Sacramento - The state Legislature is about to weigh in on a question that stirs impassioned debate among moms and dads: Should parents spank their children?The idea there is that they don't want any accused spanker to have his day in court. Given the threat of losing your kid and spending a year in jail, the accused parents will accept a plea bargain to attend court-ordered parenting classes.
Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, wants to outlaw spanking children up to 3 years old. If she succeeds, California would become the first state in the nation to explicitly ban parents from smacking their kids. ...
The bill, which is still being drafted, will be written broadly, she added, prohibiting ``any striking of a child, any corporal punishment, smacking, hitting, punching, any of that.'' Lieber said it would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine up to $1,000, although a legal expert advising her on the proposal said first-time offenders would probably only have to attend parenting classes.
The idea is encountering skepticism even before it's been formally introduced. Beyond the debate among child psychologists -- many of whom believe limited spanking can be effective -- the bill is sure to face questions over how practical it is to enforce and opposition from some legislators who generally oppose what they consider ``nanny government.''Not only is spanking effective, there is no scientific evidence that any other discipline method works any better.
``Where do you stop?'' asked Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, who said he personally agrees children under 3 shouldn't be spanked but has no desire to make it the law. ``At what point are we going to say we should pass a bill that every parent has to read a minimum of 30 minutes every night to their child? This is right along those same lines.''Yes, that would be next, but there is no proven benefit to such reading either. The popular book Freakonomics cites a well-done study that showed no benefit in school among kids whose parents read to them.
``If my 6-year-old doesn't put his clothes in the hamper, I'm not going to whack him. He just won't get his clothes washed,'' said Peggy Hertzberg, 38, who teaches parenting classes at the YWCA. ``I think instead of banning spanking, parents need to learn different ways of disciplining and redirecting their children.'' ...She is typical of the sort of kooks you'll have to listen to if you take one of those parenting classes. I'd like to spy on how she really raises her 6-year-old, because it is impossible to raise a kid that way. If you keep giving the kid choices like that, he will eventually make some unacceptable choices, such as always wearing dirty clothes, going naked, or eating off of dirty dishes.
``Why do we allow parents to hit a little child and not someone their own size?'' asked Nazario, a professor at the University of San Francisco Law School. ``Everyone in the state is protected from physical violence, so where do you draw the line? To take a child and spank his little butt until he starts crying, some people would define that as physical violence.'' ...You can count on a law professor to say something really stupid. Why do we allow parents to dictate what a child eats for dinner and when to goto bed? We don't let them dictate that to someone their own size!
Doctors, social workers and others who believe a child has been abused are required by law to report it to authorities. Nazario said he and Lieber are still debating whether to treat slapping the same way, or simply to encourage those who witness it to report it. But in either case, said Lieber, the law ``would allow people who view a beating to say, `Excuse me, that's against the law.' ''In the meantime, busybodies are stuck with saying, "Excuse me, there is a California legislator who thinks that ought to be against the law" or "Excuse me, there is a YWCA parenting class teacher who thinks that you ought to give your child more choices" or even "Excuse me, that's against the law in Sweden."
Experts in child psychology disagree over whether spanking is a legitimate or effective way for parents to discipline their children. Professor Robert Larzelere, who has studied child discipline for 30 years, said his research shows spanking is fine, as long as it's used sparingly and doesn't escalate to abuse.So why would someone want to pass a law against spanking, when the scientific research, common sense, and 1000s of years of experience favor spanking?
``If it's used in a limited way,'' the Oklahoma State University professor said, ``it can be more effective than almost any other type of punishment.'' ...
As for Lieber's proposal, the professor said: ``I think this proposal is not just a step too far, it's a leap too far. At least from a scientific perspective there really isn't any research to support the idea that this would make things better for children.''
But Lieber is optimistic that lawmakers will find her proposal hard to resist. For the record, she does not have children and says she was not slapped as a child. But she does have a cat named Snoop, which her veterinarian told her never to hit.Wow. There's the explanation. She wants to tell people how to rear kids based on a wacky cat analogy. I would say that she is giving female Democratic politicians from the San Francisco area a bad name, except that Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, and others have already done that.
``And if you never hit a cat,'' Lieber said, ``you should never hit a kid.''
In my court case, I was forced to see Bret Johnson for a court-ordered custody evaluation. He is a gay man with no expertise or experience about rearing kids, as far as I could determine. His written recommended court orders included:
21. Corporal Punishment: Neither parent shall use, nor allow any other person to use, corporal punishment on the children.When he testified in court, he admitted that this was not his opinion at all. He said that spanking with the hand on the butt is perfectly acceptable. His recommendations were just boilerplate orders that he copied from elsewhere. He refused to supply his source.
The judge didn't let me get to the bottom of the matter, and I was left to speculate as to how Bret Johnson could have such goofy opinions, and how the court could give them such high weight. Maybe the spanking order stems from Sally Lieber's vet saying to never hit a cat!
Yesterday, I would have said that no one over the age of four could be so stupid as to think that a vet's cat advice could be extrapolated into child rearing laws. Now I wonder whether there are any limits as to how stupid these child-rearing do-gooders can be.