Doctor warns against bare-bottom spanking

SOURCE: "Family Clinic" column by Dr. Roy Horowitz and Susan Duff, published in Newsday (Long Island/Queens) on March 17, 1990

We've received several letters concerning our response to a mother's inquiry about punishing her 11 and 12-year-old sons and her 14-year-old daughter by spanking them on their bare bottoms.

In our response, published in this column, we made recommendations from current medical literature concerning discipline and punishment. We were "looking at the forest and missed the trees."

The matter of spanking an older child on the bare bottom was not addressed. As our readers have correctly pointed out to us, this raises the issue of sexual abuse.

Spanking a bare-bottomed adolescent girl or boy (many cases of sexual abuse involve boys) is definitely not appropriate and may very easily be interpreted by the child, by child protection agencies and by the courts as sex abuse. Parents who use this form of discipline place their children and themselves at risk of being reported to Child Protective Services, an agency that is mandated by law to investigate reports of "suspicion of abuse or neglect."

Whether well-intentioned or not, for all concerned, spanking on the bare bottom should be avoided. Each society has its own standards of acceptable behavior for parents and children and these standards sometimes change.

At present, in the United States, there are cases in which a grown son has sued his parents for circumcising him as an infant; in other cases, women have been brought to court for consuming alcohol while pregnant (alcohol can cause permanent damage to the fetus).

The American Academy of Pediatrics considers child abuse a national epidemic. Over 1 million cases are reported yearly and this number is considered only a fraction of the cases actually taking place.

The ideal approach to child abuse is prevention. Having a child does not automatically make one a good parent.

Education of our children and ourselves to the expectations and responsibilities involved is essential, a major step in conquering the problem of child abuse. Both the home and the school must increase their involvement in the issue, with schools providing parenting classes for children, as well as for their parents.

You can take a step toward helping prevent child abuse in your area by proposing such classes as important elements of the curriculum in your local schools and by initiating parent support groups.

Important: Not reporting child abuse is a form of abuse. If a child's parent is involved in the abuse, who is left to be an advocate for the child? The law allows anyone to report child abuse or suspicion of child abuse, anonymously if preferred. Should you suspect a child of being abused or neglected, call 1 (800) 342-3720 - and do it now!

Almost every parent has some stress in his or her life. Here are some guidelines for keeping it under control:

Ask yourself what's really important in your life so you can set goals and assign priorities. Plan, organize and schedule your time; not planning leads to guilt, worry and more stress.

Regular exercise is a top stress-reliever and can also be your symbolic commitment to a sane, well-balanced life. Find drug-free ways to relax; take regular relaxation breaks, mini-vacations from stress and worry.

Don't neglect your family; set time aside on a regular basis. Learn to play with your children and socialize with your own friends.

Find a support system of friends both involved and uninvolved in your work. Focus on the process of living, not only the goal, so you can put personal achievement and success into proper perspective.

Seek professional help when you need it.

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