Inquiry: Is spanking child abuse?
Response: It depends on your state.
I live in Michigan and here, Michigan Compiled Law 750.136b of the Michigan Penal Code defines child abuse. Subsection(7) specifically exempts from criminal punishment a parent or guardian (or someone authorized by them) who takes steps to reasonably discipline a child, including the use of reasonable force. In other words, if you spank with reasonable force, you are in the clear.
The debate is clearly a personal one. As to myself, I have two children, ages five and two and never expect to and never would spank them. I prefer a firm voice and demeanor along with explanation over corporal punishment. This serves the higher purpose of maintaining my children’s autonomy and dignity. Furthermore, it works! My children are happy, respectful, and well-disciplined both at home and in public. I have family and friends who spank their children and the children do not seem to be scarred. Yet, I wonder, what was it about their verbal communication that it was not effective enough to get the job done alone. It seems that getting anyone, including your child, to do or refrain from doing something is the same as making a pitch for a sale where effective communication, explanation, understanding and rewards where appropriate seal the deal.
A mother friend of mine told her 5 year-old-daughter and her daughter’s friend of the same age, to stop throwing rocks in the yard. They did not head her directive and she sternly told them a second time. Still they did not discontinue and mom was about to threaten spanking when I went over to the children and bent down speaking to them in a concerned and friendly motherly voice at their level. I advised, “kids, if you do not stop throwing rocks in the yard, when mommy mows the lawn and you are outside, the lawn mower could run over a rock and the blades could shoot it out from under, and make the rock hit you in the face! Wow, that would hurt wouldn’t it! And, what would you do? You would not be able to get out of the way fast enough even if you jumped this high (and I jumped in the air).” They started jumping and the point hit home and they ceased the prohibited activity. Effective communication worked like a charm, and as I have said, for me, it works every time.
Those who do spank seem to have the law on their side. The U.S. Constitution gives us the right to rear our children in accordance with our own beliefs and most state laws allow parents to use “reasonable” corporal punishment, as with Michigan as noted above. It is a fine line to tow and hard to judge the spankers, because when it comes to the government telling me how to raise my child, I tend to want it out of that arena. However, I cannot see that under the circumstances I ever would need to hit my child and if I am to be totally honest, I see physical discipline as weak and a failure when it comes to our children.
Consider this: Do we hit our children to punish them when they are teenagers? We see that less often and why? Because we see them as more equal to us at that stage and they can defend themselves.