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National Post, Toronto, 13 January 2010
A good spanking
By Barbara Kay
A recent study by a Michigan psychology professor concluded that "young children spanked by their parents may perform better at school later and grow up to be happier." Spanked? Happier? Received wisdom deems any physical punishment of children anathema, so predictable umbrage was taken by institutional stakeholders. The Canadian Paediatric Society harrumphed that "research has proven" spanking leads to "bad physical behaviour."
Proven? Nonsense. Human beings are too complex for conventional methodology to isolate any single element of child-rearing as a predictor for future behaviour. It didn't work for rigid potty training and won't work for spanking. All such "research" should arouse deep skepticism and a suspicion of bias.
I recall for example a ludicrous "study" "proving" that the pain of circumcision resulted in anti-social aggression in later life. But a serendipitous control group of millions of unusually social, physically non-aggressive Jewish men belie this foolish proposition.
One might more plausibly claim circumcision is a "proven" predictor of a future medical degree or a vote for Barack Obama.
Common sense and life experience resist all such reductionism. No research vehicle can single out spanking alone as a determining factor amongst the myriad variables, such as the family's general stability; the consistency, moderation and frequency of the practice; or whether punishment is administered privately or publicly, to name but a few.
How does one even define "spanking"? What you may call abuse -- a swiftly ministered open-handed smack to the well-upholstered butt of a wilfully disobedient child, such as the spanking I gave my three-year-old daughter when she darted into the path of an oncoming car and nearly gave me a heart attack-- I may call a "lesson" (she certainly never forgot it!). What others might call a lesson -- a trip to the woodshed and a pants-down, welt-raising beating with a rod or strap -- I would agree is brutality.
Culture further muddies the waters: I remember a survey decades ago of U.S. adults who had been spanked as children. Immigrants' children were revealed as less likely than native-born children to take corporal punishment, even regular beatings, seriously because, during their initiation into American culture at school, they felt increasingly psychologically detached from their parents' old-world traditions.
The sense of injustice is all. Children have no innate sense that a timeout is just, but a spanking unjust. Children do feel a sense of injustice that may cause future problems when they are subjected to physical punishments for trivial offenses other children aren't, or when the rules aren't made clear to them and punishment seems arbitrary, or when in fact there are no rules and punishment is arbitrary. Or when they feel unloved, a feeling that can be conveyed with or without spankings.
My son attended a boys' school where caning was still permitted, a superannuated practice almost everywhere else (and soon to be retired there as well). Dreading the distinct possibility he might come in for such punishment, I asked him how he felt about the prospect, which on principle -- we knew about it when we chose the school -- we would not have challenged. After some reflection, he said he would accept it as his due without ill will, if he had knowingly transgressed rules for which caning was known to be the punishment.
Ka-ching! If administered consistently and democratically, even a punishment viewed as retrograde and abusive everywhere else seemed fair in this 12-year-old's world. Although he was a child who routinely pushed boundaries -- the very reason he had been enrolled in this highly structured, tough-love school -- he somehow managed to curb the behaviours that would have led to caning. At first out of fear, and soon from volition, he internalized the value of living within appropriate boundaries. I don't approve of caning as a punishment. Just sayin'...
My children do not spank their children. I don't consider them morally superior to me and my friends who did; they're a product of their times, as we were of ours. Our attitude may seem callous by contemporary standards; today's attitude seems hyper-sentimental by ours.
Earnest young parents in every generation understandably seek cultural approval, which is why I would not spank today either. And in our therapeutically attuned society, zero tolerance for the deliberate infliction of any pain at all -- even the psychic pain of being "offended" -- however salutary its effect, is today's liberal litmus test for cultural correctness.
No study will ever conclusively prove normative spanking's beneficial or deleterious effects one way or the other, so reflexive judgmentalism is unfair: Parents must sort it out for themselves, and we should all just leave it at "different strokes" -- or not -- "for different folks."
© 2010 The National Post Company. All rights reserved.
Telegraph Journal, Saint John, New Brunswick, 14 January 2010
Spanking bans: bad for kids and society
By Charles W. Moore
Findings of a not-yet-published study by Dr. Marjorie Gunnoe, professor of Psychology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, corroborates common-sense knowledge of thousands of years of parenting; spanking applied judiciously as a normal consequence for bad behavior is beneficial to children and, by extension, to the common welfare of society.
Based on interviews with 2,600 teenagers about being spanked -- approximately a quarter of whom had never received corporal punishment -- Dr. Gunnoe determined that children who were physically disciplined between the ages of 2 and 6 grow up to be happier and more successful, performing better in school as teenagers, more likely to perform volunteer work and to continue to university, than peers who had never been spanked. Those who were spanked between seven and 11 exhibited more negative behavior, but remained more likely to be academically successful.
"The claims that are made for not spanking children fail to hold up. They are not consistent with the data," Gunnoe commented. "I think of spanking as a dangerous tool, but there are times when there is a job big enough for a dangerous tool -- you just don't use it for all your jobs,"
That pretty much mirrors my philosophy on spanking. I never had any enthusiasm for it when my own kids were young, and it was sparingly and reluctantly applied in our home, but there were times when it was an appropriate measure of last resort.
Despite the fulminations of anti-spanking absolutists, The American College of Pediatricians (ACP) affirms disciplinary spanking by parents can be effective when properly used.
"It is clear that parents should not solely rely upon disciplinary spanking to accomplish control of their child's behaviour," the organization's position statement sensibly advises, but notes that "Evidence suggests that it [spanking] can be a useful and necessary part of a successful disciplinary plan."
Professor Gunnoe reportedly emphasizes that her study isn't intended to encourage parents to strike their children, but to dissuade governments from banning spanking, as several have in Europe. A small but disproportionately influential and ideologically-obsessed coalition of leftist activists, government appointees, public servants and politicians remain intent on banning spanking in Canada.
Currently, a Canadian parent's right to spank is protected by Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which provides:
"Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances."
S. 43 does not authorize child abuse, specifically limits physical discipline to what is reasonable, and allows police and judges discretion to evaluate whether or not a parent's disciplinary behaviour has exceeded boundaries laid down in S. 43. Ergo: spanking is legal, but excessively violent spanking isn't. That seems perfectly reasonable to most people, but not to ideological zealots who believe no amount of force by way of correction is "reasonable."
As far back as 1976, a House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs concluded that S. 43 might cause "abuse" of children. In 1981, the Committee recommended that S. 43 be immediately repealed. That didn't happen, but in 1984, the Law Reform Commission recommended repeal of S. 43 for teachers but not for parents. In 1987, the Commission's amendment was tabled as follows:
"No one is liable who, being a parent, foster-parent, or guardian, having the express permission of such a person, touches, hurts, threatens to hurt or confines a person under 18 years of age in his custody in the reasonable exercise of authority over such person."
The Law Reform Commission said it wanted to prevent the intrusion of law enforcement into the privacy of the home "for any trivial slap or spanking-" obvious common sense, but that didn't satisfy the anti-spanking brigade, who continue to agitate, succeeding in 2004 in convincing the Supreme Court of Canada to effectively ban spanking of children under 2 and over 12, and criminalizing at any age discipline by the use of objects or blows or slaps to the head -- not unreasonable provisions, or inconsistent with Dr. Gunnoe's findings, but still an ominous diminishment of discretionary rights of parents, who are no longer immune from criminal prosecution for applying non-injurious physical corrective measures on a child under two years of age or over 12 or if an instrument is used.
Removal of corporal punishment -- "the strap" of my schooldays 50 years ago -- from schools was egregious error, consequences of which become more manifestly evident every day to those not ideologically blinded by "progressive" cant. Dr. Gunnoe's findings reconfirm that removing spanking from the parenting "toolkit" would be tragically counterproductive -- for parents, kids and society.
Charles W. Moore is a Nova Scotia based freelance writer and editor. His column appears each Thursday.
© 2010 CanadaEast Interactive, Brunswick News Inc. All rights reserved.
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