Will Spanking Soon Be Outlawed in the U.S.?


Brazil is the latest of several nations that have moved to prohibit the spanking of children.  A bill sent to the Brazilian Congress yesterday calls for parents who hit their kids to receive a warning, or even psychological treatment.  South American nations like Uruguay and Venezuela have already placed a ban on spanking, and the U.K. recently proposed a similar measure.    

The Associated Press reports that while child abuse has been outlawed in Brazil, “the new measure explicitly prohibits parents and guardians from using corporal punishment” or any “cruel or degrading treatment” that humiliates children.  I guess it’s a good thing I’ve never caved to my basest desires in a frustrated moment and made my daughter wear her poopy underwear on her head.  Because that would definitely be humiliating.

Or not.  One of the things I find most frustrating as a parent is that try though as I might to use the techniques I’ve honed from years of watching Supernanny, my daughter is still pooping her pants on the regular.  She’s elligible for kindergarten in the fall, but I’m reticent to send her, because I don’t want to make her bathroom issues the teacher’s problem.  No amount of discipline has inspired her to change her lazy ways.  I’ve tried throwing her dirty underwear away, I’ve tried ignoring the problem, I’ve tried bribes, I’ve tried using a serious voice, I’ve tried being loving.  I have, yes, even spanked her a handful of times (no pun intended), but I don’t advocate it, and each time I’ve regretted it.  My mother, on the other hand, thinks physical punishment is often what “does the trick.” 

Then again, my mother and I are a great example of the generational divide over spanking that Paula wrote about last week.  My mother hit me because she was hit by her parents, and she, like the older generation that appeared on Good Morning America to talk about spanking, feels that she was not negatively affected by the discipline she received as a kid.  (Yes, my mother and her siblings “got the belt,” a fact she loved to throw in my face as a kid when I complained about being hit in a comparatively milder manner.)  I hated being hit as a kid: not only did it make me feel like my mother didn’t love me, I agree, as Paula noted, that “spanking increases aggression… and instills fear rather than respect.”  But perhaps most importantly, I think spanking is completely ineffective in terms of getting your children to behave better.  Spanking doesn’t show someone asserting their authority, it demonstrates that you’ve lost your cool.

How long do you think it’ll be before a ban on corporal punishment is proposed in the U.S.?  Do you think something like that could work here?  (NPR had a conversation with moms about that in 2009.)  Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York recently introduced a bill in Congress to outlaw corporal punishment in schools, California tried to ban spanking to no avail back in 2007, and the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health says that only 1 in 5 parents are likely to hit their kids.  Is it necessary, or even preferable, for the state to be involved in such an intimate parenting choice?  Abuse is obviously intolerable, but is the occasional tap on the hand okay?  Where do you draw the line?

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva says, “There will be a lot of people saying, ‘They want to keep the mother from educating her child, they are trying to keep the mother from getting a flip-flop to gently slap their kid.’  We just want to say: It’s possible to do things differently.”  A flip-flop?  Hitting anyone with a dirty flip-flop is adding insult to injury, don’t you think?  At least my mother had the decency to use her hairbrush.