An article in today's New York Times will, perhaps, bring you equal parts of insight and fear. The title "When Is Spanking Child Abuse?" seems reasonable enough at first glance. There certainly is such a thing as child abuse. Whoever practices physical abuse of children is someone who spanks. What such a person would term "spanking" quite obviously could be child abuse. A reasonable discussion along the lines of "When Is Spanking Child Abuse?" could be profitable to everyone who should participate.
This, my friends, is not that discussion. For Lisa Belkin's unmistakeable underlying presumption in writing the article is that most of her readers will meet the question "When Is Spanking Child Abuse?" with the answer "Always!" (although the comment stream didn't bear that out).
Here's the insight that we all might gain from her article: How far discourse on this topic has moved in such a brief time:
- A century ago, corporal punishment was a presumptive part of parenting.
- During the twentieth century, American culture became surprisingly aware of a subculture of non-spanking people.
- Through the influence of people like Benjamin Spock (not a Vulcan, BTW!), serious debate took place over the propriety of spanking children.
- Spanking came to official and vehement disfavor among leadership in the medical, psychiatric, and social work fields.
- Now, as this article makes clear, in places like New York, this article takes a tone of surprising awareness that people somewhere still spank.
Consider these quotations:
Spanking…has never really gone away in many parts… [This quotation presumes a readership that would have assumed spanking to have been a thing of the past!]
Corporal punishment in school is still legal in 21 states. [Yikes! Surely you jest!]
Despite the rise of the timeout and other nonphysical forms of punishment, most American parents hit, pinch, shake, or otherwise lay violent hands [Gasp!] on their youngsters: 63 percent of parents physically discipline their 1-to 2-year-olds, and 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents.
While the United Nations has set a target date of 2009 to end corporal punishment by parents, and while 23 countries have already banned hitting kids, the United States is not one of them.
Isn’t all hitting child abuse?
The article features some creative use of statistics. The last time I checked, one third amounts to a whole lot less than half, but Belkin analyzes a statistic that "over a third" of spankers escalate to child abuse. Now, that's a horrible statistic, if it is true. But it does not amount to the claim that spanking "usually escalates" to child abuse. Usually? Hmmm.
It's alarming enough that a regular columnist for a paper as influential as the Old Gray Lady holds these views. More disturbing is the fact that an action by a father that left no one injured and no one aggrieved has resulted in a godly father standing before the bar of judgment. It could be me just as easily as it could be him. That scares me a bit.
It also scares me a bit to think that discipline of children is so absent New York City that a parenting columnist for the Times would find the concept so Neanderthal. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, and if things keep going as they are foolishness will increasingly be the hallmark of our society. And then, sooner than we expect, the United States of America will fall to some better, stronger race of people who love their children enough not to let them turn into the worst version of themselves.