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Spanking: Cruising for a Bruising

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There's a fine line between discipline and crime.

When does a spanking turn into abuse? That's the question being debated in the trial of a Wisconsin father charged with physical child abuse for punishing his 12-year-old son by using a wooden paddle. The local DA argues that Barry Barnett, Jr., a minister, "went beyond reasonable discipline" when he swatted his son for lying last spring.

If the 43-year-old dad of nine kids is found guilty, he faces three years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

A teacher of one of the boy's siblings contacted Social Services about the alleged abuse. An emergency room report submitted as evidence in the trial said the boy showed signed of faint bruising on his buttocks but ultimately appeared to be in no pain. What's more, the boy has said in his testimony he deserved to be punished by his father. "He gave me a chance to tell the truth and I just kept lying."

Apparently, spanking in the Barnett household is standard procedure. In solidarity with her father, Barnett's 21-year-old daughter stood outside the courthouse holding a sign that said "Thank you for spanking me Dad."  Perhaps the Barnett kids are OK with spanking -- or maybe they're scared of dad's wrath if they don't support his practices. Some child discipline experts, however, are unequivocally against the physical method of punishment.   
In his book "The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child," Yale professor Allen E. Kazdin writes, "More than one-third of all parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on."

Some parents might feel as if their hands are tied.  If timeouts don't work -- how can a child be effectively disciplined without -- at least sometimes -- resorting to physical punishment?  And what happens if (hypothetically) you grab your child's hand -- a little too hard -- to prevent them from touching something you've told them a gazillion times not to touch and you leave a mark? Could you then be accused of child abuse?

next: We Don't Make Out Anymore
57 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kara October 22, 2008, 7:10 AM

Hmmm … I seem to recall a time when parents always spanked, when schools used a paddle … and there were a lot less violent crazy kids out there. Kids were respectful (for the most part) and knew how to behave and be responsible. It seems the more we concern ourselves with this stuff the more we are hurting our kids. Personally, I don’t spank. I never needed to as time outs (and now the dreaded punishment of writing multiplication tables) have always worked. But I support this father and his right to spank - and let me clarify that SPANK, not hit.

Dorothy October 22, 2008, 7:34 AM

When I was in school the teachers use to wash a BAD kids mouth out with soap. The principle would hit(spank) kids with a paddle and some teachers would pull a child’s ear if he/she were not listening in class. I was also slap on the tops of my hands and was also made to stand in the corner.
The pendulum has swung in the other direction in the last decade and now a parent can not disipline their children.
If the nurse at the hospital said there child wasn’t in pain from his spanking then the state should stay out of it. If our children do not get disiplined then they grow up to be serial killers and little assholes with no direction. They create havic on society and never know the word no.
I believe as long as the parent is not beating their children then let them alone to try to raise good and decent people who will turn into good and decent adults (HOPEFULLY!).

Amy October 22, 2008, 7:46 AM

This is what is wrong with kids these days. There is nothing wrong with spanking your child. I was spanked when I was a kid and it didn’t traumatize me, nor would I consider it abuse of any kind. I am thankful that my parents spanked me and my children are disciplined in a variety of ways, including being spanked. If more parents disciplined their children there wouldn’t be so many disrespectful, lazy, the-world-should-bow-down-to-me teenagers walking around. This man should be applauded for wanting his children to grow up to be respectable adults.

Anonymous October 22, 2008, 9:04 AM

I think what he did was wrong. He spanked him repeatedly with an object-enough to leave bruises! HELLO- it’s abuse and that is wrong! This father is bigger and therefore, has more force than this 12 year old child. That is too harsh! The punishment did not fit the crime.

Jill October 22, 2008, 10:37 AM

This is in direct constrast with the article yesterday regarding the Mom who gave her daughters cigarettes and allowed her to drink…

Now who do you think will grow up to be a better member of society? The cigarette, drinking and promiscious girl or the boy who realized he did wrong and won’t do it again?

Anonymous October 22, 2008, 10:37 AM

This is ridiculous.

Denise October 22, 2008, 11:34 AM

I agree 100% & more with the other ladies regarding spanking. For the people sayiing No,don’t discipline kids who really need to be made to show respect for authority. These same kids who aren’t disciplined are the very ones terrorizing communities abroad. I have never seen wild kids running around cursing in front of adults the way they do now. What ever happened to showing respect for your elders? If I even so much talked back to an adult I was spanked. Here I am now a law abiding citizen with no criminal record. The bible even says Do not spare the rod! Kids need to be taught right & wrong- sometimes they need more than just talking too. Every child isnt going to respond just to our words alone. I support this father who lives the same state as I do- Wisconsin!!!

latosha October 22, 2008, 11:37 AM

kids now need to be spanked i support the dad.teachers need to go to school to learn the difference between whats abuse and whats not. they want to call everything abuse. we are helping them by keeping our kids under control

Kay October 22, 2008, 12:02 PM

I strongly believe that a good paddle dont hurt anyone. They remember the paddle and the next time they think a bit before they do it. That is the problem today theyknow they cant be touched that is why kids are so out of control these days.

Mag October 22, 2008, 12:19 PM

I agree with the father. I was spanked when I missed behaved and I learned never to do it again. I know a lot of people that didn’t get disciplined and they were the kids that were out of control. If the child is not the one pressing charges than this trial should not even be taking place. But I bet this kid really learned his lesson.

RealMomsHaveCurves  October 22, 2008, 12:45 PM

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.” If this child has bruises, the father obviously went WAY TOO FAR. But giving the child a light spanking to get the discipline across can never hurt them. I say spank your kids!

Uly October 22, 2008, 1:56 PM

Of course, RMHC, the man who said that, you ever wonder what happened to *his* son?

One of the most hated monarchs in the Bible, hounded out of his own kingdom.


Wonder if that’s *because* or *despite* Solomon’s views on discipline….

lisa October 22, 2008, 2:52 PM

Anonymous - you must not have any children or maybe they haven’t reached their teenage years. Rest assure children / teenagers will change your thought process. :)
Spanking is not the only form of discipline and should not always be the 1st choice for discipline. But, it is a valid form of discipline. Again let me reiterate I’m talking about Spanking not Beating.

Kara, Dorothy & Amy we all must be from the same era. I had to laugh when I read your comments. :)

As parents we have to support, protect and fight for our children. We have to teach, discipline, encourage and help cultivate them into mature, responsible human beings (even before they become adults). Sometimes that means we have to administer TOUGH LOVE.

The young man in question plainly stated “He gave me a chance to tell the truth and I just kept lying.” I will go as far as to say that the young man knew the specific consequences for his actions but yet he continued to lye.

The young man’s father was not abusing him but administering the predetermined consequence for his action. Sort of like when we get caught speeding. The predetermined consequence for that action is a hefty fine, which is actually designed to be a deterrent (as is a spanking). Nevertheless we do it anyway hoping we don’t get caught and can avoid the consequence.

Clare  October 23, 2008, 4:58 AM

If his son was an adult he could be prosecuted for assault and battery, why should children have less rights to be protected when they are the ones that need it the most.

Kelly October 23, 2008, 7:47 AM

A child that learns early on that there is consequences for bad behavior is more likely to understand that his/her actions must be accounted for. Too many children get away with everything because their parents don’t want to teach them right from wrong.
When my son was 4, we were at the Laundromat, where he was playing inside one of the front load washers. I pulled him out of the washer, and sat him on the floor and told him to stay while I finished my laundry. Two hours later, a sherif and a social worker showed up at my house to investigate the situation. Some caring ***** had called and was concerned because the child hadn’t stopped crying by the time I left the laundromat.
I told the sherif that if I couldn’t discipline my children in public that they should take them because I was not going to be financially responsible to replace something I could prevent them from destroying.

Gina October 23, 2008, 8:51 AM

To all of you who say spanking is wrong, let me tell you about a friend of mine who used the time out method because she was brainwashed into thinking spanking was wrong.

Her 5 year old son was a terror. People would audibly groan when they saw she had brought him to their house. He was foul mouthed, he broke things, talked back to whomever he wanted, however he wanted. One time when he was acting up, she told him to go sit on the couch in time out and think about what he did that was wrong. He looked at her and said “F**k You.” I looked at her to see what she was going to do. She didn’t do anything but get this defeated look on her face. I asked her if she was going to let him talk to her like that. She asked me what could she do. I told her I would have washed his mouth out with soap, spanked his ass and sent him to bed. She looked at me like I had just killed Jesus. We have since lost contact.

It is the time out punishment for all bad acts that is the downfall of todays society. Look at the older generation. They were spanked (some with whatever was close at hand). If I owned a business, I would much rather have all my employees 50 and older than hire someone right out of college these days. Why? Because the older generation knows how to show respect and will work hard. Kids today don’t even know the meaning of the word respect and want to be paid a full days wages for 5 seconds of work.

Do your child and the future of society a favor, spank him/her for misbehaving. I’m not talking about going all Jackie Chen on them. But a few taps on their behind will let them know they are not in control. That you are the parent and they are the child.

Lisa October 23, 2008, 9:43 AM

Why is it a problem for a parent to spank a child when it is young but okay for the police to beat the hell out of the same child when it is older. The kid is going to get it one way or the other. Either at the hands of a loving parent who wants the best for it or the hands of the police who don’t give a damn if the kid lives or dies. Either way, he will be disciplined.

Sheli October 23, 2008, 10:55 AM

Everyone needs to MIND THEIR OWN BUSINESS! There is a difference between spanking a child and abusing a child. A spanking is NOT abuse. Look around in the schools today and you will see a bunch of dis-respectful hoodlums with no respect for anyone. When I was in school you rarely saw this sort of thing. The few who misbehaved got to grab their ankles while the principal administered an “attitude adjustment” which worked every time. Rarely did they repeat their mistake! Today those students are well adjusted adults! Since everyone started crying CHILD ABUSE for spanking, the jails are full and so are the juvenile facilities. I say mind your own business and let parents and teachers decide the form of punishment needed to correct the bad behavior!
I am the 47 years old and was raised with spanking when needed. Believe me it only took once or twice in my childhod to know better. I thank my parents every day for teaching me right from wrong. I have raised three children of my own and on occasion they have been spanked but more often than not the threat of a spanking worked.
Needless to say. I have two grandsons and they are very well behaved.

Gloria October 23, 2008, 12:58 PM

It is a joke today to discipline kids, kids aren’t even kids. They seem like grown-ups, except with child like attitudes. You now need to discuss what the child is doing wrong, including disruptive behavior, bad manners, breaking curfews. Go ahead raise your hand to your kid, and they will gladly holler child abuse, or act as if they will call 911 or some other threat. Then the courts will be involved,counseling will be ordered or worse your child will be sent away somewhere, they have specialized training that somehow doesn’t border on abuse? I have heard from kids that have been sent to these places it’s not pleasant, but if you discipline your child it’s not right either. When kids are little, you can get away with time outs, but as they get ever so older, kids will still rebel and not think they have to be terribly accountable. Not to mention the terrible things that are wrong with the parents, right. That is why we had kids, to critique our every mood, frustration and most of all to question our sense of values and all other things that pertain to our parenting styles. Why of course what was I thinking all this time?

Alicia October 23, 2008, 1:30 PM

The comment about “he went too far and left a bruise, that means it’s child abuse” is crazy because I have a two year old and one day he ran across the lawn and almost into the street, I caught him just as he was about to put one foot onto the pavement and it left a small bruise on the underside of his arm. I wasn’t too forceful or harsh, I just happened to catch him in the right spot. Would you suggest child protective services to come take him away because I laid my hands on him hard enough to stop him and it left a bruise? I gave him a good pop on the bottom (with my open hand) for the first time recently, when he decided he needed to disobey me and try to touch the stove knobs again and again. I told him why I was going to give him a spank (yes, just one quick pop on his bum) and explained that it was not safe for him to touch the knobs. He’s only 2 but you are never too young to learn. If I had continued to put him in time out he would have gotten up and done it again, he’s not touched it again since then. Giving a good spank for things like this are important. And the idea of leaving a small faded bruise that does not cause significant damage is not abuse. Broken bones, bleeding, multiple bruises in various stages of healing, THAT is physical abuse. I don’t think using a paddle, belt or switch is very wise since that would cause damage, however unintentional, but on a twelve year old male it may be different. My mom used a belt or razor strap or even sometimes whatever was closest, I don’t agree with it but I do agree with an open handed spank.

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