Monday, January 22, 2007

To Spank or Not to Spank

California State Assembly member Sally Lieber is trying to pass a law that would make it illegal to spank a child under five and punishable by a $1000 fine and time in jail.

In a country that has the largest percentage of its population behind bars in the developed world, the state of California has the second largest percentage of its residents behind bars in the nation. The California prison system is so over crowded that we are currently in the process of exporting some of our prisoners to Arizona.

But let’s forget the logistical insanity of putting parents who spank their kids in prison and focus on the moral insanity of it.

First of all, we already have laws that prohibit parents from abusing their children, and if those current laws do not dissuade child abusers, this new law will not help either.

There is a big difference between abuse and a spanking.

I have twin boys, and they have always been very rambunctious and energetic. They are eight now, and almost never need a spanking, but they still require a lot of discipline. They are incredibly bright boys, both reading several levels above their grade-level, and they are very sweet and well-intentioned. We have always had to work very closely with their teachers in school because they have a tendency to be disruptive in class.

Now that they are older, we can have a discussion with them about why a certain behavior was wrong, and as a punishment, we usually make them write lines or essays (Connor, the more energetic of the two, has the best penmanship in his class).

For all the parents out there who have had little angels who required little or no discipline (my brother is one example), I hope you realize how lucky you are. For my situation, however, I would like to know why I should have been expected to endanger my toddler’s life by trying to explain to him (when he can barely clam down enough to make eye contact) why he should not stick his little fingers in the wall socket or dart out into traffic. I feel that, especially when it comes to safety issues, it would have been irresponsible of me as a parent to employ any less effective method of getting my point across, when a swift swat on the butt or hand and a firm “No!” will ensure that he will not play with the wall socket or dart towards the road again.

Of course, if I hit him hard enough to leave a mark, spank him for no good reason, or in any way cross the line from discipline to abuse, there are already laws which make that a crime.

My boys are happy, they do well in school, they have lots of friends, they come to us when they have problems, and we are constantly being told from teachers, coaches, choir instructors and random passers-by that our boys are an absolute delight (they get a lot of extra attention because they’re twins).

I, on the other hand, was not spanked, but my dad was an emotionally abusive alcoholic. I was often depressed, I did terrible in school, I rarely had friends, and held any problem I had deep down in my gut until it gave me an ulcer. Literally. Yet my dad continues to congratulate himself to this day on what a wonderful father he was, based largely on the fact that he was against spanking.

Go figure.


sinincincinnati said...

Spanking as a political issue is the typical human example of going off the track or going on a tangent.
B. F. Skinner proved to anyone willing to listen that punishment simply does not work as a means of positive behavior modification.
Still, the family should be the highest sovereignty. Therefore what happens within a family, I will not concern myself with, much less try to change.
It causes far more harm to violate the sovereignty of families than it does to spank.
The evolution of human society lurches into countless more dead ends than improvements. So many that few humans would be able to recognize a societal improvement if it bit 'em in the butt.

Heather Annastasia said...

I slightly disagree with your assessment of Skinner.

He said that an aversive stimulus doesn't work well, not that it doesn't work at all. And an aversive stimulus doesn't work well because there is usually a reinforcing stimulus still present.

In the case of a toddler playing with a wall socket, there is no real reinforcing stimulus to make him want to keep playing with the socket. In fact, if you're attentive and catch him in time, the only thing he'll associate with wall sockets is a swat on the hand.

Now, as for the case of misbehaving in class, there are constant reinforcing stimuli that can not possibly be completely removed (mind you that Skinner's behavior modification techniques work in intensive therapy, but are limited in scope and have little real-life practicality). Therefore, it's important to have consistent reinforcing stimuli for desired behaviors and consistent aversive stimuli for undesired behaviors.