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California Considers Ban on Spanking

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Next week Assemblywoman Sally Lieber will introduce a bill to the California legislature that, if passed, would ban the spanking of children under the age of four.

My question is, isn’t it already illegal to abuse children in this country? If so, why do we need an anti-spanking law? The implication is that spanking is not a form of abuse. Otherwise the law would be unnecessary.

Since Dr. Spock graced us with his handbook on parenting, parents have tried to eliminate spanking as a discipline option, with detrimental results. The argument has been that spanking contributes to violent behavior and teaches children that their parents don’t love them. The biblical view is different: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24). Obviously, the wise man equated the concept of discipline with a rod. And the charge of hate is not ascribed to those who spank; the parents who spare the rod are the ones who hate their children.

Spanking is not always the most appropriate form of discipline. At times, and with certain children, it can be ineffective. Parents must tailor their discipline to the needs of the child. Sometimes that will entail a firm smack on the bottom. Other times it might involve the removal of privileges.

But punishment, by definition, has to be painful. If we were to turn our prisons into country clubs, how effective would they be? Prisoners would be serving “five-to-twenty” in the lap of luxury. Can we call that punishment? A good punishment deters bad behavior. Country clubs for criminals only encourages it.

Small children don’t always get the message when their parents give them a good “talking-to.” While that conversation may work a few years down the road, it doesn’t administer the degree of discomfort needed for the punishment to be effective.

Effective punishment involves the following:

  1. Pain or unpleasantness to the degree that the child will reconsider the next time he thinks about misbehaving.
  2. Consistency. This teaches children that there are inevitable consequences to disobedience.
  3. Love. When a parent disciplines with love, abuse is not an issue.

With these guidelines in mind, sometimes spanking is appropriate; sometimes it’s not. But let’s let the parents decide. This is one example of an area where the government needs to mind its own business.