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Lorraine Devon Wilke Headshot

Why Are We Still Beating Our Kids?

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JUDGE DAD BEATS DAUGHTER
YouTube

Most of us saw the YouTube video of Texas Judge William Adams beating the living daylights out of his teenaged daughter with a belt. We watched as he twisted and turned her like a pig on a spit, whacking away at whatever body part he could get to with the feral swing of his belt and we were appalled.

Right? We were appalled?

Certainly many were, but what also made itself evident after the exposé of Judge Gone Wild was the disturbing tone of some of the comments left in response:

1. "There's a big difference between beating and spanking."
2. "I might use an open hand once in a while but never a belt."
3. "That's bad but certainly a smack on the bottom is no big deal."
4. "Sometimes it's the only way to get their attention."
5. "Some kids just need it."
6. "Oh, I guess you have a perfect kid! Mine deserved every whack he got!"

Seems the only difference between Judge Adams and a whole slew of other parents is their kids' lack of access to a camera.

Whatever the justification, whatever the weapon, whatever the amount of force, hitting your child is still what it's always been: violence as punishment. Or even more idiotic, violence as a method of teaching lessons, purportedly to make them better people; to "get their attention" regarding manners, honesty, rules, and responsibilities.

In other words, beating them so they will be good.

Oxymoronic much? Maybe just moronic. And certainly lazy, uninventive parenting.

This is when I'll hear from adults puffed up in defense of the beatings inflicted by their own parents; passionate declarations of "I had no residual damage," and "it was loving discipline we sometimes needed." I've even heard people say things like, "Look at me...my Mom beat me and, hey, I'm just fine -- in fact, I'm grateful for it, made me a better person."

Stockholm Syndrome, I tell ya. (See my article on the Tiger Mother).

I personally suspect that anyone defending the use of corporal punishment is setting a defense for their own use of the same. And the beat(ing) goes on.

Physical violence used to discipline, teach, admonish, punish, or "show we care" has been part of the lore and fabric of parenting for so long that we don't even give it a moment's notice...until something like the Judge Adams video bubbles to the surface and we're appropriately horrified. But in truth, violence perpetrated on children in varying degrees is happening even as I write these words. It is widely accepted by many cultures, religions and communities in this country and it continues to be accepted despite the immensity of data detailing its deleterious effects.

Why is that? Why are we still beating our kids?

Think about the illogic of it. Your goal is to teach a child right and wrong, self-discipline, compassion, empathy, honor, ethics, and honesty. Your job is to help them learn to make good choices, use their brains to solve problems, eschew violence and bullying in lieu of wisdom, reconciliation and understanding. And yet there you are, attempting to teach those lessons with the use of violence and bullying. How does that make any sense?

It doesn't. So we call it different, more benign-sounding, things: spanking, whacking, paddling, just a little smack, and so on. But it's still the same damn thing: violence excused as discipline. And it still makes no sense.

My corporal-punishing mother excused her fits of violence with: "You kids did things to deserve spankings." Which I'm sure we did, what kid doesn't? But not only did you go beyond spanking, Mom, but you're the adult! You're the one who's supposed to set a higher standard, display intelligent behavior, exemplify an evolved response as part of your job description as THE PARENT. Truth is -- and we parents all know this is true -- hitting a kid is more often an impulsive, frustration-expelling response to our own rage and anger than a thoughtful, carefully meted exercise in discipline.

Studies show that most children suffer the effects of rage, resentment, emotional detachment, self-negation, etc., as a matter of course following a beating, spanking, belting, bullying; whatever you want to call it. Some may say little about it, some disassociate from the event, some may even quickly forgive the abusing parent in their need to feel "in their good graces" as quickly as possible. But the damage is deeply felt, internalized, embedded, and it becomes a part of that child's "story," their cellular memory of childhood, and, to greater or lesser degrees, impacts behaviors, emotions, conscious and unconscious responses for the rest of their lives.

When I was pregnant I once made the announcement that I would never hit my kid and a friend, the father of two small children at the time, gave me a smug look and said, "Oh, you'll hit your kid, you'll see."

But he didn't know me well enough. He didn't know the deep anger, hurt and resentment I had felt too many times in my own life at the hands of a violent mother -- a loving mother, mind you, but one schooled in the belief that parents had the right to hit.

And turns out he was wrong: I never did hit my kid. A boy who was as rowdy, temperamental and challenging as any kid could be; I never hit him. Oh, I felt like it at times. I felt the kind of rage and frustration my mother must surely have often felt but I never, ever, forgot my promise. I occasionally yelled too loud, there were many a pillow that experienced the wrath of my venting, but all I needed to quell the urge was to remember the soul-shattering effect violence had on me. That was enough to compel inventiveness with other forms of discipline - deprivation of toys and age-appropriate activities, time-outs when possible, consequences in terms of tasks and chores -- all of which were meted out consistently and with parental collaboration. And when my teeth ground too hard I deferred to the calmer controls of my husband (a man with a kind of gravitas that could stop our son in his tracks!), but I made it my mission to transcend and break the cycle of violence that was a part of my family of origin. And because I did -- flawed, emotional, little old me -- I know anyone can.

In a world where bullying becomes epidemic and the ease of online hate and degradation is rampant, it behooves us parents to significantly change the conversation. It starts, to use an old phrase, at home.

Don't hit your kid. Ever. Don't spank, don't pull hair; don't use a belt, hairbrush or stick. Don't pinch their arm so tight they bruise, don't shove them across a room, slam them into a wall or push them down a stair. Don't humiliate, degrade, bully, call them names or demean them in any way. Don't make excuses for your abuse by calling it more benign names or justifying it because your parents did it. Get inventive with your discipline. And just like any other vice, decide corporal punishment of any kind, any degree, any measure, is NOT an option. Stop the cycle.

All eleven of my parents' children made that pact and none of them ever hit their kids. It can be done.

Addendum: By the way, the son in question, the one who was never hit, turned out to be a profoundly compassionate, respectful, and ethical young man; a remarkably decent human being who, as an adult, expressed his gratitude for our decision to reject violence as a tool of parenting. Be very clear: spoiled, disrespectful children are NOT the result of not hitting; they are often the result of it. Let's not confuse lack of corporal punishment with lack of discipline.