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Spanking and the Refinement of American Civilization

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Periodically I notice a disturbing trend on my Facebook Newsfeed; the last during the emergence of the holiday season of giving that appears to bring to light certain voids in society. Regardless of the motivation, it seems that there is an increase in random articles and commentary taking the time to illustrate society's desperate need of returning to beating children into submission in order to ensure gratitude and respect from them. This sentiment seems to cross religious, racial, and gender lines; which I suppose in some respect I should feel pleased unifying ideas are still possible despite the rigmarole of divisive atrocities that occur with increased frequency of late.

I, of course, am providing a hyperbolic and flippant characterization of this disciplinary idea intermittently passed in mass through social media. And, full disclosure, I almost never read the articles posted, when there are articles; much of the time, out of frustration, I don't even completely read the status updates. Really, it's a cost saving measure because it will be expensive to continuously replace my laptop after throwing it across the room.

As a parent of a toddler and another due to make her debut in scant weeks, I've thought quite a bit about the issue of spanking. It's one of those topics people whisper at family gatherings, along with which relative has cancer or breast augmentation. As an educator and social worker I decided not to completely decide how I feel about spanking that leaves a teary face and a slightly red bottom for ten minutes. As someone who cultivated a career working effectively with at-risk adolescents and incarcerated individuals, I know enough to understand child discipline is complicated. One thing is for certain in my mind, I cannot categorically denounce any parent who has spanked their child a time or two. While I hope I never have to, knowing it is not my preferred intervention, I'm not so arrogant to think I am immune from the impulse.

What I find disturbing about this trend of disciplinary commentary is the assumption that (a) the past was so dramatically different from today and (b) that the only way to manage a child is through physical force no matter how mild the act of punishment.

In the most severe declarations of the need for mild corporal punishment I've read, crime is the crux of the determination. But, crime rates have been steadily decreasing, for the most part, since, at least, 2007, but media coverage and the glorification of events for ratings have increased with our perpetual access to information. In my mind there is a link, but I don't know of a study that explores the relationship. I do know, however, that there is no causality for crime, only correlations in research; the strongest being societal exclusion and poverty. These issues I've grappled with in my professional work for years; consequently, I've developed a bit of immunity from some of the commentary I've been reading from random people on the internet from keeping me up at night.

My second point, however, is something that rubs me quite a bit more raw because of the general oversimplification of human behavior promoting a reactionary intervention as though there is one cause and one intervention that can fix something seen as undesirable in an individual's behavior or personal characteristics. As an example of one complicating factor impacting the lives and social development of youth is in an article discussing the link between increased usage of media for communication and a possible decrease of empathy in adolescents. This is not to say that technology is the entire picture of possible shifting social trends in children and adolescents, rather one piece of one illustration. In this particular instance, increased media usage as one possible factor impacting social changes in adolescents stretch beyond the family unit and permeate every aspect of human life regardless of age. If one accepts media as having a role in promoting negative child or adolescent behavior, is corporal punishment an appropriate intervention to prompt a positive behavioral shift? Once more, is it reasonable to assume media is the entire story explaining or describing an individual's personality development? As I mentioned, human behavior is a complicated issue, and if it were an easy fix with some brainiac possessing the answer to solving the trend of global child social behavior deterioration (if you believe it is, in fact, a social trend) wouldn't exist in the first place.

With my single toddler and one child on the way, I am far from an expert, but I have learned a thing or two that a decade of work in the field never really touched. Discipline is an ongoing conversation with my kid that requires constant diligence. As a mom who is my son's primary caregiver during the day, it's the choice to embrace the difficult path most of the time. When he is running his laps on the sofa and I'm ready to collapse from exhaustion, it's standing up to take him off the sofa once again. It's praising him for sitting on the kitchen chair the correct way instead of only chastising him for using the chair as his vehicle to dance on the table. It's an ongoing battle not for the weak. Sometimes I'd love to simply plunk him in front of whatever asinine cartoon happens to be on television and nap. When I have two, I may very well do that from time to time. But, for me, discipline is about consistency of choice; most of the time I balance between my son playing independently and engaging with him in an activity. I try to be proactive as much as I can, but I'm not always. Sometimes I'm reactive and lose my patience, but most of the time I commit to grooming and modeling positive social behaviors I want to see. It's too early to know if my tactic will work, and the day may come when he or my growing daughter receive a spanking, but I like to think that spanking is not the only option for raising a good human who contributes positive things to society.

Please, read my parenting trials and tribulations on my blog.