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« iPods, Rap, Teens and Sex | Main | Blogging Note »

January 21, 2007

Sparing the Rod

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

It seems that a California (where else) legislator has proposed a law to ban spanking.

Sweden and perhaps some other countries already have such laws.

The AFP article in the Yahoo link above quotes Sally Lieber (D, San Francisco) as stating "I think it's pretty hard to argue you need to beat a child three years or younger."

Au Contraire, Ms Lieber.

As the brother of a former girlfriend of mine once sensibly put it, very young children either do not understand words and concepts at all or understand them poorly. In other words, you can't reason with them. So there are times when a slap on the wrist or butt is the only way to inform the child that he did something wrong (such as pulling a plug out of a socket). This guy was an Army veterinary officer and the father of three or four kids.

The word "beat" in the quote is obviously a loaded term. There's a huge difference between a light slap and turning someone into a proverbial (or even actual) bloody pulp. My guess is that nearly all spankings are much closer to the former than the latter.

To my mind such a law would be yet another in a long line of legislation that, while attempting to prevent comparatively rare injustices, makes daily life more inconvenient for nearly everyone. Furthermore, such laws might cause worse problems than the ones they are attempting to fix -- the child playing with a cord and socket who gets a really nasty shock, or worse.

And the Swedes? They used to go a-viking, pillaging and sometimes conquering around the Baltic Sea. Brutal, out-of-control barbarians they sometimes were. Now they are a placid people (who admittedly take care to maintain a good air force). But might their no-spanking law eventually lead to new generations of wild, undisciplined barbarians? Jes' askin', mind you.



posted by Donald at January 21, 2007


While I agree the law is foolish, there are plenty of parents who successfully raise children these days without spanking.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on January 21, 2007 2:28 PM

You see lemon - I see lemonade. I.e. - golden enterprise opportunity.

I can travel around CA and oblige law-abiding parents with delivering disciplinary slaps on their children's rears; as a out-of-state resident I should be exempt from local laws.

Imagine the gold flow!

Posted by: Tatyana on January 21, 2007 2:38 PM

Maybe my kids were wimps, but the most physical thing I ever had to do with them was pick them up if they were misbehaving. I guess that's not painful but somewhat humiliating, and mostly I could keep 'em in line by just threatening to pick them up. Or worse, I would start counting to three, which mostly got compliance before even getting to three.

The spanking, swatting thing always seemed over the top. But maybe that's just with my kids.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 21, 2007 4:37 PM

We (wife and I) have managed six years so far without spanking the kids. But we have both yelled at them severely (an act arguably as painful to a child as a spanking).

We have friends whom we know spank their kids, because they've done it in front of us. Others of our friends may when no one's looking. But the spanking we've see doesn't seem to work, and it often looks like the last resort of frustrated parents.

As a bird trainer (you can't spank a bird), my instinct is to anticipate and avoid the bad behavior, if possible, and to ignore it otherwise. This is generally effective, but does leave you in a lurch for what to do when your kid runs into the street.

The bird just gets killed.

Posted by: Matt on January 21, 2007 7:23 PM

So a swat on the rear is the same as a beating? Maybe they should just buy the kids off with chocolate until they behave. I'm sure it works much better that way.

Posted by: BIOH on January 21, 2007 7:59 PM

You have to ask humanity going insane? It is so obvious that children need discipline that I, for one, find myself at a loss trying to understand the reasoning behind criminalizing a parent's central task/duty -- socializing his child. That this task, at times, recquires the parent to administer a mild form of corporal punishment is, again, obvious to anyone with any real world experience trying to control the "little darlings."
Sheesh. The Left is whacko!

Posted by: ricpic on January 21, 2007 8:41 PM

Swedes are far more likely to soon succumb to Sharia law at the rate they're importing Muslims. Then they can beat both their children AND their wives.

Posted by: Bob Grier on January 21, 2007 9:32 PM

I have five children under 11. A child under age 3 can be prevented from running into the street with a whack on the butt. I know. It makes it memorable. A child which perseveres in attacking a sibling can be restrained by the interposition of just authority, which may involve a whack on the butt. The proposed law is stupidity. Disciplining children is the responsibility of the parents. The state should stay the Hell out except in pathological cases. Mine are all healthy and doing well in school, etc. The whole spanking thing is ideologically driven idiocy.

Posted by: Lexington Green on January 21, 2007 10:04 PM

We have a charming and bright seventeen year old sone who has never been stuck or even punished. We have always reasoned with him, since he was less than two years old. I have always that that people who say you cannot reason with children have never really, seriously tried.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on January 22, 2007 12:42 AM

Lester and others:

The issue is whether or nor *all* children need to be spanked, but the fact that California is not allowing *any* parents, some of whom believe in spanking, to raise their children according to their own judgment.

Posted by: hugh on January 22, 2007 10:13 AM

A page on the Swedish experience with outlawing spanking. The study follows the introduction (this is a Catholic site):

Posted by: Coryn on January 22, 2007 11:02 AM

Our oldest kid has never been spanked. Our middle kid has on quite a few occasions. Our youngest just a few times.

Kids are different. Although I have to say, spanking is the last resort of a frustrated and angry parent and other methods are most likely more effective.

This law, though, is asinine and I'm usually in favor of crap like this.

Posted by: the patriarch on January 22, 2007 12:52 PM

"spanking is the last resort of a frustrated and angry parent"

I disagree. A calm but firm slap on the bee-hind is simply a way of letting a toddled know who the boss is.

God help the parent who is no longer "the boss" in his/her child's eyes.

Posted by: PA on January 22, 2007 2:00 PM

I heard an interview on an NPR program with the Representative in question. Having raised 2 kids, I was feeling queasy about the proposed law. I hadn't spanked either of the kids although the temptation was there on quite a few occassions. Myself, I was brought up in the social customs where kids were one thin remove from farm animals, so swatting was not questioned so much as doled out only with due measure.
So, I was prepared for a Liberal shriek by this woman proposing legsislation that my head said "Yes" to (come on folks, what would possess you to hit a kid who's 1 or 2 years old?), while my heart said "No" (hey! I turned out o.k., so what's a slap here or there...)

Obviously, she was prepped for any doubting questions so she concentrated on situations that are vulnerable points for parents. Child care facilities. What Rep. Sally Lieber was shooting for with this legisaltion, she said, is to cut down/eliminate the child abuse happening at these facililties. She had some strong arguments even when the interviewer asked her, "Come on, what's a little tap on the backside." "Your tap is someone's slap.", she replied. How many parents feel a serious level of guilt dropping their 1 or 2 year old off at a crowded child care facility? How many parents are wondering if that bruise was truly from a fall or a slip there?

My kids are past that stage, so my worries are minimal. But younger parents? I feel for them and maybe this law would alleviate some of that guilt.

Posted by: DarkoV on January 22, 2007 2:24 PM

A three year old who runs toward the road needs more than "reasoning" because they cannot yet reason ... as my daughter discovered on one of the half dozen or so times she got spanked. A figgety four year old shouldn't get a swat on the butt for interrupting dinner. But that's just me and my kid. Absent more knowledge about you and your child, I shouldn't be telling you what to do or not do.

Unfortunately, one person's "swat" can be another person's "aggravated assault." It would seem the better course of action would be more comprehensive guidelines regarding what constitutes child abuse and an increased willingness on the part of family, friends and even total stragers to speak up for the child when they see possible abuse or evidence of it.

In third or fourth grade my daughter had a friend who was being (at the very least) verbally abused by her stepfather. My daughter brought the girl to the school counselor to discuss the matter. The counselor turned around and called the mother and stepfather... with predictable results. Nothing was done, the abuse continued and the girl learned not to go to the authorities. So often the lesson we really want kids to truly learn is "deal with it on your own, we can't be bothered."

Posted by: Chris White on January 22, 2007 2:36 PM

I don't even call a swat on the butt a spanking, per se. I'm talking about a bend over the knee type of punishment, one that I'm ashamed to say I've given out a few times, and always it was out of frustration.

Posted by: the patriarch on January 22, 2007 2:56 PM

Hugh, here's the thing...what exactly is it about being able to combine sperm + egg and get an answer of "baby" qualifies a person to be a parent? Nothing at all. Laws like this are put into place to account for the fact that a good 95% of people are barely capable of tying their own shoes, let alone raise a child. Just because you HAVE a child, doesn't mean you know how to RAISE a child. You and I are capable of doing the research to find the best ways to raise our children. You and I know the difference between a spank and aggravated assault, but most people do not.

Having met these lowest-income people, who typically breed like rabbits and are completely incapable of taking care of themselves let alone a child, for whom these kinds of laws are directed I'd have to say I'm all for it. However, the scope of these laws are too limited. We also need to punish parents of children who are morbidly obese and do nothing about it. We especially need to punish the "oh, honey, please don't hit people" parents, too. Regardless of the method used to unleash mentally-malformed people into the world, it should be punished. Are all parents going to get better? No, but most could use some kind of improvement.

Although, perhaps a better mandate would be to force insurance companies to pay for a mandatory class for all expecting parents to take and keep 'em busy and thinking during those nine months?

Posted by: Upstate Guy on January 22, 2007 4:10 PM

I’ll try to get to the NPR interview, which makes it sound as though Ms Leiber is either being disingenuous or doing some serious back pedaling. In a January 17 interview with the San Jose Mercury News, she clearly intended to ban spanking by parents, not just any spanking taking place in a child care facility. She also appears to equate spanking with beating. Here’s a link (not sure if registration might be required):

A few excerpts from the article:

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, wants to outlaw spanking children up to 3 years old. If she succeeds, California would become the first state in the nation to explicitly ban parents from smacking their kids….

``I think it's pretty hard to argue you need to beat a child 3 years old or younger,'' Lieber said. ``Is it OK to whip a 1-year-old or a six-month-old or a newborn?''

The bill, which is still being drafted, will be written broadly, she added, prohibiting ``any striking of a child, any corporal punishment, smacking, hitting, punching, any of that.'' Lieber said it would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine up to $1,000, although a legal expert advising her on the proposal said first-time offenders likely only would have to attend parenting classes….

But Lieber is optimistic that lawmakers will find her proposal hard to resist. For the record, she does not have children and says she was not slapped as a child. But she does have a cat named Snoop, which her veterinarian told her never to hit.

``And if you never hit a cat,'' Lieber said, ``you should never hit a kid....''

I was only spanked once as a kid (after accidentally setting a sofa on fire) and never spanked my own kids, and agree with those who wisely note that sometimes spanking seems more about parental frustration and anger than about discipline. Still, Ms Lieber’s proposal seems like a horrendous overreaction. And rather than offering parenting classes to first-time offenders who might violate this law, if passed, I would rather see all prospective parents encouraged to take parenting classes or counseling sessions with appropriate professionals, religious leaders, etc.

Posted by: Alec on January 22, 2007 4:49 PM

The politician proposing the law is single and childless, which brings to mind the Chinese proverb:
Expert on children
Childless woman.

As for spanking, the politically correct explanation is that if you don't spank your kids, they don't grow up to be violent.
This amuses me greatly, since the Japanese, many Native American tribes, and many African tribes do not spank but use ridicule to control children...and we all know how peaceful these cultures are...

Posted by: Nancy Reyes on January 22, 2007 5:40 PM

Spanking is bad? No way! It's perfectly fine!

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Posted by: Peter on January 22, 2007 10:04 PM

A scenario if this bill passes:

A normal pareent (as opposed to the degenerate profiled by Upstate Guy) has a toddler throwing a tantrum in a grocry store. The mother gives him a slap in the butt, a short stern word, and the kid calms down.

A horrified (childless) onlooker calls the authorities. Parent is sent to a huiliating parenting class, given by a childless 'concerned professional.'

Land of the brave, home of the free.

(The funny thing is, I grew up in a communist country, '60s to early '80s; in *some* respects, I remember it as beeing free-er than the modern West of today. At least in the sense that the private sphere seemed to be left alone a bit more, in some respects.)

Posted by: PA on January 23, 2007 8:55 AM

It is wrong to punish children in that way.

Spanking should be reserved for educational theorists.

Posted by: Rick Darby on January 23, 2007 9:18 AM

PA: word.

Posted by: Tat on January 23, 2007 11:40 AM

PA, I guess the follow-up, devil's advocate-type question is: is it worse to have one or two good parents wrongly have to attend a parenting class than have millions of children raised by completely incompetent "adults"?

And, another question: why is it that not having children completely precludes a person from having an opinion on child rearing? Again, what is it about being able to fertilize an egg that suddenly and magically makes a person capable of parenting so perfectly that no one else is allowed to offer input?

Posted by: Upstate Guy on January 23, 2007 1:34 PM

--- "is it worse to have one or two good parents wrongly have to attend a parenting class than have millions of children raised by completely incompetent "adults"?"

I don't accept the premise of your question, because I don't accept the level of intrusion into the private sphere that bills like this one create.

The problem is that under the scope of that bill, every single parent will be "presumed abusive" by the mere virtue of having to, on occasion, discipline his/her child.

Every passer-by, neighbor, busybody around will be a de-facto informant. Every parent will glance over his/her shoulder before so much as speaking sternly to a misbehaving child. And every child and teenager will sense a kind of manipulative power they have over their parents.

Let me ask you - where does this impulse to police family life come from?

Posted by: PA on January 23, 2007 2:19 PM

As I said, it was a devil's advocate question. I don't think it's a reasonable expectation to think our government is capable of determining what's the best way of raising a child any more than I think it's a reasonable expectation that parents can do it. That being said, I've seen how people raise their kids. In the more socially depressed areas, children are conceived because people just don't know any better and you end up with single mothers of five children, all different daddies, living in trailers and trying to eke out an existence on welfare. In the more affluent areas, children become "fashion accessories"...little dolls to be dressed, posed and punished hard when they step out of line. From what I've seen, finding a qualified parent is harder than finding a qualified IT person. :)

Posted by: Upstate Guy on January 24, 2007 9:10 AM

"And, another question: why is it that not having children completely precludes a person from having an opinion on child rearing? Again, what is it about being able to fertilize an egg that suddenly and magically makes a person capable of parenting so perfectly that no one else is allowed to offer input?"

Because people have absolutely NO idea what it's like to be a parent until they are one. There is no experience to prepare for it. It's unlike anything else. Truly. And for a parent to hear a non-parent offer advice on child-rearing, no matter how well-intended, is akin to a surgeon hearing advice on bypass surgery from a patent lawyer. Even if the advice is valid, a non-parent has no credibility to a parent in the realm of child-rearing. Unfair? Maybe. That's just how it is.

Posted by: the patriarch on January 24, 2007 10:36 AM

It's also amazing how different kids react to scolding or punishment. Our first child never had to be spanked and could be disciplined with nothing more than a stern talking to.

The second one is much naughtier. We tried time outs for bad behavior. He took to going into the corner himself, then repeating the bad behavior in front of us with a smirk. So we whacked his butt with a chopstick once. Now, when he is being really stubborn, we pull out a large chopstick, rap it hard on the table and he nods his head in compliance.

As for those who say that parents are raising their kids without spanking I'd say: Some of them turn out ok, but an AWFUL lot of kids today are wild, undisciplined and their parents deserve beatings. The educational theorists as well.

Moreover, this is one subject where the benchmark isn't perfection. Of course, it might be possible for an ideal parent to do a good conscientious job without spanking. In the real world, the ideal is not possible. Given a risk of too much leniency or occasionally excess spanking, I look around at the youth of the world and decide that we've moved way, way too far in the direction of norms of too little force.

Posted by: Not Gandhi on January 24, 2007 11:05 AM

"As for those who say that parents are raising their kids without spanking I'd say: Some of them turn out ok, but an AWFUL lot of kids today are wild, undisciplined and their parents deserve beatings."

That's assuming their bad behavior is the result of lenient parents. I've known a few wild people who were beaten as kids and their wildness could probably be partly blamed on that.

Posted by: the patriarch on January 24, 2007 4:43 PM

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