Spankers need gentle handling
By Jordan Riak
Letter to Project NoSpank's list, June 15, 2001


Do I detect a sour note in the article, "Lehigh researchers examine link between abusive child-rearing, overly aggressive behavior" linked below? Before you follow that link, allow me to explain.

Imagine, if you will, a description of the negative effects on marriage of severe spousal battery, or of the health risks associated with excessive tobacco use, or of the dangers of driving after immoderate consumption of alcohol. The emphasized adjectives in the foregoing examples are subjective, and the interpretation one is apt to apply in the case of one's own behavior will most likely be self-exonerating. Accordingly, wife beaters, smokers and drunk drivers, when given the choice, typically characterize their own behavior as being on the safe side of "severe," "excessive" or "immoderate."

Spankers are notorious for the same behavior.

Ask ten spankers to describe a "reasonable and moderate spanking " and you will hear ten different descriptions. What any one spanker assumes is reasonable and moderate, the other nine will probably find fault with. That's why spanking apologists (overt and covert) rely on vague definitions. In so doing, they give people who hurt children ample wriggle room. It's safe to say that almost any child batterer reading the review of the Lehigh study will come away feeling reassured that it's about other people's problems.

After reading this review, it appears to me that the Lehigh study corroborates what other researchers have been saying about the negative effects on child development of punitive, coercive parenting modes, and adds important new information. This is welcome. But what troubles me is the gratuitous inclusion of ambiguous, soothing qualifiers, e.g, "severe," "overly," "harsh." Had they been omitted, the science would have been no less valid, and the positive impact on human progress might have been more. Good science, unlike politics, can do without the sugar.

Now please see

Jordan Riak


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