Child Spanking Law Proposed by a Kansas State Representative
Anyone remember when parents and teachers spanked kids? Last week, Kansas State Representative Gail Finney proposed a bill which would have explicitly legalized spanking children. The bill has since died in committee, but given that 81% of Americans believe spanking is sometimes appropriate, the issue is bound to come up again.
Of course, Kansas has allowed spanking children before. However, spanking was legal in common law, or law as understood by courts. Child spanking was not formally written down in statutes by lawmakers. Last week’s bill would have declared that “up to ten forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child and any such reasonable physical force on the child as may be necessary to hold, restrain or control the child in the course of maintaining authority over the child, acknowledging that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result.” “Child” would have included “a person over the age of 18 who is enrolled in high school.” More importantly, the bill would have allowed parents to give permission to school authorities to spank their child.
As mentioned before, 81% of Americans claim they believe spanking is appropriate. Interestingly, 31 states ban or limit corporal punishment (child spanking). The scientific basis for this political support rests on shaky grounds. In 2010, Professor Gunnoe of Calvin College concluded that adults who recall being infrequently hit were better adjusted than adults who didn’t remember being hit. In 2012 though, the Monitor on Psychology reported that harsh punishment could lead to “increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems.”
Imagine If Kansas Had Actually Passed the Child Spanking Law…
So what’s the big deal about writing a rule down? There are two problems when lawmakers try to write down court recognized rules.
First, a poorly written law can wreck all kinds of chaos. Under the proposed spanking bill, children could give school personnel the authority to spank children, even if the child is 18. When a child turns 18, however, the child is a legal adult. Parents cannot give school personnel the authority to spank their adult child because parents would no longer have the authority to grant that kind of power.
Politically, this provision of the bill would have been a disaster. The Constitution gives 18 year olds the right to vote. Any politician who allows government workers to spank their constituents would not be in office for very long. Allowing school officers to spank any high school student could have lead to very poor publicity. Imagine a 52-year-old male teacher spanking a 16-year-old woman.
Second, this bill was not the law child spanking advocates were waiting for. By codifying one method of child spanking, the law would have precluded other forms of discipline. Representative Finney’s bill would have legalized “bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child” only. Presumably, other types of punishment would not have been legal.
Representative Finney considered this an upside. The line between child abuse and child discipline would have been better defined. However, limiting child spanking to “bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child” ignores many possible circumstances. Some children are very tough and barehanded slapping would not be very intimidating to them. On the other end of the spectrum, this bill would have permitted bruising as a result of spanking. Some people consider bruising a sign of abuse.
Representative Finney might have had the best of intentions, but courts need flexibility to judge specific cases. Kansas is fortunate that this bill ended in the scrap heap.
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