The Arizona Republic, January 29, 1998


As a clinical psychologist, I am dismayed by the discussion of ''Spare the rod and spoil the child'' in the article ''Proverbial predicaments'' (Jan. 19 Life section).

Discipline is indeed absolutely necessary for parenting, and nobody said it is easy. It requires patience, self-control, imagination and empathy. A parent who resorts to spanking is admitting to a deficiency in one or more of these traits. Spanking is, in fact, abuse because it is an assault - an assault on a smaller, vulnerable, dependent and trusting human being.

The author reports that studies show that spanking can ''improve behavior.'' Surely this is so; even adults' behavior will improve after an assault, only in order to avoid further personal harm. Such behavioral controls are, unfortunately, employed in other societies, but we at least have laws that protect adults. Physical punishment is indeed a powerful teaching tool, but it has no place in a civilized society.

Of course ''children under 6 seem to regard spanking as a parent's right''; they don't know any better! Does this mean that a parent has a right to exploit a child's innocence? The article goes on to state that ''older kids may view it as an act of aggression, and in such cases, spanking's effects may not be so benign.''

Although behavior control is a necessary aspect of parenting, more important are the development of a child's self-respect and, by extension, respect of others. To the extent that corporal punishment is employed, these qualities will be diminished. Whether or not the child forgets or excuses the assault when he or she is grown, be assured that its effects will be subtly reflected in unhealthy relations with peers, spouses, employers, clients and the next generation.
- Arlene R. Bruskin, Ph.D.

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