The problem with today's violent teenagers would be solved immediately if only their parents could give them a good "whupping," one adult after another declared during a community meeting last week on Cleveland's East Side.
The adults were not talking about simple spankings or slaps on the backs of hands. They were talking about swinging leather belts, electric cords or switches into the bared rear ends of their sons and daughters.
"Just a good old-fashioned whupping," said Lillie Brent, head of the Longwood Tenants Association at the Longwood Estates housing project.
The idea is anathema for many child advocates, who believe any form of violence directed at children begets more violence when the children grow into adults. But others believe that beatings would make drug-using or violent teenagers behave.
"We're not talking about child abuse," said Harllel Jones, director of the Denise McNair community center. "If a guy comes home drunk and starts beating his kids, he needs to go to jail. We're talking about corrective love. You've got a generation of young kids who've had no type of corporal punishment."
Jones proposes that Ohio voters be asked whether to permit severe forms of corporal punishment.
"If they put it on the ballot, it would pass," he said.
The meeting during which corporal punishment was discussed was called to discuss the illegal drug dealing by teenagers. Councilman Frank Jackson opened the meeting by suggesting that police, social service agencies, judges and parents meet to improve the lives of teenagers, helping them to avoid the drug life.
But when Jackson opened the meeting for comments, the topic turned to beatings. The adults said beatings they suffered as children made them behave, and beatings are needed today.
"We frequently get that," Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Judge Peter Sikora. Parents who stand before judges with delinquent children often describe feeling helpless. They believe beatings are needed but fear arrest if they touch their children. "I think there is that perception that you cannot lay a hand on them," he said.
Ohio law does not prohibit corporal punishment, but it does prohibit abuse. Cleveland police spokesman Sgt. Mark Hastings said the line between corporal punishment and abuse can be difficult to identify, but some things are certain: Any punishment that leaves welts or bruises on a child is abuse. And adults cannot hit their children with things such as electric cords.
Jones said fear of arrest had paralyzed parents.
"They need to separate child abuse from corrective love," said Jones, who said he suffered a few whippings himself as a child. "These kids think they can do anything they want to do. Decent parents have a right to correct the child when the child has done wrong. I'm not saying you pick up a baseball bat."
The comments about beatings followed by a few months a campaign in Cleveland to stop corporal punishment. Religious leaders used billboards and bus placards last year to spread the message. Barbara Oehlberg, an author and consultant on violence directed at children, was part of the campaign.
"It's very sad," she said about the notion that beatings will make children behave.
Oehberg said the idea was popular in the more destitute segments of the community, where people are more likely to have suffered beatings as children. She said that adults today, frustrated by their errant children, turned to beatings in frustration.
What they forget, Oehberg said, is the abject fear of a child threatened with a beating.
"They can't remember what it felt like to be a child," she said.
Research in the last five years has proven, she said, that children who suffer violence undergo unusual brain development that makes them more likely to resort to violence as adults.
Oehberg said the only way to change the nation's attitude about corporal punishment was with a massive education campaign.
See A dangerous message from folks who should know better, by Jordan Riak, September 21, 2003.
HAVE YOU BEEN|
TO THE NEWSROOM?