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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
Becca October 23, 2008, 3:59 PM

I think that this father is being falsely charged! They said the boy had light bruising! For me abuse is when a parent whales on their child with no thought behind it leaving welts and dark bruises! Heck my daughter get bruises from playing on the playground at school! She is pale and is like me tends to get light marks easily! That doesn’t make me abusive! If some state worker came in and didn’t know that my daughter gets bruises easily just from playing they could easily construe it as abuse! Which is not right and is a waste of state money! There are lots of kids in abusive homes that the states do nothing about! I saw it every day as a bus driver for the schools! You’d report the abuse you’d suspected only for nothing to happen!I’m not talking light marks ether I’m talking dark welts and lack of cleanliness that these kids had! It makes me wounder what the state criteria for abuse is and what their guidelines are? Especially since I saw abused children daily that the state would do nothing about! Then you here of cases like this to where there is little evidence and the state jumps in to prosecute!

I think the states need to reform the CPS agencies and other agencies like it! I have personally seen to many cases of abuse that went on with out intervention and also to many cases of parents having their kids taken away and facing charges when they did nothing wrong or had nothing against the parent! People can be in denial and say, If someone doesn’t have their kid they must have done something wrong!” They be a fool though because you can have your kid taken away for small things such as seasonal jobs! Its a fact that they can take your child away for any reason and you’ll be in for the fight of your life! Is it right? No! Are their parents that deserve their children taken away? Yes! My point is the system has many loop holes and and glitches that need fixed! That way parents who deserve to be prosecuted and have their children taken away will have them taken! That way parents who are innocent and it was just a compliant by someone with a hair up their @ss will be released from charges only to be on file as having been accused! That way if they get future references to that child or parent the case can be reevaluated and maybe referred to parenting class rather then taking the child away!

I don’t believe spanking to be wrong as long as used properly! State need to have methods of knowing the difference between abuse and discipline! Also they need to have a system set up to where more then one person evaluates a spanking as being abuse! That being because there is always going to be someone who is biased and see’s all spanking as abuse! Spankings that leave no marks or light bruises are ok! this father obviously is only trying to raise god children and is something more parents should be doing! After all if more parents disciplined their children properly maybe we wouldn’t be facing high crime rates among teens! I think our country needs to get back to a time when kids could be disciplined in schools and at home with out fear of being told they are doing wrong. The schools and parents need to stop being held hostage by fear of law suits! Granted their are cases of abuse and where discipline goes to far thus why there should be policy set up to know the difference between abuse and discipline!

didjnpiper October 23, 2008, 4:39 PM

i’m so glad to see the majority of these comments are ‘for’ spanking..
this country has gotten too bloody PC, & too sensitive about EVERYTHING..
i think a lot of it has to do with the ridiculous court system allowing anyone with half a brain to sue anyone for just about anything, & actually win..
when that starts happening, people get nervous about what shirt they’re gonna wear, accidentally bumping into someone on the sidewalk, or Lord knows what else..
spanking, as long as it’s not excessive, is perfectly fine..
that’s why it’s done on the butt..big soft fatty if spanking was done on the head or in the crotch, then yeah, it might not be good :)

renee October 23, 2008, 7:19 PM

i spanked my kids and they are normal.what happened to the time when parents spanked the kids and we’re in charge,now kids are wild cuz they hold all the cards and they know it.the law allows it

Dan Clarizio October 23, 2008, 9:33 PM

Spanking your kid’s is a fast and easy way out in dealing with a child’s behavioral issue. Are you not teaching your child it is ok to strike a fellow human being ,in the event they don’t behave to your standards ?

Anonymous October 23, 2008, 9:35 PM

If more kids were spanked, maybe they wouldn’t be such brats. Tonight at the grocery store I witnessed alot of kids (of different ages) acting up and their wimpy parents did not do a darn thing about it.

Becca October 24, 2008, 2:37 PM

Actually Dan Clarizo I only use spanking as a last resort! I have other discipline methods for miss behavior! I still see spanking as not being abuse! Kids who don’t have consequences end up being the grown ups that are in jail! For me its not the fast way of dealing with a behavior it the last resort! It works too because they never make the mistake again! There is a major difference between abuse and spanking and by what your saying all kids who are spanked should be abusive SOB’s! Well they are not and the majority grow up to be great members of society! It obvious you were the kid that wined every time mom tried to ground you and didn’t like being punished! Well get over it becasue we don’t need more dead beats and useless members of society like you! I’m sick of seeing teens and kids that have no respect for adults and society! This massive crime rate and teen pregnancy came about becasue of people like you who seem to think it best just to say no and leave it at that! Yeah if you saw half the kids on my school bus that are the lovely teens we speak of you’d want parents spanking their asses too! I’m sure the kids that had to be taken off the bus in cop cars would have thanked their parents for proper discipline so they wouldn’t have ended up in that situation! Spanking is fine but people like you are not fine and should find a hole to crawl in and leave the rest of the world alone!

pamela  October 24, 2008, 4:05 PM

there is apsolutly nothing wrong with a spanking, yet there is something wrong with “beating” your child. the kid was spanked on the butt not the face, back or any other place. why is this even a story here? i personaly dont even spank my son, but to those who do, as long as its not a beating i dont see anything wrong with it as punishment.

romi October 25, 2008, 12:18 PM

I believe we should protect our children from abuse at all costs but in this case, I don’t think the punishment(for the father) fits the crime. Along with my community (and in the confessional) on - there’s a healthy debate going on about this and one of our parenting experts Brett Berk offers up his opinion and suggestions on other options on the blogroll. It’s worth taking a look.

Amie October 27, 2008, 10:12 AM

Wowza.. People are crazy. Spank away people maybe it will teach the kids some manners.. cuz they certainly don’t have them now. Spanking isn’t abuse. It amazes me the difference in the times, when I was abused no one said a single thing, it was fine for a three-year-old to have stab wounds, now you can’t even spank your child? Weird..

rrika October 27, 2008, 12:01 PM

Wow, This is bothering the hell out of me.. Not to get all “ethnic”, we called it a “whoopin” I say whoop his butt.. That is what is wrong with us. We as parents have failed in a way..Now, please don’t get mad at me and I am not judging. I am all for the let’s take away the PSP,t.v.,and no you may not go to your friends house. I believe in punishment. Parents you know very well when your parents asked you a questions it was ultimately up to you to either tell the truth or tell a lie. And you knew what the consequences were. I believe in whoopins not beatings.. You have to put fear in some of these children especially teenagers.. I was taught that sometimes we start smelling ourselves and have to be told a thing or two.. So, for the parents who believe in whoopins”spankin” good for you…. and for the parents who have never gone through that, good for you as well….And trust me those children are not scared they are smart.

Michelle N. October 28, 2008, 10:38 AM

I don’t see a paddle being any different from the belt or slipper (not flip flops; leather and hard rubber soled things) I would get when I was truly bad. The true difference is whether the “spanking” continues until you’re truly hurt (faint bruising but not in pain ISN’T abuse) or if you didn’t deserve it (ie. parent was drunk, grabbed the first object and began beating the tar out of you with it.)

Adrian October 28, 2008, 9:00 PM

I think that “spanking” is stupid… What if someone smacked your butt whenever you did something wrong?…Its just part getting older. Its just the parent’s way of letting out anger at the child. The child gets more responsible as they get older.

Uly October 28, 2008, 9:40 PM

Wow, Gina, I’m so glad to know that when you were growing up there was no crime!

pinkcathy October 29, 2008, 2:01 PM

That’s whats wrong with the kids today, they have no fear and no dicipline. They’ll tant they’re parents and say “you can’t hit me,you’ll go to jail”. I feel sorry for this dad, it’s the damn teacher who should end up in jail for putting in a false report.

Kara S. October 29, 2008, 11:40 PM

I definitely support spanking. I was spanked as a child, with a wooden paddle, and believe it made me a better person. It did not ‘scar me’, nor was it ever abusive. I am thankful to my parents for spanking me. It was necessary discipline. It was not a daily occurence, or even a weekly one. It was just done to discipline as needed. I intend to spank my own children, when I have them.

I know many parents who spank, and many of the friends I grew up with were spanked also, and they believe it made them better people. We were not ‘afraid of our father’s wrath’, as I’m sure the daughter in this article wasn’t. And my parents, along with countless others that I know, did not ‘start with mild discipline and end up crossing the line into child abuse’.

Back in the days of spanking in schools, there were a lot fewer disciplinary issues, school shootings, etc. I don’t know the exact statistics, but I know those numbers were a lot lower than they are now.

I 100% support spanking, and think it is a perfectly acceptable form of discipline.

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HairyMan November 11, 2008, 6:04 PM

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GiGi November 16, 2008, 1:25 AM

Dear Becca,
I believe you have some worse issues than “just” spanking. You are full of anger because you have been beaten (or maybe abused in other ways too) as a child. You came to believe that this was the only way. Now, because of your low self-esteem and self-oppression you think that everybody else should experience what you experienced. They weren’t beaten; You were. That’s not fair now, is it? (You blame everyone else but the use of physical force against children.) Well, Becca, I don’t want to say you are wrong (although you are, not even knowing that); the most important thing is that you are a VICTIM. Maybe, if you see a psychologist, you can re-discover your real feelings. It helped a lot of people i knew.
Using physical force (especially with wooden or any other tool) is wrong!

Walt November 20, 2008, 3:08 PM

There is no way to determine if a spanking is child abuse by the degree of bruise. Some people bruise if you touch them, and some won’t bruise at all.

Spanking is loving and profitable for a child if it is administered by a loving parent for the good of the child.

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