Spanking could be a thing of the past, at least in California.
An anti-spanking bill in the California Assembly would actually criminalize spanking a child, and that worries some family advocates.
According to one observer, “The way this bill is written, a legitimate spanking can be equated with cutting a child. The accepted use of a swat with a hand could be construed as child abuse.”
The bill, A.B. 2943, makes no distinction between a commonly used and appropriate form of discipline and other, more violent acts.
So, is spanking good or bad?
Not too many years ago, we’ve all saw, ad nauseum, a parking lot surveillance tape allegedly showing Madelyne Gorman Toogood exiting a department store. Then, she appears to look around to see if anyone is watching and then begins to shake and pummel her 4-year-old daughter inside the car, hidden from the camera’s view.
I can’t get the video out of my head. And, I can’t really believe that any parent would do such a thing.
Incidents like this beg the question: should a reasonable and civilized country ban parental spanking?
Psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University recently analyzed 88 studies involving corporal punishment, spanning 62 years of collected data, and concluded corporal punishment encourages negative behaviors in children.
But what if a medical study were released on the dangers of eating apples, and media outlets nationwide championed the banishment of oranges instead? Wouldn’t that be absurd? Well, apples are magically being turned into oranges when it comes to the subject of child discipline.
Gershoff’s study, as it turns out, (and, for that matter, the Toogood incident) is not about spanking.
It was about corporal punishment – of which spanking is only a small subset.
Corporal punishment includes spanking along with many forms of training or discipline that are inappropriate. Children in some of Gershoff’s analyzed studies, as in the Toogood case, were beaten or slapped. In other studies children were abused with sticks or injured in other ways. In fact, sixty-five percent of the studies included overly severe punishment.
Since the Gershoff study was released, it has grown into another anti-spanking tantrum by virtually every major media outlet. Headlines emblazoned across papers have touted breakthrough news on the negative effects of spanking.
Apples suddenly turned into oranges.
Is it any surprise to anyone that child abuse and severe punishment would be associated with negative outcomes?
Of course not.
Any civilized parent would be shocked by these types of abuse, as most Americans are shocked by Mrs. Toogood’s apparent actions.
But this is a far cry from judiciously used mild spanking employed by many, if not most, loving parents.
The excessive punishment of some misguided, angry or cruel parents should not become an argument to not discipline at all.
Not only was Gershoff’s work misrepresented, many articles ignored reports countering Gershoff’s review, including one by a prominent trio of researchers that was published in the same edition of the Psychological Bulletin of the American Psychological Association.
The group, including two researchers from the University of California at Berkley and one from the University of Nebraska, concluded “the evidence presented in Gershoff’s (review) does not justify a blanket injunction against mild to moderate disciplinary spanking.”
So, just what is appropriate spanking? The issue is not whether parents should spank, but how should they spank.
An important scientific conference defined spanking as physically non-injurious, intended to modify behavior, and administered to the extremities or buttocks.
I would add that such discipline is never administered in anger.
Used with children from approximately 18 months to six years of age (never later than puberty), spanking has been shown to be effective, especially when used in conjunction with other forms of discipline, such as time-outs, reasoning and other disciplinary tools.
Further, when studies that isolate mild spanking from abusive behaviors are analyzed, results have consistently proven repeatedly the practice is not harmful.
Why have we not seen these findings reported in the press?
Proper spanking is often a necessary tool in parenting.
In fact, studies have shown an increase in child abuse in homes where appropriate spanking does not occur, as eliminating spanking takes away a strong, useful and suitable tool from a parent.
Equating appropriate spanking with punishment that includes child abuse is inaccurate, unfair, and misleads parents who are striving to properly raise their children.
Based upon the best evidence available, I support the many parents who believe in appropriate spanking, when necessary.
But I also believe spanking must be administered wisely and only when appropriate. The evidence does not show that spanking is a disciplinary cure-all.
Not all children need to be spanked, and not all parents should spank their children—especially parents prone to anger, hostility, abuse, or outbursts.
However, a parent that does not teach that there are consequences to behaviors will leave it to the police and others to do that later in the child’s life.
Parents, for millennia, in virtually every recorded culture, have spanked their young children, when necessary, to teach them and to shape and mold their character—to ultimately benefit their children.
Now parents are being fed confusing information — apples turned into oranges — by what appear to be anti-spanking advocates.
Perhaps some discipline is in order for those guilty of fictionalized reporting about spanking –- and for the state legislators in California who appear to not understand these basic facts about the difference between appropriate spanking and child abuse.
Should they pass and the Governor sign this ill-advised law, they may actually be increasing the chances that California children will be abused – not protected from it.