Spanking children brutal, unproductive; so why do it?
By Bud Wright, Columnist, The Daily Advance, February 17, 2012
Have you ever heard the old trick question that goes: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” I suppose that it’s more of a mental Gordian knot than an actual question.
The catch, of course, is that no matter which way you answer, you wind up appearing guilty of domestic violence. The word play is funny. Hitting people is not.
The issue that I’m actually alluding to here is corporal punishment or spanking. Is it discipline or child abuse? There are, naturally, several schools of thought on the subject.
There is no better frame of reference than one’s own, so I’ll begin there. I grew up within a culture that not only tolerated spanking, it was positively celebrated. Within most of the homes that I frequented during my formative years, spankings were quite common. Many of my friends received them regularly – and for minor infractions. I witnessed more than a few. I can still vividly recall the occasion when our Scoutmaster pulled his son’s pants down in front of the whole Boy Scout troop and beat him bloody with a belt. This took place in a church.
There was rough justice for school-age boys, as well. Elementary school was relatively safe (yardsticks inflict only minor damage) but by the time you had reached junior high, the risk of serious beatings had increased substantially. Vicious-looking wooden paddles suddenly appeared. They were utilized with reckless abandon.
On my first day of 9th-grade gym class, the teacher – a bullet-headed sadist from south Alabama – decided to acquaint himself with us by lining up the entire class and ordering us to grab our ankles. Though filled with dread, we obeyed without question. You did that back then.
“Bullet-head” proceeded to lift each of us off the floor by the force of a single, powerful “lick” from his enormous paddle.
He then smugly informed us that the blow was “For nothin’ – if you do somethin’ – I’m gonna hurt you.”
No one, mind you, had done anything to warrant these beatings. Evidently we had been beaten expressly for his amusement, because – why not?
In our house physical discipline was infrequent, and spankings nonexistent. My father slapped my eldest sister just once, when she was 16. It produced a perfect handprint and decades of remorse. As for my Mom, her composure would occasionally slip and she would ring your bell – invariably without warning. I cannot — and would not — state that these course corrections were undeserved. I can affirm that the method of delivery was unfortunate.
For the record, neither my wife nor I ever spanked our son. We just never believed in it. Now he’s too big.
A lengthy Canadian study recently concluded that spanking not only raised levels of aggression in children significantly but lowered IQ levels considerably. It is linked to antisocial behavior, developmental delays and cognitive impairment. The bottom line is that beating children is as counterproductive as it is counterintuitive. There have been many such studies — all with similar results. So why do we still do it?
Currently, spanking is neither illegal nor regulated, and is still practiced by an alarming percentage of the populace.
I have never understood the rank hypocrisy surrounding spanking. If you abuse a dog the law will step in. If you strike your spouse the law requires that you be summarily jailed — and rightly so. If you strike a fellow citizen in any context other than self-defense you will pay the legal penalty. Society demands it.
But in the USA the right to beat children is unquestioned. You may call it spanking if you like, but the legal definition is assault and battery.
In 1989 all 190 members of the United Nations voted on a UN treaty addressing the Rights of a Child. Included was a clause which states that countries must defend children against “All forms of physical and mental violence.” Only three of the 190 member nations refused to ratify the treaty. They were Somalia, South Sudan and the United States of America.
To those of you who would roll your eyes at my pacifism and say, “Yeah, but children were better behaved back then,” I would say “You’re right.”
So were most adults. At any rate, I don’t believe that it’s possible to beat civility into anyone. It’s never worked thus far, anyway.
Think of the last time you were struck by anyone. Did it generate respect for your assailant? More likely it generated enmity. And don’t we have enough of that already?
Bud Wright is a resident of Elizabeth City, North Carolina