There's no place like home — if you're a kid in Kansas. You may have read about a new bill introduced by Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, that "expands" on caregivers' rights regarding spanking, allowing parents to hit their children a defined number of times (bruises and marks and welts, oh my!) and letting any teachers who've been given permission take a swing, too. But what you're not hearing enough about are all those good reasons it should be totally fine to spank a kid. Let's clear those up for once and for all.
But first. CNN reported that this bill specified the following:
The legislation specifically would allow for spankings "up to ten forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child and any such reasonable physical force on the child as may be necessary to hold, restrain or control the child in the course of maintaining authority over the child, acknowledging that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result."
The reason: Kids are waaaay out of line today, and their parents need to be able to hit them enough to get the job done, but without provoking a call from child services. As Finney noted in her statement:
The lack of an unambiguous statutory definition of parental corporal discipline has led to the inconsistent application of administrative child in need of care (CINC) enforcement and criminal charges, allowing some clear instances of child abuse to go un-prosecuted and un-abated and other clear instances of parental corporal discipline to result in administration officials removing children from the home and / or criminal charges against parents.
I'm all for making sure clear instances of child abuse are prosecuted, but the solution to make it crystal clear would making hitting children illegal, not defining an absurd, arbitrary number of thwacks that are totally fine, so long as it's only 10 and not 12, which is definitely logically too much.
Consider please that even in Kansas, it is already illegal to hit former children, also known as adults. As in most places, they have a law, K.S.A. 21-5413, which states that battery is knowingly causing physical contact with another person when done in a rude, angry, or insulting manner. So basically, SPANKING AN ADULT ONE TIME (without consent) would be battery. Just once.
But 10 times for a kid? Totally cool. Welts optional. Let's call a spade a spade: This bill attempts to legitimize a terrible practice that has long been shown as ineffective. It wrongly reinforces the idea that there is such a thing as a good kind of spanking. It suggests there is a bad, abusive kind that should be illegal, but also a good, loving kind that only causes bruises and welts but must be tolerated because it helps nurture more effective, obedient citizens. It's just a different "style" of parenting, no better, no worse!
Yeah, a "different" style that just happens to be legalized assault. Even worse, it indefensibly suggests that there's some kind of logic to hitting that can be measured in actual strikes — 10 you're fine, 11 you're a child abuser? Should we let the domestic abuse shelters in on the secret? As if parents are actually thinking clearly when they spank, and not just making a shitty, bad parenting choice in the heat of the moment because of their own limitations.
Luckily, the bill died in committee, but the important thing to note here is that while corporal punishment is banned in schools in 31 states, it's allowed in domestic settings in 49. Let us all look to Delaware, who designated spanking as child abuse in 2012. Make no mistake: There is no such thing as "good hitting" versus "bad hitting." There is no positive outcome from violence toward children. Inflicting pain may curb bad behavior in the short term, but it also teaches violence as an effective means of conflict resolution. The spanker is not an "old-school disciplinarian" who needs protection from false abuse charges, it is a weak-minded person who mistakes compliance for understanding, who never learned impulse control and as such knows no other way to ensure obedience. Spanking is not a well-reasoned, cool-headed strategy serving the big-picture of healthy childrearing, it is a deeply misguided failure of patience, compassion, temper, and good ideas, and it is practiced and protected only by cowards.
Said Finney to the Wichita Eagle:
"What's happening is there are some children that are very defiant and they're not minding their parents, they're not minding school personnel," Finney said Tuesday.
"What it (the proposed law) does is it tries to give a definition. … But it does not allow hitting, punching, beating, because that is still considered abuse."
*Shrugs* clearly no one has ever come up with any other approaches to discipline that don't involve violence. And yet, for the sake of fairness, I have tried to understand the modern thinking behind pro-spanking. Most of us would agree that children should have consequences for their actions and it's our job to teach them, but the key word is teach, which, in most definitions I'm aware of, doesn't involve physical pain.
I found an apparently serious list from 2011 citing eight reasons to spank your kid, and for me, it's jaw-droppingly misguided, and that is my most charitable take. Inspired by some of those rationalizations, if you're a spanker, here, these are your top reasons for justifying violence in the home. See how they hit ya:
You Have a Fucked-Up Definition of What Love Is
"You have to love your child enough to be tough and do what is necessary," says that list. Sorry, but loving a kid enough to be tough means sticking with enforcing healthy, realistic consequences.
You Mistakenly Think Respect Is Earned Through Fear
"To be feared (in the sense of reverence) is to be respected," it says. "Your children should be weary of going against your rules. It also teaches them to submit to authority regardless of whether or not they agree."
Of all the parenting styles, there is a reason that authoritarian is considered the least effective: It is the KNEEL BEFORE ZOD power trip of parenting that is just ugly. (Which is why studies show that controlling parents have the most delinquent children.)
You Have a Crazy Idea About How Consequences Work
"Children have the option to obey or face the consequences, and they need to know consequences hurt."
Like the Parent-as-Hot-Stove Method?
You Think Hitting Will Teach a Child Self-Control
"When you are aware of what is on the other side of making a poor decision, it is easier to exercise restraint."
Ah yes, the marshmallow test of impulse control, except the marshmallow is a belt.
You Have a Distorted Understanding of Accountability
"Just as your reward your child for the good, you must also acknowledge and address the bad."
It's all ice cream and welts from here on out, kid.
You Have a Sad Idea About What It Means to Set Standards
"Children need limits to learn how to grow up with restraint. They will never be able to do whatever they want. Teach them to live by the rules set in place."
And if that doesn't work, get the switch.
You Equate Accepting Violence With Strength
"Spanking your child properly is not going to damage their self-esteem. Accepting mediocrity and dismissing poor behavior teaches them to indulge in being weak."
Only studies show exactly the opposite:
... the research shows that physical punishment is associated with an increase in delinquency, antisocial behavior, and aggression in children, and a decrease in the quality of the parent-child relationship, mental health, and the child's capacity to internalize socially acceptable behavior. Adults who have been subject to physical punishment as children are more likely to abuse their own child or spouse and to manifest criminal behavior (1).
Spanking is a euphemism for hitting. One is not permitted to hit one's spouse or a stranger; these actions are considered domestic violence and/or assault. Nor should one be permitted to hit a smaller and even more vulnerable child. Hitting a child elicits precisely the feelings one does not want to generate in a child: distress, anger, fear, shame, and disgust. Studies show that children who are hit identify with the aggressor and are more likely to become hitters themselves, i.e., bullies and future abusers of their children and spouses. They tend to learn to use violent behavior as a way to deal with disputes.
You Were Spanked and You Think You Turned Out Just Fine
No you didn't, you're advocating hitting children. You got hit, now you think hitting is OK. That's incredibly sad.
And the damage to kids who are spanked goes beyond just low self-esteem. As Slate's Katy Waldman notes:
If you're not persuaded that this is ethically wrong, consider the practical argument: study after study shows that spanking doesn't work. It only makes kids more aggressive. Bonnie Rochman has a sobering rundown of spanking's ill affects in Time:
Children who are spanked may feel depressed and devalued, and their sense of self-worth can suffer. Harsh punishments can wind up backfiring because they can foster lying in children who are desperate to avoid being spanked. Later in life, physical punishment is linked to mental-health problems including depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol use. There's neuroimaging evidence that physical punishment may alter parts of the brain involved in performance on IQ tests and up the likelihood of substance abuse. And there's also early data that spanking could affect areas of the brain involved in emotion and stress regulation.
This is a human rights issue — again, this is legalized assault against those we are bound to protect — and currently only 29 countries have abolished all forms of corporal punishment. According to endcorporalpunishment.org:
In previous centuries, special defences existed in legislation in many states to justify corporal punishment of wives, servants, slaves and apprentices. Violence to women remains far too prevalent, but in most states it is no longer defended in legislation. It is paradoxical and an affront to humanity that the smallest and most vulnerable of people should have less protection from assault than adults.
Especially from the people who purport to love them.