Spanking: Discipline Or Abuse?

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - August 27, 2008

I grew up in the ‘60s (the 1960s, thank you) and I am a product of corporal punishment. The implement of choice was a belt. My step-father wielded a pretty good smack and, looking back in time, it was a bit much.

I was a bed-wetter. I think it lasted until I was 6 or 7, and it was something I wrestled with as a kid. Back then, there wasn’t a great deal of research or directives on how to deal with bed-wetting. It appeared that my step-father’s strategy was if he spanked me enough I would stop. It didn’t work.

By the time I was in third or fourth grade, spankings were replaced with groundings. If I was out of line, I would be sentenced to spending time with my parents enjoying the satisfaction of various home improvement activities. Yuck.

I do remember once playing with matches. I was fascinated with fire. My mom caught me with a book in full flame in our kitchen and I’ll never forget the look on her face. Fear. Panic. Anger. I saw it all. In order to persuade me from playing with fire in the future, she held my hand over an open flame. I think it was a lighter. That was the last time I played with matches.

It sounds abusive, right? Spankings with a belt, the occasional swat and a hand held over fire. Someone call Child Protective Services.

Although I am not a fan of corporal punishment, I do understand its use as a tool in raising children.

First of all, honest discipline is different than abuse. Aside from being whacked for wetting my bed, I can understand why I was spanked. I was not abused. I was not left bloodied, battered or scarred. Spanking is a message delivery system that bypasses ambiguity. It is the exclamation point in a teachable moment.

But this should not serve as a green light for parents to beat their children. If you are spanking out of sheer anger, then you are abusing your child. If you are spanking without communication, you are abusing your child. If you are inflicting severe pain and leaving marks, you are abusing your child. It is said you may not be able to define pornography, but you know it when you see it. The same applies to the differences between discipline and abuse.

The Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union recently released a study using education department data showing that paddling in schools is on the decline, but racial disparity persists. It is their contention that blacks, Native Americans and kids with disabilities got a disproportionate share of punishment. Although Hawaii banned corporal punishment in the schools, several states still allow it. This study alludes that minority kids are paddled more than others. This situation can be rectified by banning corporal punishment in all schools.

As much as I support the parents’ right to mete out discipline (not abuse) as they see fit, there is no place for spanking and paddling in schools. The striking of my child by some administrator is inappropriate. If a spanking is in order, then I am the only one who determines that course of discipline.

Sometimes a spanking is called for when a parent needs to make an indelible impression upon their child. However, abuse is never an option, and intelligent, caring and thoughtful adults know the difference.

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