One Woman's World
HAVE YOU BEATEN YOUR CHILD TODAY?
by Elizabeth T. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- To spank, or not to spank, a child. To whip, to beat, to assault.
We need to ask with courage "If I change the word 'spank' to 'beat,' is that what I am doing to my child?"
Are we parenting as our parents did, bringing into our homes their methods and mistakes, our memories, good and bad, our automatic acceptance of "the way I was raised" - or are we determined to do it better?
In Naples, Fla., one William O'Brian was acquitted (in less than an hour) for hitting his 13-year-old daughter with a belt. Had he hit his neighbor's dog with the same belt he'd probably still be in jail.
Dogs in most towns and cities in America have more rights than children. You can be arrested for beating your dog, but "spanking" your child is still considered by many misguided judges to be not only a parental right but a parental duty.
I know well-intentioned parents who spank their children. They do it because "That's how Mama and Daddy did it, and it didn't hurt me none!" They do it because they have never considered kinder, more effective alternatives to disciplining their children.
Part of the problem lies in the words, and in our unexamined acceptance of what we think the words mean. We think we know what a spanking is, and we think we know what a beating is. We cannot, however, clearly define where a "spanking" leaves off, a "whipping" begins, or the exact difference between a "whipping" and a "beating."
Two-year-old Johnny's mother gives him a "good old-fashioned spanking." Little Johnny's backside stays red for an hour and is slightly bruised. Spanking or beating? Parental right or abuse?
Fifteen-year-old Heidi mouths off to her father, who slaps her across the mouth. The slap can't be called a "spanking" because that word is used by nice folks to justify beating on a child's behind. It can't be called a "whipping" because that word implies many blows, usually to any part of the body. It can't be called a "beating" because he hit her only once.
How about "assault"?
If Heidi's father had slapped his neighbor he could be arrested for assault. If that same neighbor had smacked Heidi in the mouth, her father would have, no doubt, been outraged, beat him up, or had him arrested - for assualt. Heidi's father is guilty of ownership-insanity. He believes parents own their children. He thinks it's all right for him to smack Heidi around, but that it's not all right for anyone else to do it.
Meanwhile, as we debate the meaning of the words and the scenarios, Heidi hides in her room, her lower lip split and her father's handprint showing through the dark bruise forming at the corner of her mouth.
Spare the rod and you'll spoil the child, says an ancient scripture used today to justify the beating of children. Most of our grandparents and parents used it and, like most unexamined thinking, it is a great excuse for passing the parental buck. If we use it we don't have to think for ourselves, or claim the responsibility of our own actions.
Within a few verses of that same text we are admonished to stone our neighbors to death if they misbehave. Shall we just ignore the fact that a verse can be found in that incredible book to justify almost any cockeyed behavior of the self-righteous? And shall we forget that a gentle Jew came to render obsolete the harsh whip, the stones that kill, the violence-as-answers and gave us instead a garland of "Love one another. Do to no one what you wouldn't want done to you."
It is wrong for any human being to strike another person ... with the possible exception of defending those who cannot defend themselves.
We hesitate to strike our neighbor because they might hit back. We do it to our children because we can. They are little and helpless. We are big and we need to control something. Our boss is a fool, our spouse tries to control us. There's little Johnny pitching a fit for more ice cream. I'll show him who's boss. Take that, you bad, bad boy.
In the parenting ring of craziness, we cannot answer honestly that if it's all right for Johnny's daddy to hit Johnny, is it all right for Johnny to hit his best friend? His future wife? When is the best time to quit "spanking," "whipping" or "beating" our children? At age 15? 18? Why not 21? If Johnny is considered a man at that age is it all right for him to hit the father who beat him? If not, why not?
What, then, is loving, effective discipline and how is a concerned parent to guide a child into responsible adulthood?
We voice-train dogs. We reward their good behavior; we withhold goodies and we restrict their movements if they don't obey our instructions. Any dog trainer who resorted to belts, kicks and blows to the head would be arrested for cruelty to animals.
Are our children less valuable than a dog? Do we think they are any less intelligent?
No child likes the disapproval of a parent and will do almost anything to avoid it. Any child, however, will resort to bad behavior if she/he is not getting validation of their existence. To a child, any kind of attention is better than no attention. They will, also, do almost anything to win one tiny word of praise from a parent. Such is our control over them.
The question of disciplining children must include such painful questions as: Do I punish because I am angry, or because I want to guide my child away from their own destructive behavior? Do I want to teach or control? Does physically assaulting my child make me feel better? Does it relieve my rage? What am I teaching my child when I hit her/him? Would I be upset if I saw my neighbor beating his small dog with a belt? If there is a kinder, more effective way to guide my children why do I not use it? Would restricting privileges or "timeouts" work just as well a beating? Would I allow anyone to treat me as I treat my child?
We do not own our beautiful children. We just get the maintenance, the mayhem and the magic for a little while. One day soon they will spread their very new, wobbling wings and fly away from us. All we can do is stand on the ground beneath them and watch that flight.
Let's hope we have, somehow, given them something good they can use on their journey.
Elizabeth T. Andrews is a former columnist for the Orlando Sentinel now living in Cartersville, Ga., where she writes poetry. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 816, Cartersville, GA 30120.