Stop The Rod

I am sad and horrified.

A recent newstory, http://www.newsobserver.com/102/story/418676.html , reported the death of a child by a parent who read information from a book on Christian parenting regarding how to apply corporal punishment to her children in order to make them behave. Apparently, some evangelical Christians are supportive of corporal punishment, citing old Testament passages as their inspiration. In the book that describes the kind of punishment that informed this parent, a particular method for whipping babies is detailed. Among other things, the book is filled with authoritarian, aggressive and manipulative practices to maintain the parent’s dominance over the child and obtain immediate obedience to their will. The book is called “To Train Up A Child,” by Michael and Debi Pearl. Another book, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” by Ted Tripp, advocates similar abuses.

Nothing new, sadly. And corporal punishment of children by parents is not limited to evangelical Christians. From mild spanking to isolation to extreme physical abuse, incidents of this sort are reported only when death is the result. The large number of slaps, spankings, pushing and whippings fall far under the radar in this society. We accept it when we see it or hear of it, whether at the local grocery store or our neighbor’s or relative’s home, because it’s given that it is a parent’s “right.”

Did you know that there is a special device that is sold around the country to assist parents with a particular kind of corporal punishment? It is called “The Rod.” It is legal. If you want to sign a petition to the Governor of Oklahoma (where the company is based) to make the sale and marketing of this kind of thing illegal you can sign here: http://stoptherod.net/rod-petition.html (You can find out more about this practice also at this site. )

Corporal punishment of children exists in this country, and the rest of us turn our heads.

Why? Why do we accept that children are somehow subject to this kind of treatment at the hands of their parents? Why do we protest the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo, some who have been detained unjustly, and not children, who are helpless in their own homes, who have no voice, no choice and no resources?

Alice Miller, PhD, in her book, “The Drama of the Gifted Child” shows countless examples of why corporal punishment and direct, psychological abuse of children helps lead them to the same kind of abusive behavior, and sometimes larger abuses, as adults. You can read an article online by Dr. Miller titled “Every Spank Is A Humiliation” here, http://www.nospank.net/miller3.html In the article, Dr. Miller says,
“In the short term, corporal punishment may produce obedience. But it is a fact documented by research that in the long term the results are: inability to learn, violence and rage, bullying and cruelty, inability to feel another’s pain, especially that of one’s own children, even drug addiction and suicide–unless there are enlightened, or at least helping, witnesses on hand to prevent that development.”

Among those who advocate corporal punishment, the idea that “it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them” prevails. The reinforcement that bigger, stronger, mightier and more aggressive gets the upper hand is paramount. And the notion that one might inspire cooperation and understanding through reason, logic, patience and nurturing is ridiculed. Children are seen as less-than human because they are small, weak and needy.

It’s time to make corporal punishment illegal in every state. I am not advocating making criminals of parents who spank or slap a child. I am advocating speaking out for children. Educating parents and children. Making it illegal to market implements and devices to use against children, and making it illegal to promote corporal punishment in any form, no matter a person’s religious beliefs.

In the immediate present, it’s at least time to make it illegal to sell and distribute items specifically designed and promoted for the physical punishment of children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy in which it is stated, “Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects.” That’s a weak statement, but telling, and at least a step in the right direction. This website, Parenting in Jesus’ Footsteps, http://www.parentinginjesusfootsteps.org/ is targeted to Christian parents, and offers advice and alternatives for those who are looking for effective ways to help children learn and grow and still remain supportive of their faith.

In the meantime, I am not pointing a finger at all parents who have ever had a weak moment and spanked their child. I am not even pointing a finger at people who have willfully allowed corporal punishment advocates to guide them in their interest in helping their children grow. I think people can have good intentions, but be misguided, particularly if they were raised in a way where corporal punishment was a tool used to gain obedience. However, I am asking them to stop. Stop now. There is another, more effective way. Look for those voices, those resources. Some of the links above have recommendations.

And to those of you who abhor the practice of physically (and psychologically) punishing a child; advocate for a child. Don’t turn your head. Speak up. Write letters. If you believe that violence and overt aggression are learned at home, from the cradle on, than you will have every motivation to see an end to corporal punishment of children by parents. It isn’t okay. It isn’t a parent’s right. It isn’t just a little smack.

Reggie