A Massachusetts court ruled yesterday that parents cannot be held criminally liable for for the use of “reasonable” force in disciplining their children. The ruling went on to say that spanking “remains firmly woven into our nation’s social fabric.”
The Supreme Judicial Court overturned an assault conviction of a father for publicly spanking his three-year-old daughter in 2011. Some reports about the incident allege that police officers heard a man yelling at a child at a bus stop, and when they investigated saw the father kick and slap his three-year-old. The Boston Globe reports the court ruled that parenting techniques “still widely regarded as permissible and warranted” should not be punished criminally, so long as the force used to discipline is “reasonably related to the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the minor,” and does not cause physical harm or severe mental distress.
Okay, but once you’ve established that it’s caused “mental distress” it’s a little too late, isn’t it? And how do we know exactly how much force it takes to cause mental distress? Who’s to say the fear surrounding the act of spanking isn’t worse than the actual pain it causes? Parenting expert Deborah Gilboa told Yahoo Parenting that spanking “undermines your role as the safest person for your child to talk to or be with. It undermines the lesson that we don’t hit to get what we want. Intentionally causing someone else physical pain is counter to most of the messages that we know kids need to hear.”
Spanking is one of those issues that parents will just never agree on, no matter what the research says. We’ve all heard the “I was spanked and I turned out fine” argument — and it’s probably true. There are plenty of people who regard their experience with spanking as one that produced positive outcomes in their lives. But calling spanking “reasonable” is questionable. Choosing to strike another human is the absence of reason — it’s reactionary. What is “reasonable” about deciding to inflict pain on a child? Louis CK has a thought-provoking take on the issue:
“…kids are the only people in the world, that you’re allowed to hit. Do you realize that? They’re the most vulnerable and they’re the most destroyed by being hit, but it’s totally okay to hit them. And they’re the only ones! If you hit a dog, they fucking will put you in jail for that shit. You can’t hit a person unless you can prove that they were trying to kill you, but a little tiny person with a head this big that trusts you implicitly? Fuck them, who gives a shit?”
It’s an issue many people will just never see eye-to-eye about. Occasionally swatting your child doesn’t make you a bad person, but labeling it “reasonable” seems like a stretch.