Spanking sometimes okay

Feb 182007
Authors: Ryan Speaker

In January, California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber announced she would introduce a bill that would criminalize the spanking of any child three years of age or younger. Spanking would become a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1000 fine and up to one year in jail.

It could only come from a Democrat in the lefto-pinko state of California. That aside, what are her arguments?

“I think it’s pretty hard to argue you need to beat a child three years old or younger. Is it okay to whip a 1-year-old or a 6-month-old or a newborn?”

I agree with this: It is wrong to beat children, and it is wrong to whip persons of any age. The problem lies in the language of the bill, which seeks to prohibit any kind of corporal punishment, so as to protect abused children.

Oklahoma State University professor Robert Larzelere said of the proposal: “At least from a scientific perspective there really isn’t any research to support the idea that this would make things better for children.”

Spanking, generally regarded as one or two open-handed swats on the buttocks, is not abuse. In many cases, it can be useful, particularly as a back-up punishment. Peter Sprigg, Vice President for Policy at the Family Research Council (a Christian interest group): “Children younger than 6 years old often cannot be reasoned with. Using a more logical reasoning technique simply will not be effective.”

Logic often seems to elude many grown Americans, so it is unfair to expect children to respond to such techniques.

There are also very good biological reasons for negative reinforcement: Children have a tendency to get themselves in dangerous situations, and they need to be given a good reason to not repeat the behavior. A spanking is a good deterrent; explaining the potential consequences, which the child is unlikely to fully grasp, is not.

Would you explain to a dog, that has roughly the same ability to understand logic and reason as a young child, why he cannot be on the couch? No, you might push the dog off, perhaps lift the dog off the couch and smack his rump, perhaps spray him with a water bottle.

Where is the ASPCA on that? Focusing on ACTUAL cases of abuse, as Ms. Lieber ought to.

Psychological studies are somewhat mixed, but there is evidence that infrequent spanking can be both effective and without long-term behavioral consequences. There is also evidence that suggests parents who do not use some hard-line punishment become more and more permissive as their children age.

A good spanking now and then (but only when warranted) might actually be a good thing.

The invasive proposal limits the rights and abilities of parents, and serves only to undermine their role. If parents are unable to adequately punish their children, within reasonable limits which are already prescribed in law, will the state take responsibility for punishing children? Somewhat sensationalist, but if un-spanked children become insufferable, unyielding adolescents, will the state take action to help the parent?

It appears a draft of the bill will not even be introduced, as Ms. Lieber has announced its introduction twice, but failed to actually introduce it either time. This is a good thing. Children have feel-goodery schools; let us keep some real structure in the home, without further government interference.

Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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