Whack-a-Child. But Not More Than 10 Times!

kid

Kansas State Rep Gail Finney is pushing for a law that will allow parents and other adults of the parent’s choosing to strike their child up to 10 times. I can’t make this stuff up.

I believe one of the litmus tests by which a society can be judged is the ways it treats its young people, for this opens a window projecting how that society operates generally.

If a Kansas lawmaker has her way, parents and other adults of the parents’ choosing could legally whack a child with up to 10 blows of the hand that could leave redness or bruising. Current Kansas law allows spanking that does not leave marks. State Rep. Gail Finney, a Democrat from Wichita, says she wants to restore parents’ rights to discipline unruly youth.

The proposed law raises many critical questions we as a society must address. First, should parents and adults generally have rights to physically punish young people, or even more basically, should adults have rights to aggressively enter young people’s bodily spaces? Also, what are the long-term and lasting impacts on young people who have been forced to endure corporeal punishments? And a point often overlooked or dismissed, what are the inherent rights of young people?

Adultism, as defined by John Bell includes “behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes.”

Even the terminology our society employs to refer to the young betrays a hierarchical power dynamic. For example, we refer to youth as “kids,” a term originally applying to young goats. By referring to young people as farm animals provides adults cover in controlling and maintaining unlimited power over human beings. (We must treat and respect animals more than we do as well.) Even the term “child” implies an imbalance of power. When people refer to an individual of any age as “the child of,” that individual is automatically seen in a diminutive form.

Of course, parents and other adults have the inherent responsibility of protecting young people from harming themselves and being harmed by others, and of teaching them how to live and function in society within our ever changing global community. In Freudian terms, we must develop a balance between the individual’s unrestrained instinctual drives and restraints (repression) on these drives in the service of maintaining society (civilization).

We as a society, nonetheless, must set a line demarcating protection from control, teaching from oppression, minimal and fundamental repression from what Herbert Marcuse terms “surplus-repression” (that which goes over and beyond what is necessary for the protection of the individual and the smooth functioning of society, and entering into the realm of domination).

Within an adultist society, adults construct the rules, with little or no input from youth, which they force the young people to follow.

Watching the first installment in The Hunger Games series of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins released in 2008 recently made into a series of movies, I was quite fascinated by what I interpreted as a commentary on our oppressive (surplus-repressive) society. The story is presented through the perspective of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, and takes place in Panem, the post-apocalyptic nation where the former countries of North America once existed. The Capitol (as it is named), a technologically advanced metropolis, exerts total political control over the entire nation. The Hunger Games denotes an annual event in which one young woman and one young man aged 12–18 from each of the twelve districts are selected by lottery to compete in a televised brutal and deadly battle. Of the 24 contestants, only one will survive.

Think about this next time you are about to strike a young person. Think about this during the legislative debate in Kansas, for if Representative Finney’s proposed bill passes the full state legislature, metaphorically law makers will have dipped blue litmus paper into the mix turning it a deep red signifying a toxic and corrosive acid.

Editor’s Note: This bill suffered a knockout blow. #FailFinney can be contacted via email here.

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–Photo: *Randee/Flickr

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About Warren Blumenfeld

Warren J. Blumenfeld, College of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Comments

  1. Good questions. I think it has to be accepted as natural that adults are both physically equipped and obligated to be the leaders of children in the family structure. As a society, though, adults sacrifice a portion of their “natural” rights of parenting to the society at large, since the society sets rules to the benefit of its citizens, which includes children. And when it comes to the benefit of being protected within the society, the most vulnerable citizens (children), are especially entitled. It’s where the line between parental rights and children’s rights should be drawn that determines what rules society imposes on the subject.

    I understand why the law is being introduced, even though I don’t agree with the line the law draws. Adults look around them and see many examples of children who seem to have no proper respect for their elders, or anything else for that matter. And they assume, right or wrong, that the reason for the disrespect is lax parenting. They think back to how they learned respect, and they think a little corporal punishment might make a child own up to bad behavior. On the other hand, many modern parents believe that any corporal punishment of a child is both morally wrong and detrimental to the child’s development. The conservative side often views the total lack of corporal punishment as the reason for children’s disrespect. The liberal side often views the conservative side as causing psychological harm, and using punishment as a shortcut to more involved parenting. But of course, we as a society are moving away from the conservative and toward the liberal, and people who believe a little corporal punishment is good for a misbehaving child are afraid their rights as parents are being taken away.

    Like a lot of issues, I think perception comes into play. We can picture the worst of either side of the argument. Liberals might picture some poor kid being strapped down and violently beaten because he spilled his milk, whereas a proponent of the law might be picturing ten whacks with a paddle for the most heinous of childhood crimes, and if it happens to leave a little mark, well, we don’t need to get all litigious. Conservatives might picture a world where they can’t even raise their voice to tell their kid to be quiet because they can’t hear something important, let alone smack one on the butt for not paying attention and almost running into a busy street. Most liberals would think that such an action would not be prosecutable, but some conservatives might not like to leave that up to chance.

    My own feeling is that for a child that refuses to listen and discuss what a parent wants him to do, one who’s out of control, one who will not settle down to save himself from a greater danger–a firm smack on the butt is not unwarranted. For all other times, and after a smack on the butt, I believe in talking and reasoning with children, so they will understand why their behavior is unacceptable. And in doing so, the child can know that correcting him is one way his parents love and care for him, and he can feel respected (and not powerless) because he gets to have his say. If you can always get your child’s attention, especially in very important situations, you may never need to lay a hand on him, and that’s great. Of course, I think it’s important to remember that some children are more difficult than others, and not every parent’s situation is the same. So, I don’t know where to draw the line–10 whacks seems a little excessive to me, too.

  2. The fact that, as a society, we’d rather punish our children misdeeds instead of correct them show where the problem REALLY lies…

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