Editorial: We should not encourage parents to turn to violence
By Jackson Citizen Patriot staff, March 12, 2012

Like many adults in Jackson County, John McBain knows the sting of a father's belt. The Circuit Court judge revealed that last week as he sentenced a Jackson man who whipped his 11-year-old daughter with an extension cord.

McBain, the news story said, still keeps his father's belt buckle in his desk, a reminder of a punishment that many still see as appropriate. And while most parents would agree Ronnie Williams went too far in whipping his child, they readily support spanking or other forms of corporal punishment.

We disagree. Striking a child is a form of violence. It should be the exception, not the preferred approach, when it comes to discipline.

This is not a legal argument. We do not propose Michigan's lawmakers criminalize behavior that is commonplace, and perhaps even necessary in some instances. We do reject the notion that corporal punishment should be encouraged.

Strike your dog, and we call that animal cruelty. Hit another adult, and it's assault. Spank a child, and it's good discipline? The logic does not hold up.

The abundance of research on the topic argues for a hands-off approach. Here is what the American Academy of Pediatrics says in its "Guidance for Effective Discipline:"

"Although spanking may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, its effectiveness decreases with subsequent use. The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse. Thus, at best, spanking is only effective when used in selective infrequent situations."

Perhaps the strongest argument for corporal punishment is that it has worked. One reader offered this comment on the Williams story: "Today's kids are way less disciplined and I suspect making the old 'spare the rod and spoil the child' grounds for having them removed has a lot to do with the problems we have today."

Indeed, generations of children reached adulthood in fine shape despite regular spankings, paddlings or belt whippings. Yet we doubt that what made those parents so effective was their willingness to inflict pain on their children, but a whole set of social norms and expectations that held communities together.

Children were raised well, in some ways better, maybe, in the "good old days" because they had strong families and neighbors who looked out for each other. If you had to write a list of challenges facing kids today, you'd have to start with the breakdown in nuclear families, long before suggesting in good conscience that children need to be hit more.

Parents are not going to stop spanking kids. Raising children is rewarding, but frustrating, work at times. An occasional slap on the butt is not going to leave the physical marks that a belt or an electrical cord will, and it will likely be forgotten.

But no one measures a parent's ability by his or her physical strength, and certainly not their ability to bring it down on a child. As adults, we teach our littlest ones not to solve problems by hitting. We ought to live by our words.

- Jackson Citizen Patriot editorial board

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