The Spanking Debate

Diane Ponist

By Diane Ponist


For many recent years, the debate has lingered about what is considered spanking and what is child abuse. Many adults are outraged with the conversation of “back in the day, it was the way of discipline and I learned my lesson”. But is that what we want to instill in our children? Do you ever look back and say “ok, maybe it was a little too much”? Times have obviously changed and so have the laws regarding this topic.

Some states say it’s not abuse unless serious bodily injury has occurred. Other states say that any intentional action causing any mark is classified as abuse. It’s cut-and-dry in our state for foster parents: we are not to use any physical force whatsoever. But biological parents, whose child is with children services, can still spank their child during visits.

We currently have two children who had experienced extremely different types of abuse before coming to our home. In one case, the child abuse is not just physical abuse; it involved also punishing by withholding food for days/weeks at a time. This caused the child to have permanent psychical damage.

The other case is completely different. The child has been in placement as a baby, never abused until recently. Our other 3 year old was on a unsupervised visit with the bio when we actually witnessed the spanking. During a pick up, Kristin pulled up to him getting his rear end spanked, yes that’s ok and allowed. A few weeks later this escalated to bruising; which now is considered child abuse through the recent law change in the state of Pa this past June.

Yes, the debate is, is spanking abuse, things are getting ridiculous. Parents say often “I’m afraid these days to touch my child”. As an outsider looking in, I will tell you this: Most physical force received from an adult is most likely psychologically damaging to a child. Kristin didn’t tell me she saw the spanking; I heard it first from the child, as soon as I walked in the door from work. If that is the first thing he had to tell me, it really affected him emotionally, to the point where this was the only thing on his mind from the entire day. His behavior changed for weeks – violent and angry – a totally different child.

As a foster parent who has had the pleasure of meeting many children in the system, spanking or hitting is mentally and emotionally hurting our children. I’m not necessarily condemning spanking. I’m just simply saying that I now understand why laws on this subject are being reevaluated. Some parents think it’s ok because it’s the way they were raised. Unfortunately that excuse is not good enough.

It should not need to result in permanent physical damage to be called abuse. Sadly, too-lenient laws have resulted in way too many children being left with physical impairments or worse. And now finally the emotional and mental aspect of this issue is being considered, and rightfully so. Now, even failing to report abuse is against the law. I say, it’s about time.

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