A scholarly paper on the subject of spanking has been making the rounds on the news the past week and has given me flashbacks.
I can see grammar school principal Sister Rosalina standing in front of me and letting loose with a roundhouse open-handed right to the face after I declared a teacher’s accusation against me was a lie.
“Didn’t hurt,” I said, begging for another.
Naturally, she obliged. Thwaaack!
And then she called my mother to say what she was forced to do, knowing there’d be more of the same waiting at home.
That was all another era. Or so I thought.
A report from the Brookings Institution titled “Hitting Kids: American Parenting and Physical Punishment” noted that Americans still overwhelmingly favor whacking their offspring.
The takeaway line from the report was: “81% of parents say that spanking their children is sometimes appropriate.”
Yikes. There are untold numbers of innovative experts and mountains of warm and fuzzy parenting periodicals, but modern America is still Old Testament when it comes to child relations: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: But he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
Interestingly, research shows that while we overwhelmingly support the idea, we’re employing the practice less. While 81 percent of Americans (86 percent of Southerners) think kids sometimes deserve a whipping, just 67 percent of parents admit to actually doing it. Those results stated in the Brookings report come from a 2013 Harris Poll of 2,286 adults.
In 1995, four out of five parents had spanked their offspring, compared to the two-thirds admitting it these days.
Still, I find the still doing it is a bit surprising, especially with all the child rearing experts who say spanking your offspring will turn them into maladjusted, knuckle-dragging goons — or even Goths. (I don’t recall instances of specifically spanking any of my four kids, although I imagine I smacked a butt or two when they acted up in public.)
The recent Brookings report was compiled because of the intense buzz concerning corporal punishment that ensued after NFL star Adrian Peterson gave his young child an old-fashioned switching like he used to get. See all the good the beatings did for him? He grew up to be a perfectly well-adjusted, successful adult — albeit one who savagely whups the tar out of a 4-year-old.
The report included an amazing chart titled “Interest over time in spanking in the U.S.” It showed the public’s “interest” in the subject is always high — hovering over the 70 percent mark through the years — but it jumped to 100 percent earlier this year when the Peterson case came to light.
There has always been a perverse interest in physical punishment of minors. I’ve written thousands of stories over 32 years but the one that perhaps drew the most response was 20 years ago in Woodstock, Ga. when a frustrated mom slapped her snotty 9-year-old in the face at a grocery store after he talked back to her.
A store employee called the cops, who hauled her off in handcuffs. She was charged with a felony. At first, an editor demurred on the story, telling me it didn’t seem compelling, not when compared to all the important news out there.
Trust me on this, I urged.
Days later, the story exploded — and this was the pre-www days. The Woodstock couple became a symbol of a Big Brother reaching in to interfere with one of our most intimate decisions, punishing our brats. The family appeared on Australian TV, in English tabloids and even Rush Limbaugh took an hour off from blithering about Bill Clinton because old Rush loves a spanking and hates government interference.
Jerry Springer’s people even called, asking me to go on the show, although I declined, afraid someone might hit me with a folding chair.
The charges against the mom were later dropped.
Still, Georgia is one of 19 states that allow paddling in the schools, and more than half of the state’s 180 districts allow it. That doesn’t include any public school district in Atlanta or nine surrounding metro counties, the last of which barred the practice in 2005. That really put a dent in the statewide numbers: There were 37,000 school spankings in Georgia in 2007, but just 16,000 in 2012.
The Harris Poll data also shows a generational shift in the practice.
The most spanked generation was the Baby Boomers, as 92 percent are familiar with the feeling of a hand reddening our bums. We have carried on that tradition, with 72 percent having spanked our kids.
But just half of our kids, the Echo Boomers, aged 18 to 36, have done so.
At that rate, by the year 2050, a spanker might find him- or herself regarded with same jaundiced view as those smokers huddling outside the office entrance.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.