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Domestic CP - January 2005
Boston Globe, Massachusetts, 10 January 2005
Sale of spanking tool points up larger issue
ARLINGTON -- On a spring day, Susan Lawrence was flipping through a magazine, Home School Digest, when she came across an advertisement that took her breath away. In it, "The Rod," a $5 flexible whipping stick, was described as the "ideal tool for child training."
"Spoons are for cooking, belts are for holding up pants, hands are for loving, and rods are for chastening," read the advertisement she saw nearly two years ago for the 22-inch nylon rod. It also cited a biblical passage, which instructs parents not to spare the "rod of correction."
The ad shocked Lawrence, a Lutheran who home-schools her children and opposes corporal punishment. She began a national campaign to stop what she sees as the misuse of the Bible as a justification for striking children. She also asked the federal government to deem The Rod hazardous to children, and ban the sale of all products designed for spanking. Lawrence says striking children violates the Golden Rule from the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you."
Her effort exemplifies the passionate debate among Americans over the role of corporal punishment in modern child-rearing and highlights the clashing interpretations of religion that underlie many cultural divisions in the United States.
Where some see a time-honored form of discipline, others see a sanctioned type of child abuse. Both sides cite biblical passages and scholarly pediatric research to back their views, as well as anecdotal evidence of children who went astray because of too little -- or too much -- spanking.
Though corporal punishment is on the decline in the United States and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes the practice, spanking children remains common. National polls in 2002 indicated that two-thirds of American parents approved of spanking, and more than 20 states sanction corporal punishment in schools. Most parents said they use bare hands if they spank a child, though roughly one-third of parents in a 1995 Gallup poll said they had used "a belt, hairbrush, stick, or some other hard object" to strike their child's bottom.
To draw public attention to the issue, critics of corporal punishment in Brookline proposed a resolution considered at Town Meeting two months ago denouncing the practice, a measure that ultimately failed by a narrow margin.
When Lawrence spotted the ad for The Rod, she began collecting online petition signatures protesting the device, eventually amassing more than 500 supporters, and set up a "Stop the Rod" website. With support from US Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, Lawrence appealed in the fall of 2003 to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban the sale of The Rod. But last month, the commission said it had found "no basis for determining that the product constitutes a substantial product hazard."
She has argued that products designed to administer corporal punishment of children ought to be taken off the market, as flammable sleepwear and some toys deemed choking hazards have been.
"People are making money off these devices to beat children," she said in an interview last week. "You have to respect children's bodies and their rights."
Lawrence's campaign has reached Clyde Bullock of Eufaula, Okla., the creator of The Rod. Bullock told the Globe last week that he has decided to voluntarily halt production for now, in part because of pressure from Lawrence and her supporters.
"I feel it's run its course," said Bullock, an auto mechanic who said he had sold hundreds of rods through his small-business venture, Slide's Manufacturing Co.
Another reason he is halting production, he said, is that the company that makes the cushioned grips for the rods has pulled out of the venture.
But Bullock, a Southern Baptist, said he stands by the virtue of The Rod, which, he said, is safer than a belt or paddle. He said he believes his product is in keeping with biblical teachings that rods be used only as a "last resort" to train children. He opposes its use on babies. He said he sold the device at a rate of "a few a week" over the last six years or so. Many of his customers returned for more rods, and cited the Scriptures when they made their purchases, he said.
"I'm one of these simple people," Bullock said. "The Bible is what it is -- I'm not trying to change it. God is right. We have to have faith in that."
Bullock's convictions about corporal punishment are shared by many religious leaders. James Dobson, founder of the group Focus on the Family, one of the nation's prominent Christian evangelical organizations, has written about the proper use of spanking for children who willfully disobey parents, sanctioning the use of a "neutral" object such as a paddle in order for the hand to be reserved as "an object of love."
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Houston Chronicle, Texas, 17 January 2005
Paddling debate shifts to the home
Bill would give parents the right to use corporal punishment on errant children
By Melanie Markley
One Houston woman whipped her 14-year-old granddaughter with an extension cord after the girl left for school on a Friday and didn't return home until Sunday.
A Brazoria County minister used a belt to discipline his teenage daughter, and a Houston lawyer gave his 16-year-old daughter a swat with a board when she disobeyed and talked back to him.
All three cases of corporal punishment were investigated, either by police or Child Protective Services. In time, all were dismissed, though it took prolonged hearings and the help of attorneys to do it.
Eight years after Houston school officials curtailed paddling in the classroom, the debate is shifting to the home front, where a state legislator wants Texas to join other states in reinforcing the rights of parents to paddle their misbehaving children.
State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has filed a bill that gives parents the right to use corporal punishment for "the reasonable discipline" of their children.
"If your 14-year-old granddaughter leaves for school on Friday and doesn't come home until Sunday, you don't send her to timeout to get her to change her behavior," said Dutton, a father of seven and the attorney for the grandmother accused of abuse. "You've got to do something rather drastic."
Corporal punishment remains legal in all 50 states, though 28 of them, not including Texas, have banned the practice in schools. Although corporal punishment is not mentioned in Texas law, "reasonable discipline" is listed as an exception in the state's definition for child abuse, which is "a physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child."
National surveys show that parents are divided over the use of corporal punishment, though most admit they have physically disciplined their children at some time.
Those who support corporal punishment, including Dutton, often point to their own upbringing, saying the swats they got as children were well-deserved and kept them well-grounded.
Sheryl Marshall, the mother of an 11-year-old boy in Acres Homes, said parents need that option: "I believe that if I can do things to correct his behavior early on, then I will decrease his chances of being caught up in the justice system."
Many who oppose corporal punishment point to other ways to curb inappropriate behavior, including timeouts and taking away privileges. Hitting children, they say, only teaches violence.
"Why is it right to hit someone who is 3 feet tall, but it's not all right to hit someone who is 6 feet tall?" said Molly Carnes, a Cypress-Fairbanks mother of two who doesn't believe in spanking. "It doesn't compute in a society where we try to protect people from assault."
Divisions among experts
Researchers, too, are split on the subject. Some argue that corporal punishment is nothing short of child abuse and can lead to criminal behavior and depression. Others say occasional swats aren't harmful and can be effective.
Regardless of the debate, surveys indicate that corporal punishment is commonplace in many American homes.
Murray Straus, professor of sociology and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, said his last survey, compiled for a 1997 study, showed that 94 percent of toddlers nationwide had been physically punished by their parents, usually by hand-slapping or spanking.
The survey also found that more than one-fourth of parents physically disciplined their 5- to 12-year-old children with objects such as belts and paddles.
Because the paddling debate is so contentious, Dutton's bill is likely to draw loud objections. In the last session, when a similar bill he filed passed the House but not the Senate, he said he received about 4,000 angry e-mail messages.
Some of them came from members of the Houston-based Parents Opposed to Paddling Students, led by Jimmy Dunne.
Dunne, who actively fought to end corporal punishment in schools, said he is not trying to make it illegal for parents to paddle their children, as 11 European countries have done.
He said he thinks Dutton's bill undermines efforts to educate parents about alternatives to corporal punishment.
"I'm totally opposed to that," he said. "That would make parents feel like it's OK to whip their kids or encourage them to whip their kids, and we would have that much more child abuse. It's a very bad bill."
Some blame agencies
Dutton and others, including Houston attorney Chris Branson, argue that the law is needed because some agencies have been overzealous in going after parents who paddle and spank.
"There are those in CPS, and outside, for that matter, who believe that spanking is inherently violent and should be stopped," said Branson, who has started an organization called the Family Rights Foundation.
"The fact that the Legislature doesn't agree with them seems to be an inconvenience that they overlook as often as possible."
Diana Wilson, a supervisor with Child Protective Services in Harris County, said CPS does not tell parents that they can't use physical discipline, though foster parents are forbidden to spank.
When an abuse allegation is made, she said, investigators consider a number of factors, including the child's age, the severity and location of the injury if there is one and the family's history of conflicts.
For example, CPS did step in when a nurse reported a mother spanking her prematurely born baby in the hospital nursery. Such physical punishment, Wilson said, was clearly out of line.
"You try to consider everything before you make that final decision," Wilson said.
Texas is not the first state to debate the issue. Oklahoma approved a similar law in 1999, partly in response to the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo.
Sending a message
Oklahoma's law orders the state's child welfare agency to stop all investigations of incidents that are "the result of the reasonable exercise of parental discipline ... including, but not limited to, spanking, switching or paddling."
In Texas, Dutton's bill, labeled House Bill 383, is not quite so specific. However, Dutton hopes it sends a message.
"We've got to help children understand that choices lead to consequences, and bad choices lead to bad consequences," said Dutton. "If you don't learn that at home, you have a difficult time out on the street."
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
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