Anti-Spanking Laws Could Turn America Into Egalitarian Hellhole

Illustration for article titled Anti-Spanking Laws Could Turn America Into Egalitarian Hellhole

Sweden became the first country to outlaw physical punishment of children in 1979. Now, the first generation of Swedish young adults to have been raised in a spanking-free society is in its thirties. Contrary to what your cantankerous, defensive grandpa might suggest, the entire country hasn't turned into a bunch of spoiled namby pamby brats. But would similar anti-spanking laws ever fly stateside?

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Doctors, psychologists, and finger wagging experts agree that spanking is bad. Children who are physically punished by their parents exhibit heightened aggression, low IQ, and bullying. A study published in 2008 found that adults who were spanked as children are more likely to have sexual problems, as some surmise being spanked by a parent can lead a child to conflate physical pain and love.

In spite of this, 80 to 90% of American parents say they spank their children. It's legal to hit your own child in all 50 states, and 19 states even allow schools to use corporeal punishment. Some parents say that it's the only punishment that prompts an immediate end to their child's unruly behavior. "Parental rights" advocates insist that legislation that attempts to regulate what parents can and cannot do to their children is akin to government intrusion.

In contrast, only a single digit percentage of Swedish children are currently spanked. Part of this is due to the fact that since the mid-20th century, spanking has been viewed as passe among Swedish parents; when physical punishment of children was made illegal, it was already fading in popularity.

The rule that made spanking illegal wasn't even technically part of the penal code, but rather a gentle vanilla flavored suggestion in the Swedish Children and Parents Code. Chapter 6, Section 1 now reads,

Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment.

Offenders weren't subject to criminal punishment. If you're caught hitting your child in Sweden, tall and stoic but standoffish people will come to your house and remind you that it's illegal and point you in the direction of resources and services that can help you not be so slappy with Junior. The whole thing would give Ron Swanson hives.

So would something like that ever work here? Probably not as legislation; nearly every American parent spanks their children, and they all turned out just fine thank you very much, insists everyone. In order for Americans to stop spanking their kids, culture would have to change to resemble Sweden's— community-minded when it comes to child rearing, more trusting of the government, better at making Lutfisk, and blonder.

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In Sweden, a generation of kids who've never been spanked [CNN]

Image via ChipPix/Shutterstock

DISCUSSION

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God, I have to write one more comment on this story, because the other comments are driving me batty. For everyone who is saying they "turned out fine," good on you. But some of us were spanked, and for that reason I feel that I am NOT "fine."

By all accounts I turned into a successful adult...I am working on a PhD, have a stable marriage, plenty of friends, etc. But my parents spanked excessively and in anger (but not enough to ever be considered "abuse," as it never left a lasting mark). My father is a 6'3" 300 pound man, and on the worst occasions I had to do the bare-bottomed over-the-knee spanking, which was brutal on a small four-year-old tush. My mother frequently lost her temper with me and would hit...first on the bottom, then wherever she could reach me when I learned to twist away. On one occasion she became mad when I whined about her hurting me when she brushed my hair, and she hit me on the ass/lower back with the hairbrush so hard the hairbrush broke. Through all this, she would proudly maintain that she "never hit me on the face."

I got spanked like this in part because I was a difficult child and my parents were very frustrated. I deserved discipline, but I did NOT deserve this. I believe now that my difficulty was due to undiagnosed childhood depression, which in children often presents as irritability and difficult behavior (As an adult I have a diagnosis of dysthymia, which I manage well with medication).

Getting spanked did not "cure" me of my mental illness. It compounded it. It made me internalize that I was a bad person, that I deserved to be hit. It made me angry and aggressive, and I learned to bite/pinch/hit other children. I had/have difficulty controlling my temper, and getting hit did NOT address that problem in any way. It was a temporary fix to make my parents feel better and to put me in my place. In no way did it help me learn to control my temper, help me understand why I should/shouldn't act certain ways, or teach me how to treat other people well.

When we condone spanking we also condone THIS kind of spanking. This is spanking that no child agency would remove a child for. This is "gray area" spanking, and it does NOT help children. It specifically does not help children who "attract" this kind of spanking the most often, those with behavioral and mental health problems.

So when you say you "turned out fine," that's lovely. Great. By all accounts I "turned out fine," too. But I could have been a LOT better. And I resent the experiences of myself and people like me being trivialized by other people who have no insight into what "spanking" and "turning out fine" really means for other people. When you condone spanking, people like my parents hear that what they're doing is totally okay and within their rights as parents. And I am NOT "fine" with that.