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RULER   :   Archive   :   1999   :   US Domestic Dec 1999


Domestic CP - December 1999

Corpun file 4833


St Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri, 26 December 1999

Debate over spanking still rages

By Paul Hampel
Of The Post-Dispatch

The 80 responses to the story last month divided 2-to-1 in favor of corporal punishment, but opinions on both sides are strong.

Last month, we asked for your responses to a story about the controversial issue of child discipline -- in particular, the debate surrounding spanking.

The prevailing philosophy of the last 30 years has held that spanking is akin to child abuse. But opponents of corporal punishment are facing strong, new foes -- the neo-spankers. Their message: Children today wouldn't be such a mess if parents stopped coddling them and started setting firm limits enforced with serious consequences that include spanking.

We wanted to know how you felt about spanking. Is it all right to swat a child for naughty behavior? Or should spanking be strictly forbidden?

We got more than 80 responses, with a 2-to-1 majority supporting spanking.

Some of those who favored corporal punishment told us how getting swatted as children helped them become responsible citizens. Some quoted Scripture. And almost all told us that spanking should be done in a calm and consistent manner, never out of anger, and mostly kept to a few swats on the leg or the bottom.

But those who oppose spanking made no exceptions. It was psychologically damaging, many said. Others called it criminal and pushed for legislation to outlaw it. Talking, timeouts and depriving children of rewards worked better than hurting children, they argued.

One letter stood out. A 92-year-old south St. Louis County woman wrote that an occasional spanking had paid dividends for her children.

"When my two sons were old enough to disobey me, I sent them out to the yard and had them get a switch from the tree," she wrote.

"They brought it to me and I put it on top of the refrigerator until I needed it. When they disobeyed me, I went to the fridge and spanked them on the leg lightly. I didn't use a belt or anything else except the tree switch. It helped a lot and after I spanked my son, I would take him in my arms and tell him how much I loved him."

Now, the woman continued, she has "two sons that I am proud of and can take anyplace."

One of the boys that Loreen E. Gephardt can take anywhere is Donald Gephardt, a 62-year-old music teacher who lives in New York.

The other is House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-St. Louis County.

"I liked the hugs from my mother a lot more than I liked that switch," the congressman, 58, recalled last week.

"My mother was strict with Don and me, but we always knew that we were special, and we always knew how much she loved us."

It was a lesson that Dick Gephardt and his wife, Jane, applied in their own home. Gephardt said that when his children got out of line, a whack on the bottom set them straight. "We disciplined our kids pretty much like Mom disciplined me," he said. "And we always showed them how much we loved them afterwards."


Here are more of your comments:

"Spanking can be an effective tool in disciplining a child, and I would argue that it is necessary in some instances. But spankings also must be administered appropriately and consistently. Spankings out of anger or frustration, or with the intention of causing harm, are counter-productive. Those are the spankings that teach children to deal with their emotions violently and cause resentment. Parents would do well to remember the saying, 'He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.' "

-- Bates Childress, Clayton

"There is a definite worldwide trend to stop hitting children altogether, just as there was once a worldwide trend opposing the hitting of wives or employees. The neo-hitters have arisen as a counterrevolution, an act of desperation, a last gasp, to support a dying practice. Good discipline should be instilled in the mind, not the behind."

-- Robert Fathman, Co-Chair, EPOCH-USA

(End Physical Punishment of Children), Dublin, Ohio

There is no way in those early years that I'm having a discussion with a young child as to why I'm telling them to do or not to do a directive. They are to do it because I'm the one in control of their lives. I'm the parent. When children get past the age of 5 or 6, they should no longer need to be spanked. They should realize that when you say something, you mean it."

-- Clarice Miller, Ferguson


"I do believe in spanking as home discipline. My only regret is that my daughter uses the new method -- no spanking."

-- Lealand Goolsby, St. Louis

"Why no spankings after 16 or 18? Because the victim is now old enough to hit back. We are not allowed to whip hardened criminals. Why only children? Better to sit a child on a chair and lecture for a half hour on what he or she did wrong. That's how I was punished, and it worked."

-- Virginia Revelle, St. Louis

"Our schools used corporal punishment, and daily we would hear the principal's paddle with a good deal of frequency. We had no fear of guns being taken to or used at school. We weren't afraid of our teachers, but viewed them with respect. No, I don't believe all children need spanking, but they must learn to be obedient to the laws of the land and to respect all mankind."

-- Helen M. Chatfield, Florissant

"It is better to rule by love than fear; no child should fear their parents. Hitting a child in anger is a form of violence; the children will also learn this form of violence from their parents!"

-- Kim L. Fleming, Winfield

"A smack on the hands of toddlers, some harder smacks on the bottom -- but nowhere else -- for children 4 to 5 years old up to age 10 or so. That would usher in more peace for the parents, a feeling of security and love for children and great relief for neighbors, teachers, store owners, etc."

-- Esther Pounds, Fenton

"There is a big difference between a spanking versus beating or abuse. All five of our children were spanked after the second 'No!' went by them with no action. They are ages 32 to 41 now and each has his/her own children and agree that a swat on the rump did not hurt them."

-- R. Baechle, Washington, Mo.

"When parenting is predominantly child-oriented to the exclusion of rational, caring adult authority the result can be highly narcissistic children who feel little responsibility to the wider culture. On the other hand, children who have been continually abused or neglected suffer terribly. Too much is known about the escalation of punishment from physical punishment in the form of spanking to more serious forms of physical abuse for us to rest easy with the permission to spank children."

-- Robert W. Warbin, University City

"Parents who spank or don't spank their children need to recognize there is a fundamental difference between spanking and hitting. Spanking is a corrective action done out of love. Hitting is a malicious action done out of anger. One can help set a child on the right path. The other can hurt more than help."

-- Judy Honigfort, Kirkwood

"I mimicked my parents' mindless 'spanking' of my own children, with no good effects. I stopped, finally, and my conclusion is that spanking is of absolutely no use. It is a violent means of non-communication that prevents the parent or wielder of the raised hand from coming to grips with the situation and with attempting to discover a means to resolving the problem. I am proud to say that my own children do not raise their hand to my grandson. Their response is instead to use 'timeout' and to talk with him."

-- Georgeanne C. Gass, Ballwin

"You do not teach a 2-, 3-, or 4-year-old by having an adult conversation with him. You explain the rules simply. You let them know what breaking the rules are simply. You make sure they understand the rules simply. Then you carry out the punishment for breaking the rules -- simply, kindly and with love. Sometimes it takes a spanking to let children know who is in control and who loves them too much to let them be ruined by society."

-- Doug Risch, St. Charles

"Don't use spanking to teach a child to fear you. Use it to get a child's attention, to let them know when you are really serious. And make sure you have plenty of other options for accomplishing those ends. If spanking has become a routine way of dealing with a child's behavior, it's probably not really working. And if you haven't found anything better than spanking by the time your child reaches adolescence, you can look forward to big trouble."

-- Steve Franklin, St. Louis

"The vast majority of time when a child is struck it is out of anger or frustration rather than a premeditated desire to discipline. I am firmly convinced that one can either extinguish unacceptable behavior or encourage positive action without having to resort to physical force. However, non-violent intervention does take more time and requires a desired amount of verbal effort. Unfortunately for those who are the victims of spanking, the 'quick fix' is more preferable than the long-term solution."

-- Ric Stephenson, Effingham, Ill.

"I tell the children that spanking is always the last resort. I would rather take away your privileges or things you enjoy doing first. Then if they keep acting crazy, I will make the decision to spank or not. I have not spanked them but once in the seven years that I have known them."

-- Hubert McCloud, Fairview Heights

"I've found through experience that it is easier to spank than not to spank. And that's one of the reasons why I don't spank anymore. Spanking is usually an angry reaction, along with yelling. It teaches the child that it's OK to lose your temper and hit. It's much, much harder to stay calm and enforce alternative punishment, such as timeout and/or loss of privileges."

-- Claudia Perry, Belleville

"Spanking is something that is very necessary. Children today are coddled and they know there is nothing bad that is going to happen to them. These same children learn, instead, that whatever they do mommy and daddy will be there to bail them out! By the same token, however, I don't want anyone other than myself responsible for spanking my children. I've lost enough respect for those involved in public service (by no means all of them, but enough to cause concern) to know that arbitrary punishment is entirely possible."

-- Mike Kimmel, Metropolis, Ill.

"How often do parents cross the line and become abusive in the name of discipline? Far too often if you look at Missouri reports of child abuse and neglect. In my own experience with thousands of children, a child's sad story of abuse often began with an incident where they were being punished for being 'bad.' "

-- Fern Hammerman, Creve Coeur

"My mother was strict with Don and me, but we always knew that we were special, and we always knew how much she loved us."

-- U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt

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