Assault is legally defined as an "act that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent, harmful or offensive contact. It consists of a threat of harm accompanied by an apparent, present ability to carry out the threat. Battery is a harmful or offensive touching of another," delivering on the promise of the assault.
Assault and battery is a crime just about everywhere. Notable exceptions include boxing rings and battlefields.
And children's bedrooms.
Many parents would be no more likely to swat their child's behind than they would to punch a co-worker in the face for cutting in the coffee line.
According to the "Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children," done by Phoenix Children's Hospital in 2008, about 29 percent of Americans are opposed to parents using physical punishment; 71 percent approve.
It's a perplexing statistic. Shirley Pearson of Mattapoisett is the vice president of Family Nonviolence Inc., of Fairhaven. She's a retired school psychologist who points out that corporal punishment is allowed in the schools in 26 of the United States. It's allowed in homes in all 50 states.
It defies logic: Why is a child who strikes another child punished by blows from an adult?
On the other hand, there are child-rearing experts who declare that two open-handed swats on the buttocks, following other forms of discipline, is sometimes necessary and no more harmful than any other kind of discipline. It comes down to parents making a distinction between appropriate and inappropriate use.
King Solomon, in the King James Version of the Bible, writes in Proverbs 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."
Richard Davis of Plymouth is the president of Family Nonviolence Inc., and he says that the issue of childhood discipline is not an argument of Liberal versus Conservative. He notes a study from Canada in 2008 that demonstrated that aggression in toddlers is a matter of nature. Peacefulness is learned.
This is a discussion that, ideologically speaking, piques the interest of the Libertarian. With firmly established common law behind the practice of domestic corporal punishment, the practical matter is literally in the hands of the parent.
Davis agrees, and that's why he's chosen not to pick a fight with spankers. His group's mission is "to promote dialogue regarding a holistic approach to family violence within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," and is advocating for passage of a bill in the Legislature that aims to improve the state's system of education on family violence.
The proposed legislation (see sidebar) has been in the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities with no discernible action since January. It calls for expanding the awareness of parents, caregivers and the public on the advantages of using positive parenting techniques. It requires no taxes to fund it.
Sounds innocuous enough. Davis admits it's seen by some as a subversive approach to criminalizing domestic corporal punishment, but that's not what it's about, he says. His point is summed up in the "Family Nonviolence Pledge," which states, "I pledge to use my hands for helping, not hurting."
We are persuaded by the arguments of Family Nonviolence Inc. that say the preferred course is to teach children to solve problems without violence, teach high school students that parenting can work without corporal punishment and teach parents that – regardless of how they were raised – they can discipline their children with methods other than spanking.
We are convinced that children raised this way will be more likely to be peacemakers in a world that assaults and batters us all far too much.
An Act relative to nonviolent discipline
Chapter 111 of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:
Section 223. The Department of Public Health shall collaborate with the Massachusetts Children's Trust Fund, the Department of Education, the Department of Early Education and Care and the Department of Children and Families to develop and implement a comprehensive and coordinated statewide public awareness campaign to expand the knowledge of parents, caregivers and the general public on the advantages associated with the use of positive parenting techniques. The Department of Public Health shall collaborate with public and private colleges and universities and nonprofit organizations to obtain grants and private funds to implement the provisions of this section. For the purposes of this section, positive parenting shall mean a non-violent, solution-focused approach that includes: clear communication of expectation, rules and limits; building a mutually respectful relationship with the child; teaching the child life long skills; and developing long-term solutions that develop the child's own self-discipline.
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