Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Spare the Rod," Part 3

This subject has been discussed here a few times before, but it's always worth revisiting every few years, because nobody seems to have a good answer to the dilemma. I'm talking about corporal punishment, and it was in the news recently when the Indiana Supreme Court reversed a lower court's conviction of a mother of felony child battery for using spanking to discipline her son (after several other methods of punishment proved unsuccessful). Among other things, here's what the court said:
[We adopt the Restatement (Second) of Torts view:] “A parent is privileged to apply such reasonable force or to impose such reasonable confinement upon his [or her] child as he [or she] reasonably believes to be necessary for its proper control, training, or education....
In determining whether force or confinement is reasonable for the control, training, or education of a child, the following factors are to be considered:
(a) whether the actor is a parent;
(b) the age, sex, and physical and mental condition of the child;
(c) the nature of his offense and his apparent motive;
(d) the influence of his example upon other children of the same family or group;
(e) whether the force or confinement is reasonably necessary and appropriate to compel obedience to a proper command;
(f) whether it is disproportionate to the offense, unnecessarily degrading, or likely to cause serious or permanent harm.
We hasten to add that this list is not exhaustive. There may be other factors unique to a particular case that should be taken into consideration. And obviously, not all of the listed factors may be relevant or applicable in every case. But in either event they should be balanced against each other, giving appropriate weight as the circumstances dictate, in determining whether the force is reasonable....

Thus, to sustain a conviction for battery where a claim of parental privilege has been asserted, the State must prove that either: (1) the force the parent used was unreasonable or (2) the parent’s belief that such force was necessary to control her child and prevent misconduct was unreasonable.
OK, that's a lot of legalese for this blog. But the gist of it is that the court supported a parent's right to use corporal punishment in certain circumstances, an idea with which I agree.

Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy, where the commentariat is varied and passionate. Here are a few of my favorite comments from that post:
"The problem with trying to fit a one-size-for-all definition of child abuse around physical punishment is that some children don't need it in order to respond to authority, so rapid resort to physical discipline would be abusive; while other children have the will of mule and often don't respond to anything else.

As such, it seems like the court did the best with what they had to work on. The kid was old and sane enough to know better, had been tried with lesser punishments, and yet persisted in lying and stealing. A parent would have to hate that kid NOT to whip him. He evidently has a taste for this sort of activity and is approaching his teens; the next stop is juvie."--anym_avie

"I look at spanking as a potentially useful but potentially dangerous tool; it should not normally be your first response (with exceptions, such as being bitten by a seven-year-old who ought to know better) but to blanket ban it takes away a potentially useful parenting tool."--Andrew Janssen

"Too many kids in the last few years treat all around themselves (other kids, their parents, teachers, total strangers) with utter and shameful contempt and scarcely realize that there's an alternative. We have taught them that we, the grown-ups, need to tiptoe around these precious little idiots lest we wind up in prison. It's time for this nonsense to stop."--J.M. Lengyel
And here's my own contribution to that post; it mirrors things I've written here before:
As a kid, I saw the business end of Mom's Kappa Delta paddle more times than I would have liked, but I think it was ultimately beneficial to me. My parents never hit me in anger, it was never more than a few times, and it only happened when i did something really, really bad. (And of course there was always the spectre of getting "swats" at school too, which sounded even less fun; I was a really good kid at school, if for no other reason than that.)

I also think the prospect of having that happen again colored the decisions I made later the extent that, even now, I judge whether or not I decide to do something by whether or not I might "get in trouble" for doing so. Granted, the adult ramifications of being in "trouble" are different, but that little element of fear helped in the formation of my moral compass. I wonder what can replace that healthy fear when corporal punishment gets put on the taboo list.
This is a long post, and there's no way that the argument involved will be solved anytime soon. I am happy with the court's ruling, though, because I feel like the less government involvement in parenting, the better. As always, feel free to chime in using the comments function.

UPDATE: Commenter "Leo" seems to be responding to me, since he used two of my terms in quotes:
I find people who are in favor of their own past spanking to be risk-averse and fearful, often afraid of "getting in trouble" in some nebulous way. People should weigh risks rationally and act in their interests, rather than having their "moral compass" made up entirely of residual fear of physical violence from someone who, to them, has more or less godlike authority.
Even though the thread is a few days old now, I responded to him:
Leo, I feel as if you're responding to me, since you took two quotes from my comment above. Let me assure you that my moral compass wasn't founded on fear (though a little healthy fear never hurt anyone growing up). Rather, it came down to this: I wanted to be a good kid. If I messed up enough to get spanked (and I need to reinforce that this was a rare occasion), I knew that I wasn't being a good kid at that moment, so I tried hard to act better the next time. I don't consider myself to be risk-averse, but I do feel as though I know my limits, and you can't say that for a lot of kids these days.
The thread is a few days old now, so I don't know if I'll get a response, but you know me....I had to say my piece.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I meant to include one more quote, from parenting expert John Rosemond, in a recent issue of Time Magazine:
Plenty of experts believe that spanking is not always wrong. John Rosemond, executive director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, N.C., and author of several books on discipline, notes that 50 years ago almost all children were spanked. Yet by all accounts, children are more aggressive and prone to violence today, and at earlier ages, than they were back then. Rosemond isn't advising parents to break out the whip. He simply points out that existing research on spanking is unpersuasive. "There is no evidence gathered by anyone who doesn't have an ideological ax to grind that suggests spanking per se is psychologically harmful," he says.
This sums up my opinion in a more concise manner, I believe.

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