One New Year's, my family went to stay at one of those Catskills resorts, now closed, that catered to Jews of a certain era. Think Dirty Dancing with less Swayze, more sour cream. And one day someone smacked a child:
I don't know the circumstances, but a little boy was acting up and his mother spanked him outside the dining room. Well, this was not the place to do that. Within an instant, the mother was surrounded by irate grandmas literally screaming at her. Someone grabbed the child. Someone else called shrilly for social services. And one woman in a nut-brown wig delivered a scathing lecture in which the words "unfit to be a mother" figured prominently.
Now, obviously, watching a child be dealt with with unnecessary harshness is horrible, and seeing the sweetness getting yelled or hit out of a blameless child by an angry parent is one of the most upsetting sights in the world. And when you see that, you understand things like the "spanking ban" that Sweden's had in place for 30 years. There's a really interesting piece on NPR that takes on the issue. It's arguably changed that country's child-rearing culture - but some feel it's overly indulgent. And others simply feel it's nobody's business - and that there's a wide margin between a spank and abuse.
I came from the kind of home where corporal punishment was tantamount to eating fast food - unthinkable! But some of this, I'm sure, was the influence of the times and a deliberate distancing from their parents' generation (at least, on my mom's side.) And yet, plenty of my friends grew up in more traditional setups and don't feel the occasional spank did them any harm. To most of us, there seems to be a wide margin between true abuse and the little boy I babysat whose mother "never wanted him to hear the word 'no' and who has now been kicked out of his school for bad behavior. Now, there are concrete arguments for the legislation: it's been suggested that spanking can be a gateway to more serious abuse, and effect children's cognitive and emotional development. And if either of these things can be prevented in a world where we can't prevent much, obviously, they should.
But in American it's never that simple. The issue is largely cultural, as the Catskills incident shows, and in America, that kind of legislation would have to but up against a myriad of backgrounds and mores. I'm anticipating hearing a wide range of perspectives here, from mothers as well as those of differing backgrounds, and I want to. Because the issue becomes: what is abuse? Is it in the intent? Is it in neglect? And by this logic can harmful indulgence be considered punishable, too? Yes, I'm playing devil's advocate here, but it's an issue that, in its complexity, demands that.