Parents who use corporal punishment walk a thin line between discipline and abuse when the tactic is used in anger, with excessive violence or with the aim of terrorizing the child. Everyone who employs it must find their own comfort level with how they implement spanking, and every responsible parent knows there's a limit to how well the tactic works.
- Brownsville Justice of the Peace gives option of fines or corporal punishment by parents for truants
There comes a point when you can't improve your kids' behavior just by amping up physical punishments; the Texas Youth Commission is full of kids who're prime examples. There's simply a fundamental illogic to the demand that "beatings will continue until morale improves."
Spanking seemed like a near-ubiquitous part of growing up when I was a kid, with coaches and assistant principals in school hanging the dreaded paddle like a trophy fish on their office wall to intimidate their charges. But even then I noticed big differences between how it was used in my house, in school, and what sometimes appeared to be more abusive uses by some parents I knew.
My attorney father's version of corporal punishment, in retrospect, was very court-like: The punishment wasn't issued at the scene of the crime. I was never yanked up in a grocery store or whatever and whipped on the spot. Instead, in the privacy of the home after everyone's emotions had died down, I'd be informed of the punishment and required to voluntarily accept it. My Dad would make us bend over and place our hands on a desk or counter; moving your hands to intercept the blow earned you another clean one in its stead. If you were told you'd get three, you got three clean ones; told you'd get five, you'd get ten if five times you moved your hands back to shield yourself.
Though I seldom had the discipline to stoically take the licks, frequently earning myself more en toto than the assigned punishment, I never considered spanking a serious deterrent during my own misspent youth, and after a certain age I doubt most kids do. That went for the kids I knew whose parents more abruptly and angrily "spanked" them in public settings. We'd all laugh about it afterward, and the boys who endured it took it as a sign of their manhood that they didn't care about being whipped. Not infrequently, a publicly punished kid would behave even more audaciously to impress their friends in the wake of their disgrace, after which of course they'd disappear for a while since grounding was the inevitable aftermath when whipping didn't work.
For that reason I question the Brownsville JP's plan to coerce parents into using corporal punishment. (A district judge halted the practice after nearly 100 kids had been spanked in the JP's courtroom since January.) Some parents lack the necessary discretion to responsibly use force against their kids and might see the JP's stance as judicial affirmation of what turn out to be beatings instead of spankings. Using courts to promote spanking sends a false, even demagogic official message to parents that the answer to youth misbehavior is ever harsher physical punishments; often that's just wrong.
Even worse, depending on the circumstance, the crucible of corporal punishment can cause kids to act out worse afterward, exacerbating the problem instead of helping. Spanking may have a role, but it's by no means a cure-all. It certainly won't stop truancy (or at least, I can tell you to a certainty, it never stopped me from skipping school - a day off was easily worth a few licks if you were caught).
Used properly spanking has a place, but it should be a judgment call for parents, not the courts. The answer to juvenile delinquency cannot only be to ratchet up physical punishments ad infinitum in order to "get their attention." The end of that storyline is a dead 13-year old tied to a tree.