JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellWilliam PfaffRobert Scheer
Don FederCal Thomas
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / April 16, 1998 / 20 Nissan, 5758

Larry Elder

Larry Elder To spank or not to spank

MY HIGH SCHOOL math teacher, Mr. Nicosia, told the class of the one and only time his father ever spanked him. After school one day, a handicapped man with leg braces and crutches ambled down the street. Mr. Nicosia and his other childhood buddies taunted and laughed at the man. Mr. Nicosia's dad, who was at the school to pick up his son, grabbed his child, took him home and "beat the tar" out of him. Lesson learned. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Mr. Nicosia might have sued his parents for child abuse.

The 53,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics says parents should not spank their children. Got that? These "experts" inform us that spanking teaches aggression. And, get this, an Associated Press article solemnly tells us that "parents typically turn to spanking when they're angry." Well, yeah. You mean, as opposed to when they're out fly-fishing or watching "Wheel of Fortune"?

But according to a 1992 survey, nearly 60 percent of pediatricians disagree. They believe that spanking, done appropriately, can actually teach kids to behave.

And apparently, parents haven't received the AAP memo because 90 percent of parents surveyed do spank, my parents among them. When my mother simply had had enough, she would say, "Boy, get me a switch." I then dutifully went into the back yard, tore a "switch" from a tree, removed its leaves as required and brought it to my mother for her approval. She would wave it around, Toscanini-like, testing its strength and durability. "Too weak," she'd say, "Get me another." (I often wondered if inmates on death row said, "Yo, warden, do you think only 50,000 volts is enough?")

Here's the problem with the AAP study. How do you determine whether a kid turned out bad because his parents spanked him? How does a shrink determine that, but for the tanning administered to a child's backside in the parking lot at the 7-11, that kid -- turned adult -- would not now be on a water tower threatening pedestrians with an AK-47?

You mean, ever since Timmy's dad spanked him outside of the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyland, the kid went "postal"? Give me a break. How many variables play a role in emotional development? Complex stuff, parenting.

And what of the role of siblings, friends, teachers, schools, religion? How can "experts" determine the impact of spanking without comparing two identical children, one receiving spankings, the other not? Without this, the "experts" simply speculate. But what about the reverse? Suppose a non-spanked kid "turns bad." Do we argue that a judiciously administered swat or two might have turned little Johnnie around?

Besides, who better can determine the appropriate combination of "carrot and stick" in motivating and punishing a child? Maybe that child's parents.

And there's something else fishy here. Notice the widespread coverage given the anti-spanking report? The American Medical Association publishes the "Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine." In 1997, the magazine featured a report echoing the AAP's findings -- that spanking encourages aggression and teaches violence. CBS, ABC and NBC carried the report, as did over 100 newspapers.

But the very same magazine -- the very same issue -- contained another report about the very same topic. This study tracked more children, over a longer period of time, but reached the opposite conclusion: For most children, claims that spanking teaches aggression seem unfounded.

How many networks picked it up? Zero. How many papers carried the story? Fifteen.

Also, a recent issue of U.S. News & World Report discusses a 1996 review of the spanking research. Robert E. Larzelere, the director of residential research at Boys Town in Nebraska, looked at 166 spanking studies. After examining the data, he "failed to find any convincing evidence that non-abusive spanking, as typically used by parents, damaged children."

At a 1996 American Academy of Pediatrics conference, Larzelere presented the research. After reviewing the data presented by Larzelere and others, the two conference organizers wrote, "We must confess that we had a preconceived notion that corporal punishment, including spanking, was innately and always 'bad.'" But "given a relatively 'healthy' family life in a supportive environment, spanking in and of itself is not detrimental to a child or predictive of later problems."

Also, according to U.S. News & World Report, twice as many college-educated Americans oppose spanking than those who failed to complete high school. Since most journalists attended college, reporters show little skepticism about the survey. No media bias, you say?

But, hey, why am I fighting this? If the American Academy of Pediatrics is right, maybe I can sue my parents for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Throw in some punitive damages, and who knows, I might get all my inheritance early. Wonder what the statute of limitations is on child abuse?



©1998, Laurence A. Elder