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?