After listening to commentator Link Nicoll's "cute" justification of domestic violence against children on your website, I knew I would have to respond in some way, but felt overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of different angles such an email might take, given the vast scope and diversity of sound arguments against use of physical pain as a child discipline technique.
Would I make the obvious point that expecting a 3 year old to sit still in a child seat for a 1,200 mile car trip is a developmentally inappropriate expectation?
Another angle might be: what need did Nicoll's toddler seek to satisfy when he got out of his car seat and how could Nicoll and her husband have met that need in a manner which let both child and parents "win" instead of allowing it to become a battle with the parents winning by force and the child losing?
Perhaps I could take the academic road and reference the large and growing body of published peer reviewed research evidence linking "nonabusive spanking" with long term increases in antisocial behavior, depression, alcoholism, and suicidal ideation? I could conclude by noting the continuing failure of apologists for spanking within academia to come up with a single published peer reviewed research study finding evidence of any form of measurable long term benefit to children from the practice.
The superficial tone of the piece, its implicit assumption that the only alternative to spanking was pleading and cajoling, and the flippant characterization of parents who refrain from hitting their children as "new age," would be worth an email in and of itself.
But wait, better perhaps to take an historical perspective? In the Middle Ages, a "beating system" pervaded the European culture which would later leave its heavy mark on contemporary American culture. Officers beat enlisted men, police beat criminals, priests beat novices, householders beat servants, masters beat apprentices, teachers beat students, husbands beat wives, and parents beat children. One by one, each class of formerly "beatable" persons has obtained legal relief over the past two centuries until the only remaining beatable class are children, those persons with the least political clout of all. In each case, defenders of the old status quo argued much as Nicoll does, that beatings "worked" and did no real harm, and in each case they lost the political battle. The continued legality of hitting and hurting children within the family is a cultural "living fossil," a dying remanent of a bygone era. Yes, that was a possibility...
Then there was the Nicoll's casual assertion that the four blows "didn't hurt" her child. How does she know this? If another child had hit her 3 year old four times in a row and then argued that this behavior was justified because it "didn't hurt him," would Nicoll have found this acceptable reasoning? If a husband defended his practice of keeping his uppity wife in line by slapping her around a bit when she wouldn't quit bothering him while he was driving, would Nicoll have found "it didn't hurt her" an acceptable line of reasoning in that context? If not, why then should a stricter standard of protection apply to adults who are hit by family members than children who are hit by family members? And why should children who hit children within the family have a stricter standard applied to themselves than adults who hit children within the family?
She describes the remainder of the trip as "cheerful" and declares that the spanking "worked." Clearly she felt more cheerful and this crude intimidation tactic "worked" to meet the needs of the grownups in the car, but what about the child? "Spanking" continues to be popular because it meets the needs of adults, not because it meets the needs of children.
But as I contemplated my too-numerous options, I realized that all I really wanted Nicoll to have done was to have included one additional element: audio of the spanking itself.
Nothing I could possibly write would have negated the facile tone and rationalizations of Nicoll in the ears of NPR's listening audience so eloquently a simple audio broadcast of what "the 'S' word" actually sounds like in her family.
The next time Nicoll and her husband make age-inappropriate demands on their three year old son's behavior and use physical hitting to enforce those demands, will Nicoll buttress her point by tape recording the event and including it in a followup to her Aug 24th piece? Of course she won't. Because when put on tape, all spankings sound like just exactly what they are: incidents of domestic violence against children. All the rationalizations, cute euphemisms, and self-serving justifications crumble when listeners' ears ring with the sound of blows and a child's cries of pain.
For this reason, I run a website which contains a soundfile of an actual spanking. I hearby invite NPR to broadcast it. Click here for the sound file.
Christopher Dugan, M.A.
See related: New-Age Child Rearing and the 'S' Word, By Link Nicoll, All Things Considered, National Public Radio (NPR) August 24, 2004, with responses from Cathie Clifford, Miles Hochstein, Jordan Riak, Emily Troper, Michael Troper and Rosie Wilde
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