsty standing in those lines!

OTOH, it really must seem like a new country to some people. . .

Nance

4 11 2008
Deanne

“spanking isn’t hitting any more than surgery is stabbing”

LOL! That is absolutely stunning in its stupidity. What makes it not hitting, the fact that it is on the butt and/or the fact that it is done to a defenseless child? Also, how many people go into surgery involuntarily? Puhleeeeze!

How people can so easily ignore all the evidence of harm that comes from hitting children is beyond me!

4 11 2008
JJ

If Michelle’s point were that we should think through arguments and their language and premises very carefully, to avoid being sucked in by false equivalencies for example, then we could have an interesting conversation. I would agree with her and then I might point out to her many similar false equivalencies that defy reason and keep us all bolloxed up, equating a fetus with a baby say, or a tax cut with Marxism. Being smart with being shrewd, etc etc.

Alas, I doubt that’s the point she meant to make . . .

4 11 2008
JJ

Still musing about how to play bumper sticker logic — so, if god is love and time is money, and love of money is the root of all evil, hmm, then love of TIME is equally the root of all evil.

Putting people on a schedule much less a timeclock — especially for the love of money as in a school, church or small business, plumbing or otherwise — is evil!

Or maybe that should be god and time are the root of all evil?
This is harder than it looks!

28 01 2009
Raven

You can perform surgery without stabbing. You cannot spank without hitting.

30 04 2009
Can You Go All Day Without Hitting a Child? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Spanking as Child Abuse […]

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