Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is it time to outlaw spanking?

The Welsh assembly seems to think so. And admittedly, I thought the idea sounded silly—like a bit of overwrought European do-gooderism, until I hit upon this quote:
Christine Chapman, one of the backbenchers who put forward a motion to the assembly to outlaw smacking, said she was delighted that members had backed the principle of a ban. She said: "This is a moral victory, an important step. But in the end we must get legislation against smacking."

Chapman said the UK was "out of step" with many countries around the world that had outlawed slapping. It was against the law to hit adults and it was "nonsensical" that it was deemed acceptable to hit children, she said.
And that's a good point. Generally speaking, it's illegal for me to hit a person not in my care—but it's legal (within parameters) for me to spank a small, mostly defenseless person who depends on me for life?

I haven't spanked my 3-year-old son for while. But. There was a short period of time, after he turned 2, in which he started hitting people when things didn't go his way. We tried everything we could think of in the non-violent spectrum: Time-outs, stern talks, that kind of thing. But he only stopped when I made the decision to respond to his hits with three quick swats to his backside, followed by a time-out. His hitting behavior subsided quickly after that; he doesn't really resort to fists today. And yes, I'm aware of the irony of teaching my son to stop hitting by ... hitting.

I certainly don't think I was abusing my child; and anybody who ever tried reasoning with a toddler will understand the challenges of doing so. What's more, I restricted the swats to a very specific scenario: He doesn't get spanked for other misbehaviors, or because I'm annoyed. For me, limited spanking was effective.

But "effective" is not the same thing as "right," of course, and I find the Chapman's logic about the illegality of hitting adults to be somewhat compelling. On the other hand, if an adult hit me and I responded by flipping him over and delivering three quick swats to the backside, what would the charges be? Would I even be charged? Tough to say.

In the end, I suspect most parents can find a proper route for their families. I think I have—the fact that I haven't spanked my son in a long time suggests to me that my parameters were correctly and effectively deployed. But your mileage may vary. And in any case, we have laws on the books aimed at the abusers among us, people who strike their children out of malice instead of a sense of guiding correction. That system is imperfect, and it obviously doesn't save every child from harm, but I don't think the best response is to make a criminal of every adult to delivers a smack to the butt of an obstinate child. There should be limits, but there shouldn't be a prohibition.

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