To spank or not to spank

Monday, November 18, 2002

I haven't really given spanking much thought up until lately.

My two kids, for all their tornado-like tendencies, are really fairly benign creatures to live with.

Aside from the occasional farting contest or 2,000 trips out of bed for a drink, they tend to inspire more curiosity (you got used bubble gum stuck where??) than anger.

I'm not sure exactly when mankind decided that using hand on flank was to be an effective means of education.

I do recall a lot of the "this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you" from childhood. Didn't seem to have much effect one way or the other, though I did learn not to spray paint the family dog the hard way.

I'm not totally opposed to spanking. Some people believe in a gentle swat as an attention-getter, and my kids would probably prefer it as far less painful than the long philosophical speeches they get on behavior issues.

But I wonder, now that we've all seen that video of the raging mother beating her 4-year-old child in a van at a store parking lot, if even the people who believe in spanking can feel quite the same way about it.

I've seen parents hit their kids as a punishment for them being violent toward other kids. And they wonder where the child learned it...

What does a kid learn from being hard-spanked? Do what I say because I'll beat you if you don't?

Is the child supposed to be morally better for being struck? Or do you just get a sad, sullen or rebellious person who has been taught that hitting is the way to deal with anger?

Society will have to deal with the results sooner or later. We have a youth detention center full of them just down the road.

Yeah, maybe the old parental adage was right then, maybe it really does hurt us more than them in the long run.

Watching that woman pound on her own child makes us wonder. What must a child think?

Being hurt by the one person they have to depend on for all of their needs. Do they wonder where the love went?

How would any of us cope with being struck by someone in power over us, so much bigger or stronger, able to inflict pain any time they are displeased?

Or do we think our children so unintellectual that they can't learn any other way? Mine outsmart me daily...

Keep in mind that the children being spanked or not spanked today are the ones who decide when their parents are put in nursing homes down the line.

And who wants to be remembered forever as a strict disciplinarian anyway?

I do recall once using a trick my grandfather taught me. When asked to discipline my daughter for some heinous act perpetrated on her overworked mother, I took her to her room in ominous fashion. I suggested that she make some loud whimpering sounds at the proper moments, while I slapped the pillow every so often with a rolled up copy of the Des Moines Register and we stifled laughs while splitting a Coke.

We emerged later to a wide-eyed wife, my daughter promising never to do ill again. It actually seemed to work at least as well as real spanking.

Discipline isn't a laughing matter, of course. How tough is being grounded to your room, for example, in an era when you have a CD stereo, DVD player, Playstation II, electronic pets and the Internet in there?

Poor behavior in our house usually results in cleaning those rooms, which seems to be a fate worse than death to a 9-year-old. Doing dishes, raking the yard, performing math calculations and cleaning the cat box also seem to be good choices.

If the punishments themselves don't provide a lesson, at least with enough work there isn't energy left to misbehave.

The more times I see that tape of the women abusing her child, and the more I see of cases like the Shelby Duis death and the infant discarded in the trash in Storm Lake, the more I think the best response to the frustrated, jangled-nerves, helpless feeling all parents know is to grab that kid and hug them close and tell them that you want the best for their lives and that you love them like crazy even when they are so bad it makes your head spin.

I can't tell you how many times I've grown weary of some nasty or noisy behavior and told my kids, "Why don't you just grow up?"

And a second later, I always realize that they will. All too soon. There will be no more baseballs through the windows or craters in my mattress where they jump up and down to wake me up on Saturday morning. And I'm going to miss the messy, yelling, sometimes lazy, sometimes crazy little creatures that they used to be.

Sound familiar?

I think we had better enjoy every moment that we have. They won't last forever. And I think maybe there's not time enough left to waste any on spanking.

Take a deep breath. Smile. It'll make them wonder what you're up to.

Why don't the just grow up? They will - and they should do it happy.