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Jewish World Review Oct. 24, 2000 / 25 Tishrei, 5761

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Spare the rod ... -- ON THE WAY back from a recent trip to visit family in Chicago, I found myself on a plane handling my three young children by myself. The 6 and 4-year-old behaved well, which meant I could concentrate on minimizing any annoyance the 17-month-old might cause. So, I spent the entire time focused like a laser beam on pacifying her and keeping her from fussing. I was largely successful - and exhausted.

It later occurred to me that on that relatively short flight I got a little taste of what it's like to be a fairly typical parent these days - meaning one who is always intimidated by her children and their outbursts, and will do anything to avoid a tantrum.

I see it constantly, in settings both public and private. Sure, maybe sometimes it's just another mom trying to keep the peace with her young toddler out of consideration for others. But when I regularly watch 3, 4, 5 and 6 year-olds completely intimidating their parents, throwing fits, calling the shots, I cringe. These are parents who don't have much confidence in their necessary position of authority in their children's lives.

And I can pretty much guarantee they are not parents who judiciously spank their children. It's not politically correct, it's certainly not something today's "experts" approve of, but appropriate physical discipline at the appropriate ages trains a child to understand that words like "no" have meaning, and that the parent is in a position of loving authority in the child's life. One doesn't have to be a psychologist to know that feelings often follow actions. Properly and lovingly using spanking to train a child to outwardly respect authority and the rights of others or to control his temper will in time inform his heart on those matters. And it will keep his soul and body within the zone of safety that the parents should offer.

Besides if I told my kids I loved them, but never touched them, would they believe it? So too, if I tell them "no" but never physically back up the word, can it have much meaning? Too often, I see parents who refuse to spank resort instead to bribing, begging, screaming, empty threats, or ineffectively rendered "time-outs." None of that happens in our house. A line is crossed, a controlled spanking is rendered, there are hugs all around and we move on. In fact this consistency means my kids get the message fast - and spankings quickly become relatively infrequent for each child.

The "experts" of course suggest that a controlled spanking teaches "violence." What nonsense. To use a very loose analogy, that's like saying that allowing police officers to use judicious physical force teaches criminals to be violent. Wade Horn is a noted child psychologist and head of the National Fatherhood Initiative, an organization which encourages responsible parenting. He believes that a number of different discipline methods including appropriately administered "time-outs," which he prefers, are effective. But Horn says there is no evidence that judicious spanking causes children to "act-out" more aggressively as some psychologists maintain the studies show.

Instead, such studies just as likely evidence the opposite and the obvious - that children who are naturally prone to "act-out" more aggressively simply get more spankings.

But his biggest concern, he says, is that if we remove spanking as an option parents can use to intervene early before bad behavior escalates, that might increase the risk of child abuse if parents then find themselves pushed to the point they strike out in anger.

Today's children, thanks to the "experts," have to be the least spanked in our history. Yet our current generation of young people may be the most violent, depressed and "angry" we've ever seen. They are certainly the most medicated. Not only are more than four million young people on Ritalin to control staggering levels of Attention Deficit Disorder, some 2.5 million are on antidepressants. And since 1990 the number of preschoolers - yes preschoolers - prescribed such drugs has risen dramatically. (Of course I agree there are real cases of ADD or mental illness in our youth which need proper medical attention.)

Spanking is hardly a panacea for too many young people spinning dangerously out of control. But it does seem to me the fear of using appropriate physical discipline with one's children is a symptom of a larger problem: an epidemic of parents afraid to stake out their rightful position of authority and responsibility in their children's lives, for the training, well-being and protection of their kids.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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