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Spare the Child


California is lots of fun because there’s always something wacky going on there. Lately, for example, a legislator has suggested outlawing spanking, at least of kids under age 4.

This is wacky in the sense that Europe looks wacky to Americans, and in fact several European countries have banned spanking. As you know, this kind of wackiness does not go over well with all Americans, and not even all Californians, and as of early February, it looked like the legislator still hadn’t introduced the anti-spanking bill she had suggested. Opponents took this as a sign Democrat Sally Lieber had reconsidered her proposal.

When reported, the idea drew little support, and even some of that seemed lukewarm. Maybe the lack of support has something to do with the fact most American parents have hit their kids – 90 percent, as the Los Angeles Times reported. But most American drivers have speeded too, and they know it’s wrong, and it’s still illegal, even if we do all press our luck occasionally.

And the medical consensus is that hitting is ineffective, particularly for the youngest children. The standard line I’ve read from parent counselors is that, well, if you are going to spank your child, just make sure you don’t do it in anger. Which is a really loving picture – a parent calmly disciplining a two-year-old child with a cold-blooded smack. (“No more wire hangers…dear.”)

It’s that old slippery slope that bothered some critics. Government starts interfering with your God-given right to smack your kid, by gum, next thing you know they’ll be telling you you have to send him to school or something. Whereas parents can be trusted with that other slippery slope, the one between a swat and child abuse. Can’t they?

Luckily, the majority can. But even a swat, a small spank, is a means of inflicting pain, fear and intimidation, small and fleeting though the levels may be. Tempting, I know, though it may be. And many parents who give in to the temptation in frustrated moments know that it’s wrong. But certainly don’t want (to overdramatize the situation) to risk jail for a common parenting lapse. But at the minor level of lapses, the proposal strikes me more as a means of changing attitudes, to bring them closer to ideas in some of those wacky European countries – although obviously it’s moving ahead of public opinion.

If a lawmaker really wants to pass a no-spanking law, she needs to offer something in exchange. That something should be obvious now around Valentine’s Day. Kids can drive you crazy, but who really gets under your skin? That’s right – your partner or spouse. Let’s be honest – we’ve all wanted to wallop them at some point or another. So ban spanking but allow a minor whack – a literal slap on the wrist, perhaps? – on the co-parent. That has a chance of making it through the legislature. Not to mention that hitting is more effective at changing behavior in adults than in little kids. (And we are all looking for ways to train spouses – remember this column leading the popularity contest for ages in the New York Times?)

Oh wait, that’s not funny. Spouses, usually wives, really do get hurt. (Um…as do children.) And we don’t allow people to hit adults, because…they can hit back? No, no, because it’s wrong. But we accept that people hit kids because…it’s tradition?

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 4:53 AM | Permalink

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