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.