Spankings aren't children's worst fears
Saturday, June 15, 2002
Let me say, first, that spanking is rather on my mind these days.
[obscene paragraph removed -ed]
As one of those consigned for most of the last month to the wilds of St. Thomas, Ont. to cover a so-called spanking case -- it is a actually a child-protection hearing, at the centre of which is the parental right, as allowed in the Criminal Code, to dish out reasonable force for the purposes of correction -- I have thought of little but.
All of us involved in some way in this case have done so, I think, worried the questions: Were we spanked as children? And if so, were we left, as the child experts now claim is inevitable with any use of force, irreparably damaged?
My informal survey finds that the answers, at least for most folks of a certain age, are Yes and No.
My former husband and his siblings were occasionally chased about the house by their wooden-spoon-wielding mother. Some of my colleagues and friends were treated to a whack or two from a hairbrush. A few got the strap at school or a belt at home.
In my family, in a woeful mismatch, it was my late father who was assigned to discipline me and my much older brother. He did it, with me at least, in a manner that would meet with approval from the Church of God Restoration, the fundamentalist Christian church to which the parents involved in this case belong, and perhaps even by the social work profession which in a general way disapproves of all corporal punishment.
My dad was pained about it. He never spanked in anger, but, far worse, with disappointment writ large on his dear face. He explained at length why he had to do it. He only ever hit with his bare hand, and only upon my already well-padded arse, only over my clothes. And he was preposterously so stricken and sad and remorseful that by the time he actually got around to spanking me, I had already been so utterly punished by the sight of that sorrowful face of his that 20 licks with a two-by-four could not have hurt me as much.
As I remember it, the last time he tried it, I was about about nine or 10, built like the proverbial brick outhouse, and strong as an ox. I decided I would not tolerate this assault upon my dignity, and so squirmed and wriggled and kicked upon his knee that he gave up, both of us by then madly shrieking with laughter. He never attempted to spank me again.
The experts, whose unanimous opinion informed the most recent ruling to come out of the Ontario courts on the issue, an Ontario Court of Appeal decision released earlier this year, hold that some corporal punishment (of those under two, for instance) is always "wrong and harmful"; is potentially risky for teenagers (in that they may feel alienated from society) and that it is never recommended as a form of discipline.
And the use of what the professionals like to call "objects" or "weapons" -- this means the likes of the aforementioned wooden spoon, hair brush, or belts -- "should not be tolerated", and is fraught with perils both physical and emotional.
The three-member court, as it turned out, dismissed the appeal, brought by a non-profit organization which advocates for children and supported by the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, and refused to declare unconstitutional the Criminal Code section which allows parents and their substitutes to use reasonable force on children "by way of correction."
Yet the court was left with the uncontested evidence of the experts -- those in the child-protection game, child activists and social scientists -- and their zero-tolerance views.
In fact, it seems to me we live more and more in a zero-tolerance world in this country. There is zero tolerance for violence against women. Zero tolerance for violence in the schoolyard. Zero tolerance for smokers. Zero tolerance for drunk drivers. Zero tolerance for road rage. Most troubling is that Canadians appear to like being governed by, or having their rules informed by, such extreme visions which leave no room for the exercise of discretion -- their own or anyone else's, whether Crown attorney, police officer or social worker -- and the extreme solutions they dictate.
Of course there are those few who have used, and will again, the Criminal Code provision which allows spanking as justification for child abuse.
But there are also those who spank their youngsters, even dare I say with the dreaded objects, but inflict no lasting physical or emotional harm. And along the spectrum in between are parents, good and bad and indifferent, whose spankings may actually be instructive (as my father's were, if only because I never wanted to cause him such tremendous disappointment) or mildly damaging or seriously hurtful to the very tender sensibilities of the young child.
That's the thing, I think: Children are so easily wounded that for most, spankings are the least of their troubles: A harsh word; an impatient "Don't bother me now"; being deposited before the tube and told to sit there are, in real life, grievous slights to a youngster.
Was it not just last week that a Statistics Canada study revealed that parents in this country spend all of an average four or five minutes a day, depending on whether they are high or low income, reading aloud to their children?
My old man, and my mother, read me to sleep every night for years, and they read to me for hours at a stretch when I was sick with the flu, and mewling crabbily for attention. They read me children's books and they read me Rudyard Kipling and they read me poetry. They read to me from the Rouyn-Noranda Monitor and when they ran out of things to read, or I grew bored, my dad made up his own stories, one of which was about Nelson Lafrenière, the Rouyn cop, who rescued a little blonde girl who looked rather like me from the clutches of the Bousquette River Wolf.
My dad could have spanked me until the cows came home and I would have suffered it gladly -- indeed I would not have suffered at all -- so long as I had the comfort of that sandpaper voice, rough with love and cigarettes both, in my ear.
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