California State Assemblywoman Nancy Lieber (D) has reintroduced her anti-spanking bill to the California state assembly. The bill amends the current child abuse statute to now define as child abuse spanking with an implement such as "a stick, a rod, a switch, an electrical cord, an extension cord, a belt, a broom or a shoe." There are more than a few grandmas that will find themselves on the way to the pokey if this bill passes.
My knee jerk response was that this is but more liberal, narcissistic nosiness; an appeal to protect children as a pretense to supplant individual rights with state dictates. The current law already makes it a crime for any person to "willfully cause harm…or inflict upon a child unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering." What can be gained by amending this language other than to have social workers and police officers second guessing parents when they choose to use corporal punishment to discipline their children?
It is also notable that Lieber has no children of her own. Certainly the irony of a woman that has never raised children presuming to legislate how parents can and can't discipline their children can't be lost on the bill's supporters.
However, more studied meditation has me wondering if Lieber like so many of our particular generation is simply eschewing the old school notions of sparing the rod and spoiling the child in favor of a new school idea of less strident disciplinary measures. Having been on the receiving end of the old school rod…the shoe, the belt, the switch, (in fact it might be easier for me to list those things with which I was not hit as a child), I am similarly inclined not to visit such trauma on my own children.
It may indeed be that Lieber's heart is in the right place. Nevertheless, the bill is a direct assault on the rights of parents and it would be a shame to sacrifice freedom on the altar of noble ambition.
I have from time to time engaged in a bit of "tactile aid" with my sons and there have been occasions that I have used a belt to discipline them. Oh, I bluster a great deal. I threaten and make a big show of pulling out "the belt" (cue scary music), but I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually used it. In my capacity as a responsible parent, I used my discretion and deemed the breech of house rules sufficient that I used a belt when they were disciplined. It wasn't pleasant for them. It hurt! It was meant to. And herein lays the issue.
As a parent, it is my duty to prepare my children for an independent and adult life. Discipline is a way of teaching my children lessons that are meant to ensure that they become contributing members of society rather than parasites upon that society. I am of the mind that these lessons will either be absorbed through the head or the bottom. I tell my sons the choice is theirs. My sons have weighed the alternatives and found it much easier to learn their lessons from the top down rather than the bottom up.
There are among my neighbors those that would disagree with my methods. I would encourage them to observe that my children, while spirited, are well-behaved, honest and respectful. Where my sons are concerned, they need not fear for their safety or their property. I would also note that while they are free to privately disagree with my methods and free to raise their children as they choose, they are not and should not be free to use the power of government to determine how I raise mine. The bill introduced by Lieber (and no doubt coming to a state assembly near you) suggests something very different. This bill suggests that children do not belong to parents rather they belong to the state.
The change Lieber seeks in the law lumps spanking with an implement in the same category as burning, cutting or choking a child. The amendment also places the parent in the rather precarious position of having to justify the use of spanking to a judge. Failure to persuade the court that such measures were justified could result in imprisonment for up to a year.
This should not be read to mean that I favor protecting parents that harm their children. I do not. I simply remain of the opinion that parents – even those that occasionally resort to corporal punishment – are far better judges of the measure of discipline their children need than are police officers or social workers. I am also convinced that parents are better able to love and raise their children than is the state of California.
Joseph C. Phillips is the author of "He Talk Like A White Boy" available wherever books are sold.