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Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child? November 5, 2011

Posted by Bill in Current Events, Parenting.
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In a video that has quickly gone viral, the daughter of a Texas Family Court Judge is savagely beaten with a belt by her father for the oh so horrible crime of downloading files illegally from the internet. The incident happened seven years ago, when Hillary Adams was 16 years old. The judge admits he did it and adds that he lost his temper and has apologized so it’s no big deal.

The video itself is very hard to watch, and I was only able to watch a couple of minutes of it. While some have speculated about Ms. Adams’ motive in posting the video, I applaud her for doing so, no matter the motive, for her video has brought to light an ugly part of parenting in America– far too many parents think that spanking is an appropriate means of disciplining their children.

Now first let me state that I do not think spanking is necessarily abuse– although the beating Judge Adams administered to his daughter was definitely abusive. However, spanking is not particularly effective, sends kids the wrong message that hitting is an appropriate way to handle problems, and can lead to increased aggression and actually lead to worse behavior on the part of the child.

I used to teach parenting classes to high school students and one thing I found is that many people very strongly WANT to hit their children. I used to ask my students, “What if someone could show you a way to teach your children how to behave well without having to spank them, would you use it?” Most of the students responded with a loud “No.” They would not even consider that there might be a way to raise their children without spanking, or even if there were, they still wanted to spank.

When I would tell students that I didn’t spank my kids, they would respond that my kids must be rotten brats (they weren’t) or that I was just lucky enough to have kids that were naturally well-behaved. It apparently never occurred to them that maybe my kids were well-behaved because my husband, and I found ways to teach them how to behave that did not involve spanking.

In a real-time study of parenting behaviors conducted by Gerald Holden of Southern Methodist University, parents were recorded in the process of slapping, swatting and hitting their kids.

While listening to his mother read The Tortoise and the Hare, for example, one boy began touching the pages, garnering a slap.

“At 2:03:31, the mother says, ‘No, Justin,’ and continues reading,” according to a transcription describing the incident. “Then at 2:03:34 she smacks him, and says, ‘No, Justin. If you want me to read, quit messing with the pages. Cause you’re moving it while I’m reading.'”

Now there were many ways the mother could have reacted when her son started touching the pages of the storybook. She could have stopped reading and just talked about the pictures to him. She could have closed the book and said, “I guess you don’t want to hear the story tonight. What would you rather do instead?” She could have said, “Oh, you want to play peek-a-boo with the tortoise!” and turned the story into a game. This mother was so focused on her goal of reading a story to her child, that she overlooked a wonderful opportunity to just have fun with the boy.

One time one of the teachers stayed after class to argue with me about spanking. He told me that some kids are just bad and need to be spanked. I disagreed with him so he gave me an example– “What if you had your two-year-old with you at a picnic in the park and you told him to stay away from the creek and then when you went to look for him you found him down by the creek?”

I asked him why the parents would take their eyes off a two-year-old when there was a creek nearby.

He didn’t like that, but he continued. “Well what if he ran down to the creek and then wouldn’t come when you called him?”

“Can your two-year-old run faster than you?” I asked him. Again, I pointed out that the parents should not be letting the child run down to the creek  in the first place. Someone should be watching the boy at all times, and if he has that big of a tendency to run away, the parents need to get a child safety harness.

The teacher finally stomped out of the room, upset that he could not get me to admit that this two-year-old needed to be spanked for going down to the creek.

Teaching children how to behave is not easy. Parents often have to be inconvenienced and often have to be creative. Sometimes they have to give up the things they really want to do so they can closely monitor their children’s behavior. And they need to start from the time their children are very young to help their kids learn appropriate behavior.

Some people have actually sympathized with Judge Adams. The daughter was downloading files illegally, they say. She was clearly out of control. I say that if a parent has to beat his child for misbehavior when she is in her teens, then clearly the parent lost control of that child a long time ago. There were any number of things the judge could have done when he learned his daughter had downloaded illegal material. He could have taken away her computer privileges or could have made her pay for the downloaded files. Instead he thought carefully about it, grabbed the largest belt he had, and beat her while yelling obscenities at her.

When we got our first computer, I was worried that my daughters would spend all their time after school playing on the computer instead of doing their chores and homework. I set up a password on the computer and changed it every day. The girls didn’t get the password till they had completed their chores and homework. Was it inconvenient to change the password every day? Sure. It was a pain in the neck. But we only had to do it for a few months until the girls had thoroughly absorbed the chores and homework first message. When we lifted the rule, we told the girls that if they stopped doing their chores or homework before playing on the computer, we would reinstate the password rule. We never had to do so.

So again, I ask: If someone could show you a way to teach your kids how to behave without hitting them, would you use it? Somehow I think Judge Adams would say “No.” Like the teenagers I used to teach in parenting classes, he seemed to really WANT to hit his daughter.