Moms Talk: Should Neighbor Call You Out for Spanking Your Kid?

A father could face jail time for spanking his son in his backyard because a neighbor caught it all on videotape. Is spanking ever OK, and did the neighbor cross the line with this man's privacy?

An El Centro, Calif., man recently turned himself in after a neighbor caught him spanking his 6-year-old son with a belt during a game of catch in his backyard. The man was trying to teach his son how to play ball and growing increasingly frustrated when the boy continued to drop the ball. He then proceeded to spank him in between throws, and a neighbor who peered out his window happened to catch the whole thing on videotape.

Horrified, the neighbor turned the tape into the police, and the father could now face up to 12 years in prison for felony child-abuse charges if found guilty.

Family members of the father say, in his defense, that one should not judge a man’s character based on a videotape, that he is a good father and would not intentionally hurt his child. But others all over the blogosphere are up in arms, saying he crossed the line and is a child abuser.

The incident presents more than one ethical dilemma. One, is spanking a child considered child abuse? And two, did the neighbor’s videotape cross the line of privacy? After all, this man wasn’t technically in public; he was in his own backyard.

As a child who grew up taking a few spankings on the rear end, I’m not entirely opposed to the form of discipline when done in the right context. I clearly remember being spanked for doing a Very Bad Thing when I was 5, and had someone been videotaping my mother from next door, I would have been devastated had she been labeled an abuser because she loved us to the core.

Afterward, there was always a hug, and “I love you” and I never did the Very Bad Thing again. I am no worse off as an adult for taking a few swats in my youth. Heck, even the principal at my private school spanked kids back in the day.

But I also know the other side, those who spank in anger and cross the line, those whose actions could truly be labeled abusive. There is absolutely no place for that, EVER, as far as I’m concerned. But is what we do in the privacy of our home really others’ business? Will we now have to pull the shades and close the windows every night for fear our neighbors might videotape us in the middle of a spousal spat or dinner disaster?

One blogger mother described her dilemma in a grocery store. “I had a cart full of groceries and was heading toward the checkout when my son began to scream at the top of his lungs and throw things," she said. "I tried to calm him and reprimanded him, but he refused to obey. At home, his behavior might have warranted a spanking, but I was in public and didn’t have many options. People continued to stare at me as though to say, ‘Do something about that unruly child!’ but I was too afraid that if I gave him a spanking, some disgruntled person would call the police. And so he screamed the entire way through the line and out into the parking lot, where I burst into tears in the car and thought to myself, ‘I can’t win.’ ”

I feel for this mother, because she was torn between disciplining (not abusing!) her child and getting chastised (or worse yet, arrested!) and keeping the peace in the store. It seems that we, as a society, have created a “no win situation.” We say that kids today are unruly, misbehaved, undisciplined, selfish, lazy and rude, but if a parent does so much as lift a finger or raise their voice, they’re suddenly a criminal. Have we become too “trigger happy,” ready to call someone out on their parenting skills, rather than just minding our own business?

It’s a fine line, in my opinion. I know mothers on both sides, some who strongly believe in spanking, quoting Bible verses to back themselves up. Others say a parent should never, ever spank, not even on the rear end and “in love.” I, personally, would never want a stranger judging my parenting skills; goodness knows we’ve all been caught having a bad day from time to time. But on the flip side, if we never speak up, does true abuse slip through the cracks?

Moms and dads, this is a tough one, and we want to hear from you. Do you think spanking a child as a form of discipline is okay? And as for the man and his son, do you think he should be found guilty? Did the neighbor cross the line for videotaping him in his own backyard?

Karen Koczwara July 12, 2012 at 09:48 PM
That is really interesting, mfriedrich! I have been curious to know when the whole spanking issue changed in our society. My kids toured the old school house at Knotts Berry Farm for a field trip and the guide explained how the kids used to pull a "switch" off the tree and endure a spanking as punishment if they screwed around in class. And at my private school in the 1980s, the principal had a huge paddle with holes in it hanging over his desk and had to use it a few times. I don't know if he had to have the parents' permission to do so, but interestingly, there was very little screwing around at that school. Ollie, I agree that there are many, many other ways to lovingly discipline kids when they are young. In my house growing up, spanking was only a "last resort" and done in the instance of lying or anything else my parents deemed very bad. I am grateful they loved me enough to take the time to direct me and discipline me, but I have not been a huge fan of spanking as a parent myself. I have many friends who were abused as a child and it breaks my heart. I think the line can be too fine sometimes and it is best to not go there at all, but that's just my two cents.
MFriedrich July 12, 2012 at 10:58 PM
In my experience, timeouts and privilege retraction are far more effective for behavior modification. With corporal punishment of young children it's not their fault but their brains are not yet fully wired, and cannot easily discern what to them seems like punishment of their person versus punishment of the wrong behavior. I believe most parents are trying to correct wrong behavior.
Elliott Lanosa July 13, 2012 at 12:16 AM
In this particular incident, this man needs to go to jail. Given the "reason" for hitting this child, my feeling is he is a sadistic *sshole who probably wouldn't have hit this little boy had it been his own flesh and blood. His is clearly an idiot and I still wonder what mom was doing when this was going on. Did she approve?? Where things worse behind closed doors? Both adults definately need to be scrutinized.
18andsafenow July 15, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Children and teenagers should have a right to their bodies, and the right to say "No!" Currently in the U.S.: When an adult does it to another adult, its sexual battery: http://hamptonroads.com/2011/12/va-beach-restaurateur-pleads-guilty-sexual-battery When children do it to adults, its a "deviant sexual prank": http://www.theday.com/article/20101207/NWS04/101209750 When an adult does it to a person under the age of 18, its "good discipline". Research/recommended reading: Spanking Can Make Children More Aggressive Later http://tulane.edu/news/releases/pr_03122010.cfm Spanking Kids Increases Risk of Sexual Problems http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2008/feb/lw28spanking.cfm Use of Spanking for 3-Year-Old Children and Associated Intimate Partner Aggression or Violence http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/126/3/415 Spanking Children Can Lower IQ http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2009/sept/lw25straus.cfm Plain Talk About Spanking by Jordan Riak http://www.nospank.net/pt2010.pdf The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children by Tom Johnson http://nospank.net/sdsc2.pdf "Spanking" can be intentional or unintentional sexual abuse http://www.nospank.net/101.htm
18andsafenow July 15, 2012 at 01:24 AM
In light of the Judge Adams video, We often hear from those who fight to uphold this practice for those under the age of 18 (even to the blaming of the social maladies of the day on a supposed "lack" of it), but we rarely, if ever, find advocates for the return of corporal punishment to the general adult community, inmate population, military, or college campuses. Why is that? Ask ten unyielding proponents of child/adolescent/teenage-only "spanking" about the "right" way to do it, and what would be abusive, indecent, or obscene, and you will get ten different answers. These proponents should consider making their own video-recording of the "right way" to do it.


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