Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Split on spanking: Parents wrestle with punishment in schools, at home

The way Heidi Drake remembers it, punishment in school never varied.

Caught chewing gum? Swat. Pass a note? Swat. Tardy to class? Swat.

"Mr. K was a legend at my rural Oregon middle school," Drake writes in a piece about parenting and spanking for Yahoo News. "Not because his biology tests were tough or his smiles were rare. It was his paddle we all feared.

"One quick swing, in full view of our snickering classmates. Not behind closed doors, with only other adults present."

Drake, a Sunriver, Ore., mom of two girls, says that's the key difference between her experience and the attention-grabbing corporal punishment doled out recently to high-school sophomore Taylor Santos of Fort Worth, Texas.

Santos, who picked paddling by a male vice principal rather than suffering a two-day in-school suspension for allowing a classmate to copy her work, took her medicine in private?something Drake says is ineffective.

Drake rarely resorts to smacking the behind and thinks it's warranted only if it results in humiliation.

She writes: "It's not because the one swat I received from Mr. K scarred me. (It was for gum, by the way.) The administrators involved in Santos' case didn't approach corporal punishment the same way he did. Mr. K went straight for the teenage jugular by embarrassing us in front of our peers. It did the trick, and we were still able to return to our hard, wooden seats afterward."

Did Drake spank?

"Yes," she writes. "When Elise was 3 and ran into the street, ignoring my screams for her to stop. And when a quick swat was needed to bring 4-year-old Maya out of a full-on grocery-store tantrum. In other words, I administered only when the situation called for it. But I never punished with the intention of inflicting pain or leaving a mark."

As armchair child disciplinarians everywhere scrutinize Santos' story, Yahoo! News asked moms and dads to weigh in: Do you spank your children? Should schools allow it? Who should decide the punishment? What's really effective, anyway? Here's a collection of parents' thoughts.

No sparing the spatula

Dr. William Ray Fullmer's mother spanked him. And his father gave his school permission to do so, too.

"I deserved it most of the time," he writes, recalling a kitchen junk drawer that housed a spatula employed to mete out punishment. "When I heard that drawer rattle, I knew I was in trouble."

But Fullmer, of Dallas, Ore., says he decided years ago he would never spank his kids in anger?"although there are times when I wanted to."

His parents thought differently: "My father gave my teachers in elementary school a standing order that if need be, they had his consent to spank me. I am sure part of the reason my father authorized spanking was as a deterrent for bad behavior. It worked; for the most part I stayed out of trouble, as I knew they had permission to deal with me as they saw fit."

Keep home and school spanking rules separate

In Moreno Valley, Calif., where Kathryn Walsh lives, it's illegal for school employees to use corporal punishment. She writes that she's shocked by the Santos story but more upset that Mom and daughter gave permission.

"Neither had a right to be angry after the punishment took place," Walsh says, "even if they didn't expect the outcome."

Walsh only spanks at home "where the parent has control over the severity of the deed," and it's still a last resort.

She shared the anecdote of her 9-year-old son taking computer time from his 6-year-old brother. First offense? Grounding. Second offense? Extra chores. Third offense? Corporal punishment.

"I spanked him on his clothed behind six times with my bare hand," Walsh says. "I have never used a paddle or other instrument, nor could I allow another adult to use a paddle on my sons."

Spanking is violence, and we have enough already

Carol Rucker never resorted to physical punishment.

"I have no regrets," the Tallahassee, Fla., resident writes. And she thinks schools and parents should brainstorm more creative ideas. The school failed, she says, in not offering an alternative like volunteering or extra homework?"anything other than a man paddling a teenage girl until she bruises."

Rucker says her years of parenting and grandparenting have guided her: "I still believe corporal punishment is violence by another name. Some parents consider it a necessary form of discipline. Some will even quote the Bible to back them up; but I believe it teaches a child to use violence as a coping mechanism. We have enough of that already."

Kids need to know there are consequences

Calvin Wolf, a Texas high-school teacher, says he and his wife spank their son, who turns 5 in a few weeks.

"He is a good kid, the little guy, but occasionally, like most children, has trouble listening," Wolf writes. "While some abhor the practice of spanking, or any sort of corporal punishment, what follows when the kid realizes you're nothing but talk?"

Spanking gets results, he says, mostly because his son knows his parents will spank if he's out of line. Schools deserve that leeway, too.

"Kids need to know that they can be punished sufficiently even if Mom and Dad are not around," Wolf writes.

Unsurprisingly, this is a lesson not learned

Timothy Sexton, a Florida father of two high-school boys, writes that the oddest element in Santos' spanking is how shocked mom and daughter are at the results of their choice.

"On those rare occasions when you get what you ask for in this life," he says, "you should not complain about what you get when you don't know what it is you are asking for."

No one is smarter after the incident, Sexton says. Not the kid, not the parent, not the vice principal, not the school district.

"My first reaction was that perhaps things are different in the world of daughters. Then I came to my senses and realized that much of American society is just plain oblivious. I personally cannot fathom my own children ever opting to receive a paddling from any school administrator rather than suspension. If you torture someone enough, you will get the information you are looking for regardless of the authenticity. Paddle a student and you don't even get that. The school gets nothing. The student gets nothing. Society gets nothing. Talk about a comprehensively vacuous method of punishment!"

Never hit a child as a parent or teacher?never

Pennsylvania resident Robert Zharko wants to make sure he's perfectly clear: "The vice principal is lucky I was not this child's parent."

Zharko, the father of a girl, 10, and a boy, 13, says he worries about the message physical punishment sends: Does it tell kids that striking someone is OK if you don't find the behavior acceptable?

"The punishments directed to my children are swift but always entail an association to the 'crime.' For example, when my teen rode his ATV without a helmet, he lost his riding privileges for two weeks. I never thought of striking my 13-year-old because of it. Never."

"A grown man thought it was appropriate to paddle a girl," Zharko writes. "The vice principal should be dismissed (with the blessing of the teacher's union) and the school investigated. As for the parents of Taylor Santos, they should be commended; they have maintained considerably more control than this father would have."


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