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There Is No Such Thing as “Reasonable Use of Force” When It Comes to Spanking

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Apparently, we live in a country where the government intervenes when a single mom lets her 9-year-old play at the park, yet says it is OK for a dad to hit an 8-year-old, allegedly with a belt. In a recent NY court ruling, a father (whose name is withheld) spanked his son with an open hand at a party in 2012 after the boy cursed at an adult. “Further, it was alleged that after the father and the child returned home from the party, the father repeatedly struck the child with a belt on the buttocks, legs and arms,” the ruling states. (The father denies hitting his son with a belt but admits to striking him at the party.) In a unanimous decision the four-judge panel ruled, “The father’s open-handed spanking of the child as a form of discipline after he heard the child curse at an adult was a reasonable use of force and, under the circumstances presented here, did not constitute excessive corporal punishment.”

Reasonable use of force? Who defines “reasonable”?  Spanking often occurs in the heat of the moment. When a parent is angry. How can an angry adult gauge “reasonable force?” And forget about being angry — how can a parent who was hit themselves (to unknown degrees) judge what is reasonable?

I can’t be the only one who feels this way, but apparently I am in the minority in choosing not to spank my children. In 2012, a national survey showed more than half of women and three-quarters of men in the United States believe a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking.” As childtrends.org notes, “About 94 percent of parents of children ages three to four in the United States report having spanked their children in the previous year.” 

94 percent?! That’s an insanely high number to me but maybe we’re all still parenting on auto-pilot, doing what our parents did to us and what their parents did to them? I’d be curious to know the percentage of parents who weren’t spanked as children that have chosen to spank their children.

In addition, a new study released this week shows spanking doesn’t just traumatize kids emotionally, it literally alters their brain function. As CNN reports:

“Harsh corporal punishment in the study was defined as at least one spanking a month for more than three years, frequently done with objects such as a belt or paddle. Researchers found children who were regularly spanked had less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex that have been linked to depression, addiction and other mental health disorders, the study authors say. The researchers also found ‘significant correlations’ between the amount of gray matter in these brain regions and the children’s performance on an IQ test.”

Physical effects aside, spanking is degrading, demeaning, and straight-up barbaric. There are so many other ways to discipline, as well as resources to help us navigate discipling our children in a healthy way. While I don’t believe that courts should be telling anyone how to raise their children, as I have illustrated in this post and this post, I also don’t believe spanking (any kind of spanking) should be considered discipline. It is violence. It is unacceptable. And it shouldn’t be legal, for the sake of our children. It is impossible to set and enforce a line for when enough is enough. While you may think there’s a very clear difference between spanking and beating a child, there are millions of parents out there who may have a very different opinion, which puts children in danger.

For instance, have you ever watched the video of a Texas judge beating his 16-year-old daughter? While I’d call it a beating, he might call it reasonable use of force. The teen secretly recorded the video many years ago and released it as an adult. (Be warned, some might consider it graphic and there is some cursing from the father.)

I don’t care if you were spanked and you “turned out fine.” I was spanked. Wooden spoon, open hand — and I hated it. It was damaging in ways far beyond the physical and it shouldn’t be up to individual parents to determine that. Besides, how do you, as a parent, effectively teach your kids not to hit others when you use spanking as a discipline tool? You spank your kid for using a marker to draw on the walls, your kid hits a friend for stealing a toy — is there really a difference? Your kid is disciplining someone who did something wrong.

I don’t spank. Never have, never will and no, my kids aren’t little brats who run wild. I manage to discipline and punish them without hitting them and yet they still know mom means business. How can I teach them not to hit each other if I hit them? Would I spank my son for hitting my daughter? How does that make any sense?

At some point we have to put an end to any form of violence against children. “Reasonable use of force” is a vague standard to issue to parents. As is so clearly illustrated in the case of the Texas judge beating his daughter, who knows what someone’s standard of reasonable force is? This ruling in New York (and many other states with similar laws) is a dangerous precedent to set.

 

Image courtesy of ThinkStock

 

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