Three Cheers for Oakland!
By Irwin Hyman, Ph.D., professor of school psychology, Temple University and director of the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives

Congratulations to the Oakland City Council for reconsidering the no spanking resolution. By allowing this debate to unfold, they have started an important dialogue that may make parents think the next time they decide to spank their children As they are making their decision, I encourage the council members to ask themselves, "why would anyone want to hit children to change their behavior?" That is the question that most parenting experts, most citizens of the six countries that have banned spanking, and all of the American parents who have raised their children without hitting would ask.

I am not surprised by the emotions that were aroused in the spanking debate. This debate reflects the cultural wars in our society. The ardent pro-spankers generally represent conservatives who have been predicting for several hundred years that society is going to hell in a hand basket. They want to return to the halcyon days when punishment, especially corporal punishment, was considered the solution to most of societies ills. On the other side are those, such as Oakland councilman Nate Miley, who said, "this [the spanking issue] goes to the heart of creating a civilized society." Mr. Miley clearly reflects the enlightened, progressive view that children should learn to behave because it is the moral and right thing to do, not because they fear pain or punishment.

Before Miley's distracters scoff at that notion, they should consider the research and literature which demonstrates that our country is one of the most punitive, least civilized of the Western democracies in terms of the way we deal with misbehavior, delinquency, crime, and punishment. We are surely a nation of punishment junkies, nurtured at the bosom of latter day puritans, fundamentalists, and other extremists of the right who think that the best and only answer to misbehavior is punishment, rather than prevention and rehabilitation. Their beliefs are guided by the "naturalistic fallacy", which is that anything that seemed to work in the past should continue into the present. How often have I heard this fallacy expressed in statements by legislatures and powerful politicians--"I was hit when I was a kid and look where I am now." These comments reflect ignorance about contemporary research, parenting, and techniques to change behavior. And please pro-spankers, spare me the old saw, "I had to smack the kid to keep him from hurting himself on the stove, sticking his finger in an outlet, playing with matches, or running into the street." Haven't you heard of child proofing houses, being responsible for children's safety, or positive conditioning techniques that will absolutely prevent children from hurting themselves in specific situations?

Now that the sound and fury of the debate is over, the courageous council can take a step back from the emotionality of the issue and calmly and objectively read about why it is a bad idea to hit kids and what parents can do instead. My book,The Case Against Spanking is based on forty years of practice, research, scholarship, and personal parenting. I believe that I have made a definitive case to assure any with an open mind that there is never a reason to hit a child. Research shows that the carrot is more effective than the stick. When punishment is necessary, forget the stick. There are more effective techniques than hitting. After all, what kind of councilman or parent would insist on hitting a child when they are offered many positive and effective alternatives?

In order that the council members will have a full picture of the research available on this subject, each of them will receive a complimentary copy of my book. I challenge them to read it with an open mind and then to lead the parents of Oakland towards the more effective alternatives of disciplining.

I know that they are interested in helping and protecting children and I applaud their proposal to have a "Love Your Child Day." But I hope, unlike some misguided practitioners of punishment, they don't recommend both spanking and loving children on that day. Just think of the message the children receive when their parent says, "I love you!" (smack), "I love you!" (slap), "I love you!" (swat.)

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