A week or so ago, many of us saw an article trending on Facebook about Taylor Santos, a 15-year-old Texas schoolgirl whose mom is understandably on the warpath after the male vice principal administered corporal punishment to her daughter.
Call me blissfully ignorant, but the biggest surprise of this story to me was that systematic corporal punishment is apparently only illegal in 31 states. Excuse me for thinking our schools had progressed a little bit since the Little House on the Prairie days.
First of all, strangers, authority figures or otherwise, whether the state or the child accepts it or not, have no business hitting someone else’s child. The child’s consent doesn’t fly in cases of statutory rape, so why should it in cases of physical abuse?
Second — and this is where many will disagree with me — their own parents shouldn’t be doing it either.
Now, before anyone says I can’t have an opinion on this issue until I’m a parent myself, that’s like saying unmarried people can’t have an opinion on spousal abuse or adultery. I’m not saying I judge loving parents who use corporal punishment, nor am I claiming I’ll never lose my temper myself when I’m a parent; I’m just saying that I personally think we have no business doing it.
A recent government survey published in Pediatrics (www.aappublications.org) showed that people who are spanked as children are more likely to have mental health issues like anxiety disorders or drug and alcohol dependency. A much earlier study in the book Psychological Reports by a group of psychologists claimed that long-term negative effects of spanking are primarily caused by punishments being used as a substitute for effective communication and positive reinforcements.
Even if every child ever spanked has turned out just fine, though, my opinion would stand. I might not have children yet, but I have obviously been a child myself. I remember a time when I walked off to the park with my friends without telling my mom, which I think is the most upset my mom ever was with me. What followed was a serious talk in which my mom communicated with me as an equal, not as a vengeful dictator. I came out of the discussion understanding how terrified my mom had been and how important it was not to scare her like that, as opposed to just knowing that, if I did that again, it’d hurt. No matter how young I was, there was never a time when my mom didn’t effectively explain to me why something was wrong with respect for my intelligence level. Today, my mom and I are best friends who can talk about anything, and I know our relationship would be tainted if I felt that this was not how my mom had always respected me.
Now, I’m not against time-out or discipline for children. I might have been a unique case in that, even as a child, I needed to feel respected and validated by someone in order to respect them myself; talking it out is just not an option with every child. Ideally, a parent knows their child best and knows what will communicate to them most effectively. Time-out or loss of privileges can be very effective for some children because, on some level, it gets through to them that, if they alienate people, they will be cut off from other people’s company or lose other things they enjoy and rely on.
And who knows — to some children, spanking might even be an effective method. I hear beating people up can be pretty effective too, but let’s not go around doing that, eh?
The bottom line is that children, ages 0-17, are human beings. As human beings, they have the right to genuine respect and safety from all forms of violence. Intelligence or maturity level does not affect that right; imagine the uproar if a disabled adult with the mental capacity of a child got paddled by authorities to “teach them a lesson.” All people should be receiving the message that violence is not the answer in any circumstance, not that it’s only OK if you’re bigger, smarter and more powerful than the other person and can legally get away with it.