A bill in the Assembly sounds fine, but when it comes time to call the cops, people will think twice.
I'm going to give Viviane Oglevie all the space today, because I want her argument to be heard. I agree with just about all of it, yet I'll probably end up disappointing her in the end.
Maybe I'm on a guilt trip. Or not as evolved as I want to be.
Oglevie is a family therapist who is unequivocally against any form of spanking. As such, she supports a proposed bill by Bay Area Assemblywoman Sally Lieber that's still in its formative stages but which would make it illegal for parents to strike children younger than 4.
Oglevie would like that number stretched to 99, but for now she'll settle for Lieber's idea.
Oglevie and her husband are the parents of an 11-year-old girl. Oglevie has already had the mini-debates with other parents who say her child will turn out all wrong because she's never had a well-deserved spanking. To which Oglevie replies: So far, so good.
She favors an outright spanking ban because, she says, adults can't strike anyone else's child, so why should they be allowed to strike their own?
Society protects children from serious abuse that leaves obvious marks like bruises or scars, but why not against all forms of corporal punishment?
A punch to the face is worse than a swat on the bottom, but Oglevie argues that the "child abuse" definition that society generally embraces should be broadened.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, she says, includes less obvious actions like slapping or shoving, threats of violence or verbal put-downs or shaming as forms of abuse.
California law already requires that teachers, nurses and certain other groups report obvious signs of child abuse. But who will report the spanking that leaves no mark?
Oglevie would. She says she recently saw a man strike his son several times on the head and called him on it. He told her to mind her own business.
Of course, there's the rub. And which makes the issue a great one for public discussion.
Oglevie concedes that, for the most part, the enforcement in Lieber's bill would start with people reporting on their neighbors or friends. That's dicey, and I'm not convinced most people would do it.
Oglevie realizes that and sees the proposed bill as a step on a road toward a no-strike society. She says most serious child abuse starts out as "mild punishment" that can, if left unchecked, permit a parent to ratchet up the violence as he or she loses control.
And then there are the effects on the child of being hit. Oglevie, who was cited as the 2005 "Child Advocate of the Year" by a Newport Beach group and who has taught parenting classes, as well as having her own practice, says some studies have shown that children who are struck by their parents have a greater likelihood of becoming aggressive or show behavior problems as they age.
I'm not going to get into dueling studies. I realize a huge number of parents could provide anecdotal evidence that they or their children have been spanked and turned out just fine.
Many of those parents believe that spanking is a tried-and-true disciplining tactic. It seems equally likely that many pro-spankers don't put any thought into it and just swat as a response to their own frustrations.
I won't argue the spanking issue with Oglevie, mainly because I agree with her. I didn't grow up in a spanking household, nor do I think I'd have spanked my children if I'd had any.
So, I'm with Oglevie that spanking isn't necessary. But it just feels wrong to me that the government should intrude that far into a household.
Oglevie counters that government already tells us we can't smoke, can't drive without seat belts and can't exceed the speed limit. Government does that to protect society, she argues, so why shouldn't it protect young children?
I hear myself wimping out on the Lieber bill.
I just can't picture someone seeing the next-door neighbor spank a child and then calling the police. I can't picture the police wanting to show up. I can't picture them asking if the accused parents if they just spanked their 3-year-old and the parents saying no, and the cops then taking a witness statement from the 3-year-old.
Oglevie foresees a time when parents don't spank and when society doesn't tolerate parents who do.
If I could snap my fingers, I'd wish away any parent's choice to swat their kid's behind.
But I just can't make myself put that pen to paper and sign a bill that would send a cop to a friend's house if they did.
Dana Parsons' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his recent columns is at http://www.latimes.com/parsons .
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