By Norm Lee

"You don’t have to see the whole staircase,
just take the first step."

— Martin Luther King

Something very fundamental: the humanization of childrearing is taking place, and we’re deeply involved in it.

Spanking has run its course. Like cigarette smoking, it is gradually being given up. Why? Because the word is out on the research showing the deadly harm punishment does to children, and to society as a whole. The corporal punishment theory, the public is finally realizing, is grossly flawed. It has taken more than two generations to gain the attention of the majority of parents and teachers. It will take many more than that to eliminate only the worst of it, the physical: the grabbing, slapping, spanking, pinching, hair-pulling, caning, belting, whipping ...

But we’re on our way. We can see the goal from here. Faith in the power of punishment is withering; the "woodshed disciplinarian" is becoming recognized as the bullying Sasquatch he’s always been. The cowards are on the run, my friends, and we can take modest credit (at least) for this historic breakthru.

During the 30s & 40s I witnessed first hand the nascent decline of the Modern Age of Domination and Brutalization of Children. The underpinnings began being eaten away early in the 40s, when thinkers like John Dewey, later Benjamin Spock and others of intellectual standing, broke into print and stood at podiums speaking bravely and writing persuasively for a more humane approach to childrearing and schooling.

Yet there are vestiges even today of the Simian thinking of the Dirty Thirties. In Arizona only three years ago a male teacher, even after I had explained the deep harm inflicted by corporal punishment, described to me in detail how he struck down a mouthy student in his schoolyard. This lout of a man told with such relish and spittle of his smackdown of a child in his teens, that he salivated as he related the shocking story, so eager was he to be admired for it.

In the Thirties little was known about the harmful effects of CP, or vast extent of its practice. After research began in the 1940s, when Murray Straus published surveys showing that 98% of parents spanked their two-year-olds, (some even during the interviews,) the intelligent reading public took notice. Today, some 60 years later, hundreds of studies have produced overwhelming evidence that spanking – with its endless variations – result in a long list of injurious consequences in children, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. These results show up in school failure records, crime reports, divorce statistics, mental illness stats, and patterns of second-generation child abuse.

More than a half-century of studies now number in the hundreds that show the harm inflicted, while the credible studies that show advantages of corporally punishing children total exactly zero.

SHOUT-OUT: Isn’t it time that we, as a culture, recognized the urgent need to renounce and abolish the punishment of children? At least the hitting, bashing, slapping attacks? The assaults that, if done to a grownup, would lead to litigation and possible jail time? And to a child, lead to depression, learning difficulties, spouse abuse, underemployment, and marriage failure?


Known #1. One thing we know is that almost all of the violations are inflicted by "mom" – the yelling, the humiliations, the violence, the cruel handling, the neglect. Likely it would be "Daddy" if he were the stay-at-home primary caregiver. Unquestionably young children can sap dry the energy and nerves of even the healthiest and most stable women (or men) when confined day after day in small rooms with small children. It is clear that finding rest breaks are essential. So are training and practices that relieve stress and discipline the mind. Newspapers endlessly tell of the tragic failures where there is no relief for long-term stress on the battlefield or in the home.

Known #2. The chief saving factor is that things change, and children change faster than anyone. Nothing remains the same, one day to the next. Recognition and mindfulness of this fact can mean the preservation of balance, even sanity, of caregivers of toddlers and pre-schoolers especially. We can all see that the world is moving and changing at a rate heretofore unprecedented. The world speeds by at accelerating rates – the driving, the speaking, the working, the texting, the twitting. In children this phenomenon is hugely rapid - and noticeable. Whatever behavior is being displayed at a given time is sure to change soon.

Yet so many parents believe that certain behaviors must be "nipped in the bud", else the child will never change. The belief is that the child – unless "corrected" - will exhibit the unapproved behavior in adulthood, and as a consequence go directly to prison. Ergo, it is their job, they suppose, to "teach them a lesson" now to prevent the unthinkable. But if they wait and observe, they will see the behavior changing as the child learns from daily experience. The offensive behavior does not stay the same – unless it is punished. Said a wise parent long ago, "The behavior that never changes is that which was most punished for."

Known #3. And we know this: In a contest of wills with a child of any age, you cannot win. Repeat: You cannot win. Fight that foolish battle, and you are sure to lose. The traditional recourse then is to trot out the Brutal You, and fall back on default position: Physical Power. With superior size and strength we can strike out with corporal punishment, and call it victory. Physical domination – i.e., bullying - is but a temporary measure, as legions of parents have learned too late. Children keep growing until they’re bigger and stronger than we are. The spank-hit-shake brute-force option is a fool’s game. And only fools use it.

It is wise to question every "right" we think we have over another human being of any size or strength. And it is prudent to examine closely for any truthfulness in such notions as we hear from defenders of punishment: "It’s not ‘hitting’ if Mom does it."

SHOUTOUT: Isn’t it time we recognized – and declared loudly – that ALL punishment of children is debilitating, harmful, destructive, and UNNECESSARY for their upbringing?

Known #4. Child abuse begins with the first spank. A child will believe anything you tell him – or teach him – about himself. He/she builds identify from it. The people around him teach him who he "is" by how they treat him. Altho my own early years are nothing to celebrate, I’ve often pondered on what it must feel like for a four-year-old black child to be told, especially by a parent, "You’re nothing but a no-good nigger." It need not be articulated, only shown by treatment.

It can be endured on the street, so long as it is not inflicted in the home. If home is not a refuge, there are ready alternatives: gangs, crime, drugs, murder, suicide... And what is offered in its stead? Maybe boys and girls clubs, boy scouts, but most often, "Run to the (imaginary) arms of Jesus" at a storefront church; find heavenly happiness in the "security" of death.

At least the al Quida promise 72 virgins.

Known #5. Living in contact with reality is one definition of sanity. Read this morning’s paper or simply observe the people around you, and you’ll see that sanity is in short supply. Most people are in a trance state, or lethargy, one step away from sleep. Or are on the edge of panic and explosion.


When people have children in an attempt (secret or unconscious) to meet their own emotional needs, it can result only in victimizing the children. The resulting conflict carried to adulthood in the unconscious accounts for violent, outrageous, disturbing and bizarre behavior often beyond toleration by society, i.e., legally actionable.

The ignorant flatter themselves imagining their superiority over the learned. Hence, the compulsively placed quote marks around "expert". An expert is someone who has made a study of some depth in the subject matter; the wisest are also aware that no one is infallible.

Misbehavior and rebelliousness are symptoms, not the cause of the basic problem of unhappy children. Punishment is like treating the rash, the pimples, and ignoring the disease. Investigation of the origins of childhood misbehavior shows that a major cause is punishment itself. It follows hunger, fatigue, and boredom.

The first mistake is viewing newborns as containers to fill, or plastic to mold, or a blank slate to scribble upon. The 2nd mistake is setting up an adversary relationship with the child. The 3rd mistake is "teaching lessons" to "prepare them for life".

To remedy the 1st mistake is to see the child as the unique individual it was born to be, authentic, with Basic Goodness, i.e., without "sin". It is a being who has no faults – until "corrected". Secondly, the child is not the enemy, not a slave to be given orders, not a dog from which to demand obedience.

SOURCE: Norm Lee’s website,

Norm Lee’s email:

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