10 January 2013
When I was a lad, back during the Crimean War, corporal punishment was accepted as the norm in my family, in our community, and I suspect in American society at large. Even though I was by nature well-behaved and eager to please, there were moments when I crossed the line of acceptable behavior. A scolding was usually sufficient (heavily laden with doses of shame and guilt) to correct me, but from time to time I received a spanking by hand or a belt.
There were several unique incidents when the punishment was more severe. Twice during my adolescence, one of my parents became incensed and actually broke objects across my back (a toy rifle once, a 1"x4" plank once). And when I was much younger, a sadistic uncle (father of my favorite cousins) lost his temper while I was visiting them, took me outside in the dark, made me pull my pants down, then grabbed me by the ankles and raised me upside-down with one hand, and beat me severely across my bare bottom with a metal-studded leather belt.
Even before I became an adult, I resolved that I would never strike my child. My son was born on my 30th birthday, the best possible gift. He grew to become a sweet, inquisitive, and cooperative boy. The only times I remember becoming angry at him had more to do with my life struggles than with anything he was doing. I suspect that's true for most parents.
On only two occasions did I break my promise, both when he was around 8 years old. Each involved a swat delivered in anger, something which grieves me to this day. I betrayed both myself and my son, all because the stresses in my life at the time overwhelmed me. How I wish I could go back and take those moments back.
As I've learned more about what makes people tick, my conviction has solidified ~ spanking our children only teaches them that violence is an acceptable solution to a problem. We (most of us) cringe when we witness a parent spanking or slapping their child in public. Yet if we intervene, we incur the wrath of the parent, incensed that we dare interrupt their parenting. Too often the view is "I was spanked, and I turned out alright."
Alas, that is not accurate. A Washington Post article points out the following ~ "That spanking does hurt children, and not just for the five stinging minutes that follow, has become a matter of consensus among many social scientists. Most of the studies are observational (no one has dared to bring kids in for a few laboratory whacks). But hundreds of findings have suggested that spanking correlates with a range of problems. The most often cited link is between spanking and future aggressive behavior, but research has also found that spanked children are more likely to drop out of school, suffer psychological problems, and abuse their own children." (emphasis mine)
Spanking is child abuse. Parents in most European countries are stunned by the extent to which American parents (and sometimes teachers) physically punish our children. Between 65 and 75 percent of Americans accept spanking as legitimate, and between 70 and 90 percent of American parents spank their offspring at least once during childhood.
As the Post article notes, there are efforts underway to purge this mentality from our national mindset, in much the same way that we've made drunk driving and smoking unacceptable. A social movement against violence in the home is gaining momentum. The goal is "nothing less than a total legal ban on spanking in all settings, as has been passed by 33 nations in Europe, Latin America and Africa." (see map below, click to enlarge)
I support that movement. There are many ways to instill acceptable behavior, and to correct behavior that is disruptive. The book Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman (an American mother living in Paris) is an excellent introduction. Our children deserve to grow up knowing that home is where they are completely, permanently, and lovingly safe.