Dear Carolyn • My question is, when is spanking a child OK? I live on a rural dirt road off a busy road. We have about seven neighbors and all know each other and help out when needed. We have a young couple with two young boys, 4 and 3, and she’s pregnant with her third. The other day the 4-year-old showed up at our house, which is down a long hill and up our long driveway pretty far away from his house. I immediately called the mother, who answered in a groggy voice as though she’s been sleeping. When she and her husband came, the boy just kept running down another dirt path as I and the mother called to him. I turned to the mother and said, "I hope you give him a good spanking for this." All she and her husband did is look goofy and brush it off as though it’s OK for a 4-year-old to misbehave. I remember the few times I gave my kids a really good whooping was when they did something that endangered their lives. I don’t believe you can raise a child without sometimes giving them a real shock when they do something very serious.
Dear Furious Neighbor • Spanking is OK when you live on a rural dirt road and your 4-year-old wanders to the neighbors’ while you’re pregnant and taking a nap. That’s the answer you want, right? With all due respect, your question is not about when spanking is OK, since you state openly when you believe it is. So let’s be honest about your real question, which is: Am I going to use my platform to back you up, and help you set straight these and other know-nothing parents who are driving their kids/this country straight into the toilet? And my answer: no. Part of the reason is conceptual, in that I can’t imagine siding with someone incensed at not striking a child. Part of the reason is practical. Hitting the people you are presumably trying to teach not to hit is an effective way for parents to undermine their own message and expose themselves as hypocrites. Plus, plenty of 4-year-olds aren’t spanked and do heed their parents. It’s not the black-and-white, cause-and-effect business you make it out to be.
Carolyn Hax’s column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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