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Domestic CP - July 1998

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Los Angeles Times, 25 July 1998

Community Discussion

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

By James Bell. James Bell lives in Woodland Hills

For 10 years I spanked my children. Both of them. A boy and a girl. And I have paid a price.

I have had to endure their straight A grades.

I have had to listen to their teachers tell me what a pleasure it is to have them in their classrooms.

And last year I had to sit and watch as my son, upon his graduation from middle school, was awarded the top prize for citizenship.

Yet the "experts" would have us believe that ever laying a paddle on a child's rear end is an immeasurable evil, likely to turn a priceless innocent into the second coming of Charles Manson.

The experts are wrong.

My two brothers and I were raised by loving parents. My dad was a strict disciplinarian, a World War II veteran who did not tolerate disrespect. He spanked my brothers and me when we needed it.

It must be a shock to the enlightened authorities that we have all grown into successful, solid citizens. We have 10 children among us, all of whom were spanked and all of whom are wonderful. The oldest is a college grad, the next oldest is in the Navy and the third oldest is at Georgetown University. All the others are on a college track as well; none of them has ever been arrested, expelled, suspended or on "The Jerry Springer Show."

But lest this be dismissed as merely anecdotal evidence, consider a recent poll commissioned by the Family Research Council, where 76% of the more than 1,000 Americans surveyed said that spanking was an effective form of discipline in their home when they were children.

What about studies that purport to show spanking is harmful? Those studies fail because of a rudimentary research mistake -- lumping controlled spanking with abusive forms of punishment like kicking and punching -- and calling it all "corporal punishment." This basic flaw so defies common sense that one wonders if the researchers are purposely skewing the results.

But if it isn't spanking, what is the most common cause of childhood aggressiveness? According to one study, it's uncurbed permissiveness. Imagine that. Letting your kids do whatever they want is worse than spanking. Yet no one calls this child abuse.

Of course, there are parents who strike their children in anger, who abuse their kids horribly. But that is not the issue. We don't outlaw cars because some people drive recklessly. Child abusers deserve to be punished; loving parents who spank their kids do not. To equate them is fraudulent.

Enlightened guilt, however, is a powerful thing. It almost worked with me. When my children were very young, I researched forms of discipline. I was almost convinced by the experts that I was a wicked father for ever spanking my kids. The guilt almost drove me to give it up, but then reality intervened.

One night I went to a hospital for a group therapy session, as a support for a friend. Across from us sat a dad, an alcoholic who was the in-patient. Next to him was his silent wife and next to her their recalcitrant teenage son.

Throughout the session the dad made some sad attempts to connect with his family. But his son, a look of contempt riveted to his face, barely turned his shaved and ear-ringed head his father's way. The wife seemed stuck in some twilight zone of despair and confusion.

At one point, the therapist turned the discussion to discipline options and the subject of spanking arose. The dad proudly stated to everyone, "I've never spanked my son! And I never would! I don't believe in it, do I, son?" He chuckled self-consciously and looked toward his boy, who immediately curled his lip and muttered, "Shut up."

Enlightened guilt has never bothered me since.

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times, 1998.

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