A physical punishment detente: Education over criminalization?

Filed under: Just For Moms, Just For Dads

No Spanking t-shirtMy previous post on physical punishment and spanking has sparked a wonderful discussion about the issue that's caused me to step back and think thinks over. Panthergirl, whose blog against physical punishment started this whole debate, has said publicly that she doesn't wish to debate the issue with supporters of spanking and hitting. With all due respect to Panthergirl, I think that's a mistake.

It's clear that there is common ground in this debate. We all agree that many kids today are spoiled and overindulged. Too many kids believe they deserve the world on a silver platter. We live in a materialistic, McDonald's-focused culture where everyone is convinced that they can have it "their way". Concern for others takes second place over concern for our own stomachs. Is it any wonder, then, that many of America's children are turning out to be brats?

The debatable question is whether spanking and hitting are valid tools to help stem this problem. I believe strongly that they are not.

But does that mean we ought to make it illegal? I'm not convinced.

For me, I see that the human tendency to perform actions out of negative emotions, such as anger or vengeance, is all too likely. We may say we would always use physical punishment in a "just" manner, but even in those cases, we may be fooling ourselves. We may be saying that we're "doing it for the child's own good", and that "it hurts me more than it hurts you". But it's very hard, emotionally, not to cross that line. In my view, it's better to avoid physical punishment entirely. There are so many better ways to discipline that don't involve violence that resorting to spanking or any other form of physical punishment should never be necessary. There are ways to discipline that are more compassionate, and don't open up the potential of going overboard and causing physical harm.

That said, I'm not convinced any longer that outlawing physical punishment is the way to go. It seems that approaching it legally polarizes the issue, and opens up the potential for extreme legal punishments that don't fit the crime. If you tell a parent that you intend to criminalize him or her for parenting choices, that shuts down discussion and debate. It makes it easy for people to label you a "zealot", and seal their minds off against your point of view.

I would prefer to see an aggressive campaign of education and debate, in which both sides argue the issue respectfully. Such education by no-spanking proponents should address both alternatives to physical punishment and alternatives to lax parenting. Those of us opposed to spanking need to acknowledge that there are children who are spanked who turn out okay; spanking doesn't necessarily ruin a kids' life, and doesn't need to be turned into a capital offense. (Indeed, some kids who are spanked end up concluding that the practice is useless, and vow never to use it themselves once they're parents.) On the flip side, we need to recognize that few children who are overindulged and allowed to run wild end up magically developing an altruistic attitude toward others.

This should be a campaign, not against spanking, but for good parenting. No-spanking proponents should recognize that this is an ingrained part of our culture, and that it may take years - even decades - to convince people that nonviolence is the best option.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.