To Spank or Not to Spank
BY WILLIAM WATSON
You might not approve -- but should it be against the law?
"CHILDREN are the only remaining Canadian citizens who can be legally assaulted for their correction," the director of the London, Ont., District Catholic School Board has been quoted as saying. He was speaking in defence of a recent initiative that would repeal the section of the Criminal Code that allows parents to discipline their children by spanking them. Apparently, we are supposed to be shocked by this denial of children's human rights.
The good director might have added that children are the only Canadian citizens who don't have the right to drive a car, vote, own a house, sign contracts or get married -- all of which are activities permitted to adults. Indeed, we have all sorts of laws limiting children's rights and no one finds it outrageous that the little tykes are subjected to such restrictions of their freedoms.
Children are also among the very few Canadian citizens who kick and scream, literally, when the universe does not evolve in exactly the way they wish, who gleefully steal their siblings' toys or put mashed potatoes up their noses, who spit at strangers and stick their tongues out at authority figures, and who occasionally denounce the parents who love them more than life itself at a decibel level that carries into the next county.
That true justice may not consist of treating absolutely everyone alike used to be widely understood. Now discrimination is evil, pure and simple, and anyone carrying human DNA must have the same "rights" as anyone else with such DNA -- no matter their age or the fact that every human being who lives a normal life span goes through the same civic cycle from legal unpersonhood to full individual rights.
But children aren't like the rest of us. They do not know right from wrong, although intuition tells them that wrong is much more fun. Penalty time or explaining their errors in a calm and rational way does not always get their attention. Occasionally -- exceptionally -- they may need to be spanked.
That said, my wife and I, like most yuppie boomers of our acquaintance, are loath to spank our children. Partly this is from a realization that a rod used unsparingly loses its effect: I remember being spanked only once, but I remember it vividly, and I expect the shock improved my behaviour for a long time afterwards.
The other reason we shrink from spanking our children is that we are afraid it may lead to child abuse. That some parents snap is something you can understand only once you have been a parent, for there is no anger quite like the anger sparked by your own children's thoughtlessness, insolence or aggression.
And then there are the studies that reveal that most child abusers start with spanking. Of course, most heroin users begin with marijuana and most rapists have read Playboy, though the overwhelming majority of those who smoke marijuana or read Playboy do not suffer the above fates.
The Criminal Code currently reads as follows: "Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction towards a pupil or child...if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances." That seems perfectly sensible. Let's leave the law as it is.
Recently we asked the following question on the Reader's Digest Canada web site: "Should parents be legally permitted to spank their children?" Just one in ten respondents voted no; 88 percent voted yes.
Interestingly enough, last year a survey conducted by the British government showed 88 percent of parents wanted to retain the right to spank their children.
What do you think about parents having the right to spank their children? To post your views, use the submission box in Join the Debate. Your comments may be used in a future issue of Reader's Digest magazine.
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