Is America Ready For A "Spanking Ban?"

Illustration for article titled Is America Ready For A "Spanking Ban?"

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.

A Spanking Ban In The U.S.? [NPR]
Related: Study: Spanking Worse For Kids Than Yelling

"A Strong Natural Tendency To Escalate": How Mild Spanking Can Lead To Child Abuse



I was spanked - back in the dark ages I didn't know anyone who wasn't. My mother was also the master of the quick face-slap and used it wisely. I did know a couple of kids who were beaten instead of spanked and there is a clear line between the two.

When I was an adult my parents told me they had clear rules for punishments. I think they are golden and full of wisdom:

1. Never, ever administer ANY punishment when you are angry. Give the kid a time out until you can chill out.

2. Never administer a punishment in public. If you have to do something, take them to the quietest place possible well away from everyone. Punishment in front of others is a humiliation that is damaging.

3. Always set limits and give warnings. When you give a warning, be prepared to take action if the behavior is repeated. Warnings without action just teaches a child that your words carry no weight.

4. Always explain why you had to administer a spanking. "I told you not to do that, you did it anyway, I gave you a warning and you still would not listen and now this is the consequence".

5. After the punishment we were always told that we were punished because we were loved and our parents cared about our behavior and our future. I understood that concept even at age 5. My parents always remained with us until we stopped crying and felt better. They never spanked and left us alone after.

6. When spanking or swatting a child because they have acted violently towards another, the talk should center around "This hurts. Why did you want to hurt Tommy? There is no reason to hurt another and I need to show you how much this hurts". This was the only method that managed to break my sister of her biting habit - my mother actually had to bite her in return to get her to realize what she was doing.

My parents are not college-educated. They spent their lives as rural, blue-collar people who came from farming families. They certainly have never read any books on child development or psychology. Sometimes I'm amazed they managed to figure this out.