Older Than 18, It’s Assault and Battery. Under 18,…

Older Than 18, It’s Assault and Battery. Under 18, It’s Spanking.

I’ve mentioned before that we don’t spank.

Now here’s a summary of the latest studies done on spanking.

What’s very difficult for me to grasp is why a person 18 or older can press assault and/or battery charges against another person who strikes them, but a child younger than 18 cannot. (And 18 is the rather arbitrary line i’ve drawn as the time most kids leave home to attend college or what have you, not knowing what specific laws have to say about this.) What’s more, if the person under 18 receives blows from a parent, it’s called “discipline” or “corporal punishment.”

To spank very young children is awful. I think any conscientious parent dreads the potential appearance of the rage-filled monster who overtakes one’s better self and beats one’s young child out of frustration and anger. That person is not me, is it? Could it be? I don’t think adult strength should be exerted against tiny children. Is it worth the shame and guilt afterwards? Even worse, is it worth the self-justifying and self-protective fortifying that the parent has to do afterwards? The latter seems like far worse to go through than the shame/guilt cycle, because it requires that the parent actively inure him or herself against the possibility of fallibility or remorse.

Neither is adult strength warranted against older children. Adult strength used against one’s near-adult teens seems rare because the likelihood of failure makes it an idiotic enterprise; and maybe therein lies the critique–the heart of the matter. So, one beats very young children because what is effectively bullying is guaranteed little or no resistance? The injustice is simply the most stark when adult strength is used against the tiniest of children.

I say this as someone who has felt on occasion my limits being sorely tested. I have felt tremendous frustration and annoyance at my own child–who hasn’t felt this about their children? Nine times out of ten it has to do with repeating a boundary to someone who seemingly doesn’t hear me.

It pushes my buttons. I have to really breathe deeply and struggle to reach for the most productive way to handle the situation. I’m not tempted to hit so much as say something extremely biting or hurtful.

In those situations, just saying “I’m really frustrated and upset right now, because you’re not listening to my words” helps. It helps to reduce the rules to a few absolutes about safety, and let a lot of the rest slide.

However, there are many grey areas, such as the teaching of manners. A little thing like “no feet on the table” doesn’t have the urgency of “be safe” to it, yet neither do I care to have my 3 year-old’s feet on the table while we eat, nor do I want to save instruction on this to when my child is 8 years old and fully cognitively able to process it.

No matter how much I may feel pushed to my limits at times, I still believe there must be a better way to parent than by hitting to strike a point home. And I say this as someone who grew up in a pretty traditional Chinese household where I was spanked fairly often.

HB and I discussed it a lot before we had the UN: we both felt that given our personal experiences of spanking while growing up, we needed to use other methods. I’ve always felt strongly that if I couldn’t remember the reason why I was physically punished but only that I was physically punished, then the punishment was most certainly a failure. What lesson did it permanently inscribe in me? What was the point of the physical punishment?

Here’s what I took away from the LA Times article:

What the research does show is that spanking is generally no more effective than nonphysical disciplinary techniques in instilling acceptable behavior, that its effects vary from culture to culture and that a greater frequency of spanking increases the risk of negative consequences.

  • spanking is not more effective than talking or other methods. why escalate to hitting then? Because it’s emotionally satisfying to the adult? That’s a horrible way to put it. but then again, perhaps saying it so starkly lays bare some unpleasant truths.
  • if everyone around you gets spanked, then you don’t feel especially abused. I think this is where immigrant cultures clash hard against mainstream mores. This is where HB and I agreed: the UN is being raised here, not China. We don’t agree that we need to physically or emotionally harm our child to teach him or to socialize him.
  • the more a child is spanked, the more s/he is aggressive her/himself. Because you’ve just taught the child to use bodily violence as an acceptable way to get your point across. And these lessons persist and bleed into other parts of one’s life, as adults and in all realms, not just the parent-child dyad.

    Since then, other studies that have tracked kids over time have linked corporal punishment to higher rates of children later assaulting their parents and higher rates of boys assaulting their girlfriends years after they themselves were smacked.

  • that’s pretty appalling. I think what most people come back to for reassurance is this:

    In a study published in Child Development in 2005, researchers at Duke University interviewed 336 pairs of mothers and children in six countries in Asia, Africa and Europe about discipline and behavior. They found that physical discipline seemed to have a stronger negative effect on children in countries where it was not the norm than in countries where it was practiced widely. Several other studies, including the 1997 one that found differences between African Americans and whites, suggest that cultural differences also influence the effect of spanking in the U.S.

  • I find it difficult and also slightly dangerous for researchers to conclude that cultural/racial differences connected to the permissibility of spanking would make it a useful parenting practice among Latinos and African Americans who seem to practice spanking more. So it’s ok for brown and black children to be brutalized but not white children? This is a facile response to a complicated issue and no doubt a complex sociological study, but all the same it’s hard to swallow.
  • with regard to the above block cite from the LA Times article, I found this sentence needed a lot of unpacking.

    physical discipline seemed to have a stronger negative effect on children in countries where it was not the norm than in countries where it was practiced widely.

    Take it bit by bit: in countries where spanking is not the norm, spanking has a stronger negative effect than where it’s practiced widely. So in Sweden, for example, which has banned spanking children since 1979, spanking makes children more aggressive/unruly/etc than in Singapore, where caning is common. So if the level of physical violence against a child is widespread and accepted, then children are less likely to be aggressive/unruly/etc? Is this tacit permission for societies that use lots of corporal punishment to keep using it then?

    If so, it feels like moral relativism at its worst.

    What about the fact that Singapore is a pretty repressive society that uses social coercion, among other things (good old Chinese Confucian culture, ha!), to keep order? So caning is on a continuum with harsh punishment for all kinds of offenses? Is this healthy? Do we want to live in singapore? (And that’s not an academic question, as I have two cousins who grew up there and one cousin who lives there permanently now.)

  • mixed results:

    Last month, in Clinical Pediatrics, Vanderbilt’s Barkin published survey results detailing about 2,100 parents’ disciplinary practices with 2- to 11-year-olds. Parents today, she found, more often reported using enforced timeouts or removing kids’ privileges than they did spanking.

    Most people seem to be moving away from spanking and toward the use of time-outs. But with very young children–

    However, Straus says the prevalence of spanking among 2- to 4-year-olds has remained basically unchanged. As of 1995, 94% of them had been spanked at least once in their lives, according to surveyed parents. Children in that age range and younger would be covered by the proposed California ban.

    Most have been spanked once in their lives.

  • to legislate against spanking without providing parents alternatives is senseless.

    Parent training programs were expanded in Sweden after that country banned corporal punishment in 1979, and in some other European countries that followed Sweden’s lead. “I’d like to see legislation in California and everywhere modeled on Sweden’s,” Straus says.

    Right now hospitals often make available to pregnant couples “parenting classes” that show you how to breastfeed, nurse, diaper and so on. Non-violent parenting methods for infants and also toddlers could be taught in these classes as well. Daycare/child care/preschools could also hold workshops for caretakers and the parents who entrust their children to them.

    I know I’m hugely grateful that the UN’s school has an ongoing parenting education class that featured as a guest speaker Ruth Beaglehole, who taught a bunch of us new moms back when the UN was a mere toddler. Ruth started the Center for Non-Violent Education and Parenting and she provides bilingual English-Spanish instruction for parents of infants and older children.

    I wish that more parents would be able to use tools that could help them parent without having to hit.

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  • 4 thoughts on “Older Than 18, It’s Assault and Battery. Under 18,…

    1. cynematic on

      awful to contemplate, worse to experience. maybe by clutching so hard to non-violent ways now we hope to forestall future violence? one can only hope. and there are no guarantees.

    2. Melody on

      When I notice that even in light of studies which show the ineffectiveness of corporal punishment, that parents still want to strike their children, I can only believe that the punishment is not to instill discipline but rather to help the parent let off some steam. Unforgivable cruelty.

    3. melody,
      thanks for your comment.

      having both experienced extreme exasperation in dealing with my child *and* taken a nonviolent parenting class, i’d say that had it not been for the latter, i’d have far fewer tools to cope with my own anger and frustration. there are times when it’s still a huge struggle to not get carried away in the heat of the moment. and my child is still very young; who knows what trangressions lie in the future?

      i really hope nonviolent parenting/gentle or positive discipline methods become more widespread. the methods aren’t perfect, nor are people, but it seems cruel to impart the lesson that ‘might makes right’.

    4. Pingback: Boys Don’t Cry. Yes They Do. « P i l l o w b o o k

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