by JS O’Brien
Massachusetts state representative Jay Kaufman has introduced a bill in the state legislature to, effectively, ban parents from spanking their children. Naturally, the bill is not expected to pass, or even come close to passing. Hitting children is a deeply cherished cultural norm in the US, and despite the fact that many Western European countries have banned the practice, a 2002 ABC poll shows there is still widespread American support for it.
Studies on both the good and ill effects of spanking conflict. Most of the studies I could locate appear to be done by people or organizations with axes to grind, so the results are suspect. Others had methodological problems, some of them severe. Just defining “spanking,” let alone defining spanking context or being able to measure and track that context, presents issues that may never be fully resolved by a longitudinal study.
On the other hand, studies on the effects of physical abuse of children (child beating and torture, to use words less euphemistic than “abuse”) are pretty clear and do not appear to be in much dispute. Tortured children are much more susceptible than the general population to depression, suicide, being the victim or perpetrator of a violent crime, and incarceration. Of course, the line between mere child-hitting and child torture is not clear. One person’s “spanking” may be another’s “flaying.”
What the child hitters would have us believe is that a little hitting is good for children, but a lot is harmful. This could be true. After all, most drugs can do quite a bit of good in proper dosages, but can be deadly in larger ones. A single glass of red wine may very well be good for you, but guzzling a magnum of Mogen David would be ill advised (not to mention the fact that it would call your taste into question). But while it could be true that hitting children could have some benefits, the debate on the issue always seems to require proving that hitting children is a bad thing. Given the evidence that child torture is a bad thing, one would think that it would be incumbent on the child-hitters to prove that a little of something we know to be harmful in higher doses is, in fact, good for children. Further, since hitting any adult would land one an assault charge, it should be the child-hitter’s responsibility to prove that hitting provides some benefit to children that not-hitting cannot provide.
With that in mind, here are some of the positive arguments for child-hitting, and my take on them.
Hitting children makes them mind me. OK. I can see that. If someone that much bigger and stronger than I whacked me, I suppose I’d mind him, too. But is there no other way? Must we perpetrate an assault against a child to get him or her to “mind”?
They won’t mind if you don’t hit ’em. Spare the rod and spoil the child. I’m not entirely sure what’s meant by “spoiled,” but let’s take the “mind” issue. My wife is from a family of five children. Their parents were not child-hitters. They have all grown up to be successful, happy, adjusted, generous, caring human beings. None of their children have ever been hit. Those children are either like their parents, or even happier and better adjusted. Most of my children’s friends have never been hit by their parents. As a group, they represent the nicest, most polite, most trustful, and least cowed children I have ever known.
So, clearly, the end result of not-hitting would indicate that it is not necessary to hit to produce wonderful children who grow up to be wonderful adults. And if it’s not necessary, why do something that is illegal if you were to do it to adults?
But I have parental rights. The government has no business taking away my parental rights. Well, presumably, children have rights, too. Parents aren’t allowed, by law, to kill their children these days. This would suggest that parental rights have some limits. The issue is where to place those limits. Considering that hitting adults is illegal, why not place that limit at hitting kids, since there doesn’t seem to be anything we get from hitting kids that we can’t get using other child-rearing techniques.
A non-spanking law would be unenforceable. Would it? Why? I’m not suggesting that we would be able to find and punish all the child-hitters, but when have we ever been able to find and punish all the transgressors of any law. A law such as this one would give society a legal recourse in dealing with the perps we do find, even if it’s only to send them to parenting school.
The fact is, considering that there is an absence of credible evidence supporting the child-hitters but a wealth of evidence condemning the next step up to child-torture, and in light of evidence that it is not necessary to hit children in order to produce successful, happy, caring, healthy adults, there appears to be no justification for child-hitting.
So why does society continue to sanction it?
Categories: American Culture