Helicopter Nation: The Rising Costs of Raising Children

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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138 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Anti-spanking advocates do tend to go over board. There is a difference between abuse and spanking, although i know anti-spanking advocates don’t and won’t see that. Unfortunately a lot of people who use corporal punishment do it in a wildly clueless and counter productive manner. I’ve seen many parents who still seem to think smacking their kids is going to work at age 10 or 12 or 16. While spanking a small child can be done as part of a comprehensive system of discipline once kids get older it almost always works much much worse.

    There is the horror story aspect of a kid left in a car who then dies which get people whipped up and may result in a lot of stress in cases where there is no danger. Essentially a handful of terrible anecdotes leads to an over reaction. That is part of the point; correct? Ironically there is also the exact same horror anecdote which leads people to think that every time some smacks there 2 year old on the butt or leaves a kid the car there will be years of court appearances and foster care. Dueling terrible anecdotes don’t really get anyone anywhere exact upset and confused.

    Parents do feel massive responsibility. While we can point at fashionable causes, as does the MBH, quote of upper middle class standards, i think there is a bit more to it. When you first become a parent your world changes as you well know. Once that kid comes out you want all that is best for that little one. It is natural and good for that parent to start searching for all the best ways to do things. Parents really don’t just start looking at upper middle class folks, that is trite, since they live in a different world then most working class or poor people. People often look at , with new eyes, how their parents did things and go back to religion or other folk wisdom. People also do look to minimize any danger they can. That makes complete sense. So if they hear some horror story they do reexamine what they do and try to cut that out.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

      What causes me more consternation than the periodic horror story I hear is the amount of support for the reaction I often hear afterwards. In an odd way, I feel less troubled when something has gone so obviously wrong that there is a consensus of agreement against it. I was actually inspired to write this piece not by the Salon piece, but the fact that almost everything on my Facebook seemed to misinterpret the message as one of child safety. (To be fair, in between starting this post and now, I am happy to report I have seen a more balanced response.)

      As you know, I tend to take a more skeptical eye towards the CPS than you do. That I owe less to the outrageous stories I hear and more to my coblogger*, who works within the system. You work within the system as well, and I appreciate the more balanced perception you provide.

      I actually tend to think that corporal punishment is almost never a good idea. Actually, I go back and forth between “never” and “almost never.” Some of that is my temperament (I have to convince myself it’s okay to grab her to get her to stop doing something she shouldn’t be doing it), some of it the way I was raised (mostly without corporal punishment, though it has to do with more than just that), and some of it what I have read (that the Vox article cites). I can sort of imagine cases where it might be okay, but it’s definitely something I hope and plan to avoid. I just don’t want to get the system involved with families where the parents disagree with me, unless substantive abuse it taking place.

      * – I’ve been trying to convince her to write a guest post here. To no avail, alas. Something about working full time and taking care of two young boys yadda yadda. I might see if I can get enlist Burt to sell her on it.Report

      • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

        If i am less skeptical of CPS its mostly from seeing the immense conflicting demands placed on them: keep families together, keep kids safe, don’t let kids be harmed protect every bodies rights and do it faster then you are doing it. It doesn’t help them CPS workers are often the less trained and newer workers. Nobody is ever going to cough up the money for it but realistically a front line CPS worker should be highly trained and with a good 10 years of various kinds of experience behind them. There have been plenty of CPS workers and the rare GAL who would have been a far better use to the world in the food service industry.

        I’m generally against corporal punishment. I tend to think anti-spanking advocates, like many groups of advocates, are inherently self-limiting. They stretch what the research tells us and have no solutions that are really workable. Like you said, making spanking illegal leads to all sorts of other serious problems. CPS is to overworked to take into custody more kids just because a parent smacked their child stupidly.Report

  2. Stillwater says:

    From the Kim Brook article:

    I picture this concerned someone standing beside my car, inches from my child, holding a phone to the window, recording him as he played his game on the iPad. I imagined the person backing away as I came out of the store, watching me return to the car, recording it all, not stopping me, not saying anything, but standing there and dialing 911 as I drove away. Bye now.

    See, this is what’s fucked up – that person was more interested in Kim Brook being punished than the welfare of the kid. Or Brooks, obvs.

    We’re a fucked up, punitive people, us Americans.Report

    • Zac in reply to Stillwater says:

      @stillwater “We’re a fucked up, punitive people, us Americans.”

      And it translates to almost every area of our policy. Just look at how we prosecute the War on Drugs, or the War on Terror, or how we approach welfare state policies, or how we treat prisoners…the list goes on and on. The worst part is that this is one area where people across the political spectrum are disturbingly simpatico. Even most liberals I know have a knee-jerk instinct to punish first and aid second (if at all).Report

  3. Saul DeGraw says:

    This book you keep mentioning. There might be some valid points in it but I find myself turned off and not paying attention because of the apocalyptic tone and hyperbolic title. I’m rather tired of the The Book of Revelations Rhetoric School of argumentation over public policy.

    I think that child-rearing and child-rearing philosophies are just another proxy for our never ending culture war between Team Red and Team Blue and everyone says that everyone else is doing it wrong and anything that can be used to mock or criticize the other side is golden.Report

    • greginak in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      The tricky part about child rearing philosophies is that there are multiple ways to raise a child well and to F them up. It’s good if parents think seriously about how to raise their child, you will when the time comes, but they just shouldn’t get dogmatic. It is a good thing that parents talk and learn from each other because kids will constantly challenge your resources and sanity.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to greginak says:

        Not to mention that sometimes people end up with all kinds of personal difficulties despite having had great parents.

        Probably in a lot of cases their problems would have ended up much worse had their parents not cared for them and raised them as they did, but now the opponents of whatever child-rearing approach the parents took will use the mere existence of the problems as arguments against it.Report

    • I keep mentioning it mostly because, regardless of what one thinks of the thesis (and my views are mixed) it’s just full of interesting information.

      I actually don’t think the broader strokes are all that separated into Team Blue and Team Red. There may be more sympathy, for example, for corporal punishment on the right than the left. But it’s pretty inexact. The “leaving kids in the car” thing is generally apolitical. The Free-Range Kids movement has supporters on the right and left, and opponents of the same. (For example, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the person who called the police on Brooks was some sort of Tuff on Crime Republican… or a nosey nanny-state liberal.)Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        The lost of free range kids isn’t only an American phenomenon. In 2007, the British newspaper the Daily Mail had an article tracing the disappearance of the right to roam in one family over four generations:


        Giving children the ability to range free is probably a good idea. There is a significant problem in that our suburban and exurban landscape kind of makes that hard. Criminals might not be a problem but in lots of sprawling metro areas, its going to be difficult to roam without having to cross a freeway or get splattered by a car. Cul-de-sac development isn’t exactly friendly towards people that can’t drive.Report

      • Suburbs are perfectly conducive to roaming, if parents are so inclined. It’s actually once you get out of the sprawling suburban zones, onto the main streets and commercial streets, that things become dicey (though even there, the statistical dangers weren’t great).

        Caul-de-sac developments are also not a significant impediment to letting your kids roam.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        @will-truman, it depends on the design of the suburbs. When flying across the country, I see a lot of little cul-de-sacs or similarly designed clusters of housing that are connected to other parts of the metropolitan area by highways or major arterial roads. These seem kind of deadly places to let kids roam. Rural areas or the older, more traditional towns and small cities might be the safest and most interesting. Any place thats designed around the assumption of car ownership isn’t going to be friendly towards kid’s roaming about.Report

      • The major streets act as a perimeter. There is almost always a lot of space within the perimeters. If you look at a map where I was raised, and traffic patterns and whatnot. You might say “That street is dangerous for kids.” Those would be the streets I wasn’t allowed to cross. Others, well, it’s mostly a matter of looking both ways before crossing and all that. It’s just not frequent that you’re hemmed in at all directions.

        Some parents are more cautious than others, of course. Some kids are less trustworthy than others when it comes to “Don’t do this.” But that’s an issue no matter where you are.

        To be honest, the notion that suburbs aren’t roam-friendly strike me as out-and-out bizarre. I’d always associated the city with more danger in that regard. A lot of suburbs, in my opinion, go way too far in terms of being excessively residential and removed from traffic (“Man, I don’t know how people live there. It takes you fifteen minutes just to get out of the neighborhood!” sort of thing). But, if anything, I’d assume that a lot of these places would have even more houses to roam to than I did because they were further away from the action.

        I’ve always associated the other kinds of neighborhoods with being kind of dangerous. Talking to people who lived in more urban environments, and less sprawling environments, tell me that really isn’t the case. I take them at their word and have adjusted my thinking. But then they talk about where I have lived as though it’s Mad Max. Which is just weird. Though in keeping with the way that people are.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        In Tokyo, young kids take public transport without problems. Cities can be dangerous places but the older the ones are built on the idea that you don’t need to get a car to go around. Same for the smaller, older towns, Modern suburbs might be excessively residential but they seem to be kind of boring places to roam. Not much to explore.Report

      • Whether roaming is exciting or not is independent of whether or not kids can, of course. For the most part, it’s advantageous to have a pool, a park (or two), and houses where friends live that you can visit.

        I lived in an older suburb where there was more than that around. On the other hand, I was hemmed in by streets to a more significant degree than I think a lot of them are. But I’d trade that for access to a comic book shop in a heartbeat. I had that, though of course it’s not there anymore.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Will Truman says:

        We spend money building animal crossings over busy highways, perhaps we need kid crossings over or under busy roads.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Will Truman says:

        I grew up in the 80s in rural WI. Many a day was spent traipsing about the large valley I lived in with one of the dogs with me. When mom wanted me home, she’d step outside & blow three times on a gym whistle. There was nowhere in that valley I could go where the dogs would not hear that whistle & start heading home, which was my cue to follow.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        @will-truman @leeesq @mad-rocket-scientist

        What is interesting is that you would think that cell phones would allow kids to have more roaming freedom. Some of my older friends (people who grew up in the 60s and 70s) do occasionally post grumpy memes on facebook about how they were given free reign and the call to come home was their mother’s voice.

        Shouldn’t cell phones make it easier to give kids free reign because they are easily reachable?Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Will Truman says:


        One would think.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to Will Truman says:

        Suburbs may allow roaming but not support it – it doesn’t help that the streets are quiet enough for kids to travel a few kilometres on their own, if there’s nothing within a few kilometres to do. It seems this may be the consensus view here…

        I was lucky with where I grew up – the streets were mostly fairly quiet, and age-appropriate destinations were generally on my side of any obstacles that were age-inappropriate for me to negotiate on my own (I could walk to a park with a playground and an adjacent drugstore with a rack full of candy, when that was relevant; then I could walk to cheap used bookstores and the riverbank, and bike to a swimming pool, and the library etc.)Report

      • There are really a limited number of places that kids generally need to roam to. Friends houses, pools (where climate-appropriate), and parks are the biggies. Reasonably well-designed suburban communities will have all of these things within the perimeters. I remember at one point I was wandering around a master-planned community and was astounded at the number of community pools there were. We only had one in our community.

        But I think that the layout was very much designed because the planners found out that people are more likely to buy houses where kids can walk to the pool. I’d assume that the same is true of parks. Market-forces at work, I guess. (One couple I knew from high school bought a house in a master-planned community that has its own – smallish, I assume – grocery store.)

        Some of this points to the whole “kids can’t roam freely” as an exaggeration, like Saul has said. I think there is some truth to that. I wonder if the lack of kids out and about that MRS is talking about might be related to kids going outside less generally rather than parents refusing to let them? Doesn’t explain the bus stops mentioned elsewhere, though.Report

      • Peter in reply to Will Truman says:

        Roaming was a more coveted freedom when birth rates were higher and there would be other kids nearby. Not so much today.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      I don’t see folks from Team Red touting the virtues of pop-culture parenting techniques, Saul. If there’s a culture war within the parenting community, seems to me it starts with liberals. On a couple of levels, actually.Report

      • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

        @stillwater there is plenty of “red state” parenting tech. It is usually very old school with corporal punishment often a big deal.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Stillwater says:

        To Train Up A Child seems to be very popular Evangelical circles and uses discipline techniques that I consider extreme and wrong. It has lead to stories like the one below more than once. I’ve heard of others.


      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Stillwater says:


        How about “ex-gay therapy?”Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        I’m not saying that conservative-identified parenting techniques can’t be criticized. I’m saying something different: if there’s a cultural war on parenting techniques, they originate with liberals.

        Both the examples you guys have given is consistent with what I said. Which was a response to Saul’s claim that “that child-rearing and child-rearing philosophies are just another proxy for our never ending culture war between Team Red and Team Blue and everyone says that everyone else is doing it wrong”. And ironically, Saul is using some examples of conservative parenting techniques to establish that they are the one’s who are doing it rong and therefore worthy of criticism. Which, again, confirms the view that the war originates with liberals!Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:

        A friend of ours was extremely generous after Lain was born. Gave us lots of clothes… and a parenting book. The book was circled around a certain brand of Christianity, but even reading past that, it was pretty useless to us. It was basically setting the table to raise a conservative kid in the conservative way. (She herself is a Democrat, but on the cultural mosaic we would almost certainly associate her with conservatism.) Our reaction to it makes me feel like a couple of liberal hippies. Which, in terms of our parenting style, is probably closer to the truth than the book.

        Anyway, back to the subject at hand. There are a lot of cultural criticisms lobbed in both directions. To point to a counter-example of liberal-to-conservative, the “trophies for everybody” is a relatively constant conservative. And “spare the rod, spoil the child” and all that. (I tend to cosign the former cultural criticism, though not the latter.)

        Very few of these are calls to civil action, though, and tends more towards basic kvetching. There is a history, there, though, with Paganism in the 80’s, if I recall. But I don’t generally see things like “And this should be banned” as with the Vox article. Yet it’s a mistake to assume that a lot of conservatives don’t lend their support to a whole lot of what I am complaining about, above and beyond kvetching.Report

  4. notme says:

    Nice to see a Salon liberal on the other end of the nanny state.Report

  5. KatherineMW says:

    I think that, given the statistics showing that children raised in the foster system tend do much worse than children raised by their parents, we should need fairly extreme cases in order to justify taking kids away from their parents. Spanking a kid, or giving them a bit of freedom, or leaving them in the car for 5 minutes, should not be a basis for taking someone’s child away or for legal action against the parent.

    We need to distinguish between things that may be (in an individual’s opinion, or even based on statistical correlation) sub-optimal parenting, and things that are abusive and require legal action. I was spanked once, as a kid. It didn’t have any significant impact on me, and was a heck of a lot less detrimental than a ton of government people disrupting my very peaceful and pleasant family life would have been.

    I’m confident researchers can also show that letting your kids eat junk food is bad for them, or that it’s good for kids to spend time reading, or that failing to teach your kids to cook basic meals and do their own laundry by the time they’re 18 isn’t ideal. The idea of banning any parenting activity that’s we think is sub-optimal is ridiculous, interfering, and harmful.

    To take something that we know, unequivocally, is harmful to children: we also shouldn’t take kids away from parents who refuse to have them vaccinated. Yes, their parents’ decision is damaging both to their children and to other people’s children who might catch vaccine-preventable illnesses from them, but the harm done by intruding into the parents’ lives and depriving the children of a family is far greater.Report

    • LWA in reply to KatherineMW says:

      This is sort of where I fall as well. That even when parenting is sub-optimal, the horrific trauma of being separated from parents demands a pretty strong compelling reason.
      I think often people imagine that there is a huge standing army of loving idyllic foster homes out there.
      Part of this is for us to accept the concept of “suboptimal” paretning in the first place- that within certain levels, poor parenting is going to be a fixture within our society.Report

    • James K in reply to KatherineMW says:


      We need to distinguish between things that may be (in an individual’s opinion, or even based on statistical correlation) sub-optimal parenting, and things that are abusive and require legal action.

      This is an under-appreciated point, for a society to function there has to be a healthy gap between “x is good” and “x merits decades in prison”. When smacking was outlawed in New Zealand in 2008, there was a lot of concern from parents that they would be jailed for smacking their kids and the police basically said “look, we’ve got better things to do than run around chasing every case of common assault in the country.”

      There was once a legal principle that the law does not concern itself with trifles. I fear that in the US in particular this principal has been lost.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to James K says:

        The problem here is that how do I as a concerned and lawful citizen ~Know~ when the law is one that’s going to be enforced vs one that’s not. The law says I can’t drive more than 35 in an area, but if I drive 45? 55? Where is the “Real Law”?

        And so when I get pulled over for doing 40, do I have a real defense? Is “you always let people drive 55 through here” going to get me out of the ticket? Or the court hearing?

        So when they talk about laws about, say, spanking, I have to wonder, who really wants to take the chance that someone will report it and have the case handed to a ADA on a bad day, or in need of a few quick convictions to pad their record?

        If we’re going to have laws, then we have to enforce them. If we’re not going to enforce them, then we need to get them off the books. Let’s stop “trusting” the cops and the ADA’s to know when to enforce which laws and just write some common sense laws they can do their jobs and actually enforce.

        The alternative is a life of constant fear that ~this~ time someone will enforce the law. After all isn’t that what happened to Brooks? It was all in a “gray area” that an ADA decided to go after.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to James K says:

        Deciding what is and what not is a common sense law is a Herculean task. Most of us can agree on the big things like murder, manslaughter, assault, the various forms of theft, and sex crimes should be illegal. For the rest, its all a matter of debate. To many adults, laws against leaving very young children alone in cars is a matter of common sense because of all the things that could go wrong. To others, its completely ridiculous becuase of the statstical unlikelihood of the events.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to James K says:

        I don’t think there’s any way to get around with that as regards speed limits – no matter what speed you set, a cop ticketing someone for going 5km/hr over it is going to feel petty and ridiculous.

        Good law enforcement requires good laws, but it also requires state officials not to behave like jerks.

        I agree, though, that “unenforced” laws against spanking are a terrible idea.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to James K says:

        “Good law enforcement requires good laws, but it also requires state officials not to behave like jerks.”

        One man’s “I didn’t want to behave like a jerk” is another man’s “willful dereliction of duty” and a third’s “obvious sign of racial preference in enforcement”. Easier just to be a hardass to everyone; after all, they can’t fire you for following the rules.Report

    • North in reply to KatherineMW says:

      The utter plague of CYA, however, agitates against this. If CPS takes the kid away for a bit then you’ve got an enraged parent but your bosses are used to that and the voters yawn. Have a kid die or be maimed with CPS on record as having been notified of it and declining to take the kid away? Voter outrage, you’re gonna get fired, your bosses may be fired. Taking the kid away is the only rational course for the CPS worker.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to North says:

        Nobody’s going to die or be maimed from spanking.Report

      • North in reply to North says:

        That’s not the point my dear lady. Remember the merits of this have little to do with the perfidious calculation of CYA.
        If anything is done to that kid that makes local or national news and CPA is on record as declining to intervene over something that some busybody jerk reported then CPA is going to be in a big pot of boiling oil and the case worker is probably finished.

        If a report comes in and the CPA does intervene then some kid is perhaps scarred a bit, some parents are furious but that’s normal. Neither CPA nor the case worker gets in any serious trouble.

        The outcome matrix incents intervention on every reported incident every time regardless of merit.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to North says:

        Yep. We’ve all seen the tape:

        News Anchor: Tonight we investigate claims that CPS left a child alone in a known abusive house. The result proved to be a fatal mistake

        Neighbor: I tried to warn them. I called CPS four times– every time that woman raised her voice and did they do nothing? No. They just ignored it and left that sweet little girl to die.

        News Anchor: According to report, the aleged killer was reported for suspected abuse.

        CPS Agent’s Lawyer: While Ms Green would like to avoid talking about specifics, it is important for everyone to note that the reports made were only about the use of a raised voice with a child. There were never accusations of abuse for her to follow up on. Thank you. No further comment.

        Neighbor: And I told that CPS lady when she came around that the girl was abused. Her mother actually pulled her by the arm to keep her from running off. I’m telling you -Audio is overpowered by sound of nearby traffic- that woman AND The CPS lady ought to be locked up. Locked the heck up.

        News Anchor: According our Action News Legal team the actions of the CPS agent ~could~ represent a gross negligent action, and while the District Attorney’s office is not pressing charges, ~~at this time~~ we believe that still remains a possibility.Report

  6. Tod Kelly says:

    How am I expected to actually read the OP with that ridiculously adorable picture there?Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Awww, shucks. 🙂

      I actually had to put some thought into what picture to use. I was thinking of a car, or a car seat, or a picture of the car from the baby seat vantage point. Then I thought of the obvious: BABY! Drowing in pillows, even.Report

      • Completely off topic, but how are Lain’s hips doing?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        The only thing thats missing is a cute caption like they have for cats. ;).

        Did you put Lain in the coach to get a photo or did she just end up there herself?Report

      • @michael-cain Very well! She was a little behind the curve on the walking business, but no other signs of lingering issues.

        @leeesq She loves ensconcing herself in the cushions. She tries to do it now, but is too big for it. I probably have at least five pictures of her doing so at various times. In fact, she did it again today (or tried to, she’s getting too big) and I got a picture.Report

      • @will-truman
        Excellent! Having a granddaughter about nine months younger than Lain has gotten me interested in baby girls generally again :^) Many female colleagues from years back are disappointed that my daughter didn’t turn out to be a brilliant engineer or scientist and blame me; perhaps the granddaughter will redeem me.Report

  7. Tod Kelly says:

    Now that I’ve read the article…

    Part of the problem with these discussions is that all side fall into the same traps. Yes, the number of people negligently leaving their kids in in situations that should be seen as life-threatening do happen, but they are amazingly small. But likewise, so are the instances where police are arresting parents for doing things that are non-harmful. Parenting debates always have two opposing camps that believe people who deviate from their own personal choices will result in either a dead child or one who grows up hooked on crack.

    Spanking? I grew up in that generation where about a third of the parents spanked for any transgression over X, about a third who only did it a few times in their children’s lives, and about a third who never did it period. Pretty sure the vast majority of spanked kids didn’t grow up to become child abusers; pretty the vast majority of kids who did’t get spanked didn’t grow up tang human lives on the whim because they didn’t ever learn right from wrong.

    To me, the debates themselves aren’t interesting. But the parents that always surround the debates — their passion and absolute unbending certainty — *that* I find completely fascinating.Report

    • zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      To me, the debates themselves aren’t interesting. But the parents that always surround the debates — their passion and absolute unbending certainty — *that* I find completely fascinating.

      Me too.

      There is no recipe. It’s improv, and we always muff the joke occasionally.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      BSDI! False equivalence!!!!!!! 🙂

      More seriously, if Jimmy takes a knife to school and stabs Chris, that’s a terrible thing. Even though such things are not constantly happening. We might ask ourselves what we could have done to prevent it. We might ask what we can do to prevent it in the future. Ultimately, though, it was something Chris did. And it’s something that someone else is likely to do in the future.

      If Michael has some Cheez Wiz and crackers for lunch, including a spread knife, and is expelled from school due to a zero tolerance police, that’s also a bad thing. Even though such things are infrequent. In this case, though, it’s something we did. We created the hazard by which someone was hurt. Fortunately, not physically hurt, but it’s on us and because of that more pertinent.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

        “In this case, though, it’s something we did.”

        Meh. I guess? In that case, the stabbing is also something we did, because why didn’t we find a way to make sure kids can’t have access to knives?

        There’s always going to be someone, no matter what we do. That we don’t gear our society to fully anticipate that person doesn’t put the onus on us.Report

      • To me, that’s analogous to saying that the state is as responsible for letting someone go free from prison who kills again as it is wrongfully executing an innocent person.

        I don’t think there is the same level of culpability in failing to prevent kids from ever taking knives to school as there is for punishing people for non-dangerous acts.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Will Truman says:

        I don’t think there is the same level of culpability in failing to prevent kids from ever taking knives to school as there is for punishing people for non-dangerous acts.

        Me either.

        The first is a failure to act… but we don’t actually expect anybody to always do everything. People fail to act all the time. Lots of times, failing to act doesn’t really matter anyway, because the sort of kid who takes a knife to school with the intention of stabbing somebody is already at the point of stabbiness.

        The second is acting badly.Report

      • zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        So the really odd thing to me is that once, not too long ago, nearly every boy (and I emphasize boy) would have had a pocket knife, and it would have gone to school with him every day. I had a pocket knife and folding scissors, and I kept them in my purse and took them to school with me every day.

        I know I’m old, but I’m not that old.

        I don’t think, back in the day when children went to school armed with knives, that stabbings were common.

        I only know one thing for sure about kids: if you ban something, some % of them will take the ban seriously. Some % will do their level best to violate it and experiment with the ban, and some group in the middle will respond according to peer pressure.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to Will Truman says:

        As a teacher who actually likes Zero-Tolerance Policies, there’s a problem for us on this side of things:

        When you allow something in a “category” you set yourself up to have to identify the boundaries for the “category”. Take my favorite: Drugs.

        A student has a bag of pills with her. She says it’s Motrin and it’s for cramps. I don’t know what it is. It could be Motrin that her mom sent with her, it could also be Adderall that she bought from a classmate. It could be Xcstacy. I don’t know and we don’t have the tools here to test it. We don’t ~want~ the tools here to test it. I don’t want to be taking away bags of pills for testing. I don’t want to be taking away bags of pills PERIOD.

        What I ~want~ to do is teach math and have the kids keep all medications at home. Or in the office. Where an adult issues them to the student per school policy.

        And to drive this point home a local school had to call EMS twice in the same month for overdoses on ADD meds (or ADD meds with other drugs).

        So when they talk about knives, the issue isn’t “can he stab someone with a butter knife” it’s “do we want to be in the business of trying to identify which knives are okay and which are not?”. How many school admins (who are already in charge of a billion other things from routine discipline, to school functions, to teacher evaluation and discipline) want to add “Categorize styles of knife into potentially lethal and non-lethal” to their duties?

        Granted… some times it goes too far. Those cases get the most media outrage. Like the kid who was suspended because his Sign Language name involved “the gun symbol”. Those cases need the rules to be tightened up.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Will Truman says:

        Zero Tolerance is necessary because without it, racist teachers will disproportionately punish black students.

        (While A Teacher makes a good pragmatic argument, the genesis of ZT policies was an effort to eliminate racial preference in student discipline–or, as the cynic might suggest, to insulate the school district from lawsuits accusing them of racial preference.)Report

    • James K in reply to Tod Kelly says:


      The whole thing’s just another case study in how people are terrible at analysing risk.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      “But the parents that always surround the debates — their passion and absolute unbending certainty — *that* I find completely fascinating.”

      The people who don’t know what they’re doing are the ones who yell twice as hard that they’re doing it right, because they’re trying to convince *two* people–you, and themselves.Report

  8. zic says:

    The only thing I know for certain is that no matter what choices you make as a parent, you’ll get something wrong. Sometimes, seriously wrong. And unless your extremely abusive and cold and unloving, you’ll also get some things right. And at the time you screw up, you probably won’t realize it. Same for the times you get it just right.

    Parenting is frustrating business. Temper-losing business, sometimes. So I’ll tell you one of the best things I did: when my fuse was short, and I slid into operating-on-frustration instead of being in control of myself mode, the minute I recognized it, I gave myself the same correction I gave my children — a time out. I went and stood in the corner, and I’d explain why. “Mommy got angry, and lost her self control, and she needs to cool down for five minutes, and when she has, we can talk about what each of did.” Eventually, they’d give themselves time outs, just to calm down, too.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

      This is all very important. I remember a little while back that Lain was just inconsolably upset in a way that’s uncharacteristic. Clancy and I both were too quick to assign it to mood (even though such things were rare) rather than exhausting all options.

      It turned out that she was thirsty. We didn’t think so because she’d been on the breast for the better part of the day. But after we figured it out we also figured out that she’d been on the breast so much not for consolation – as is often the case – but because she wasn’t getting enough milk from it. Lain’s needs were up because she was coming off illness, and Clancy’s production was down because she wasn’t breastfeeding the baby as much while she was sick.

      There is an enormous tendency to beat ourselves over the head with it. But… parents will sometimes get things wrong and miss things that, in retrospect, should be obvious. And it may well have been our own anxiety that prevented us from figuring it out to begin with. It probably would have been better if we’d calmed down (to the extent that you can when there is a crying baby involved) and tried to think things through. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll do next time.Report

  9. LeeEsq says:

    Without getting into arguments about the effectiveness of corporal punishment, I think you can make a case that corporal punishment should be illegal based on general criminal law. For the most part, the law really tries to minimize the amount of violence in society. At least in theory. If an employee misbehaves at work, the boss isn’t allowed to hit them in retaliation. If your at a bar and being an annoying drunk than other patrons aren’t allowed to smack you back. Basically any sort of violence that isn’t in self-defense is not permitted. Since spanking and other forms of corporal punishment are basically assault and are most definitely not in self-defense than there isn’t any real good reason to allow it.Report

    • LWA in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I wouldn’t disagree with your logic- in fact, I have used that argument myself in opposition to spanking.
      But my caution is that the law- family law more than any other- is so ham fisted, by the very nature of it so clumsy and inarticulate, and the problem of poor parenting requires so much nuance and sublety, that the odds of getting anything close to justice are infintessimal compared to the odds of destroying lives needlessly.

      Like my post above, the minor forms of poor parenting- benign neglect, cruel belittlement, spanking- are still minor, compared to the trauma of state intervention.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LWA says:

        I’m opposed to outright criminalization of spanking. The main reason why I’m opposed to an outright criminalization is that its basically going to be unenforceable. I can’t think of a form of punishment for parents that occasionally spank their kids that isn’t going to make a hash of things. Reporting incidents alone is going to be problematic on many levels.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        I can’t think of a form of punishment for parents that occasionally spank their kids that isn’t going to make a hash of things.

        That’s the rub.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LWA says:

        Maybe the best form of punishment is a monetary fine. This way you don’t separate families by jailing a parent but you do impose some kind of penalty. You can have the same sort of penalties for people who do things like leave their kids in cars. It sends the message to be a responsible parent but with a light touch.Report

      • Zac in reply to LWA says:

        @leeesq “Maybe the best form of punishment is a monetary fine. This way you don’t separate families by jailing a parent but you do impose some kind of penalty. You can have the same sort of penalties for people who do things like leave their kids in cars. It sends the message to be a responsible parent but with a light touch.”

        This sounded like a good idea when I first read, but the more I think about it the leerier I get. If somebody has statistics, I’d like to be wrong about this, but I was under the impression that generally speaking, the poorer/less educated you are, the more likely you are to strike your children (emphasis on generally, I can certainly think of exceptions to that, including my own upbringing). Which means that a fine for hitting kids would amount to tax on poor families, which (and again I could certainly be wrong here) I think might lead to even worse outcomes for those kids.

        Hmmm…now I’m curious to see if anyone knows of any studies where corporal punishment (and the rates thereof) are broken down by household income.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        The thought had crossed my mind while writing this that I wouldn’t mind if leaving kids in the car even in relatively safe conditions were something that you could be fined for. A lot of people avoid fines like the plague, so it still could be effective even sans the threat of intruding on families.

        As far as corporal punishment goes, I could see that being a factor in the event of a divorce, but that’s about as far as I am willing to go. Even though it bears some of the same marks as assault, we simply cannot treat it as such.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to LWA says:

        Why does spanking need to be a fine? First offense is mandatory parenting class where you learn better ways to discipline your kid.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to LWA says:

        And for a second offense, we send you to a place with rules that are arbitrary and enforced intermittently but brutally, and there’s no sense of safety from physical assault and/or rape, because if there’s one thing the state can teach parents, it’s effective ways to discipline rulebreakers.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LWA says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist, monetary punishment allows society to ban corporal punishment and enforce the ban in such a way that it won’t disrupt families the way jailing a parent does. Community service might also work.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to LWA says:


        “Findings indicate that monetary sanctions are imposed on a substantial majority of the millions of people convicted of crimes in the United States annually and that legal debt is substantial to expected earnings. This indebtedness reproduces disadvantage by reducing family income, by limiting access to opportunities and resources, and by increasing the likelihood of ongoing criminal justice involvement”Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LWA says:

        How about some sort of community service as punishment for spanking? It doesn’t disrupt the family like jail time, avoids the problems of monetary fines, and still sends the message that we do not approve of corporal punishment of children.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to LWA says:

        How about no punishment for spanking, and we keep working on cultural change?

        The desire to have a law and to have punishments for everything we don’t like is something I truly don’t understand.

        [Edited to add: The article the OP links to results in community service, which the author found acceptable, even gratifying because she got to work with community organizations whose work she approved of. And yet the case was still traumatic to the kid. And I can’t tell if your desire for some kind of legal punishment takes account of that.]Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to LWA says:


        Community service can impact a lower income family just as severely as a fine. Time & money are two things such families do not have in abundance, so if the state is going to demand a sacrifice of time, I’d rather it be spent doing something that helps avoid a repeat occurrence.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

      So what do we do with parents who do not agree with this law and hit their kids anyway?

      Arrest them? Take away their children?

      Are children with parents in jail better off than children where run-of-the-mill corporal punishment occurs? Are children better off in foster homes than in the homes of parents who utilize corporal punishment?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        I’m just providing an alternative reason on why corporal punishment can be made illegal on grounds that aren’t related to parenting philosophies. My parents didn’t use corporal punishment on Saul and I for that reason. Like I pointed out to LWA, finding an appropriate punishment is going to be very difficult.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “If an employee misbehaves at work, the boss isn’t allowed to hit them in retaliation”

      The boss also doesn’t dictate when the employee must go to bed, and how long the employee needs to go without interacting with his friends.

      “Since spanking and other forms of corporal punishment are basically assault and are most definitely not in self-defense than there isn’t any real good reason to allow it.”

      No, they really aren’t — and I say this as a non-spanking parent. In fact, I’m going to take a shot in the dark, Lee, and say that you are not yet a parent.

      It’s a rather enormous mistake to draw parallels too closely between how two adults deal with one another in society and how you parent a child. By your logic, my giving my kids chores when they were younger was “basically slave labor.”

      It’s kind of like when conservative talk show hosts argue that despite the infinite complex variables that a superpower has to consider when dealing with other nations, the US should make all foreign policy decisions based on how 8 year-old kids act on the playground.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I’m not a parent but this was pretty much my parent’s reasons for not using corporal punishment against Saul and I. My dad is a lawyer and thought it was ridiculous that the law allowed parents to commit acts of what he saw as assault against children simply because they were their children. Assault was assault and it the relationship between the perpetrator and victim shouldn’t matter.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Yeah, I’d be careful about calling the children of people who choose to parent differently than you do “victims,” even if your dad was a lawyer.

        Your parents made the exact same decision my wife and I did, but it’s a bit of a leap to say that one of the most commonly used forms of child discipline is akin to assaulting a child. It’s also a bit of a sticky wicket. If you make no accounting for gradations of severity in spanking, why should others do the same for you with whatever discipline style you choose? And believe me, they absolutely will.

        If you give your child time outs, are you guilty of ostracizing your child during their formative years? If you talk sternly to them and ground them, and you guilty of inflicting emotional abuse? If you just never really discipline them all, are you guilty of criminal neglect?

        Parenting isn’t what you think it is.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @tod-kelly, I can’t think of any philosophical reason why it should be fine for parents to corporally punish their kids when we as a society deemed that its act of torture and violation of human rights for the state to use physical violence for much worse acts. We also generally decided to criminalize most violence between other people and can’t think why a parent-child relationship creates an exception.That doesn’t mean that I think we should ban the use of corporal punishment, enforcing that law is going to be impossible to enforce but that doesn’t make corporal punishment philosophically or ethically right.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Dude, I’m not even trying to convince you anymore, I’m now just trying to give you practical advice about how to get along in a pluralistic society:

        Don’t use the word “torture” to describe how people who see things differently than you parent.

        Trust me on this.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Lee, to say my parents tortured me by their occasional spankings is to minimize real torture just as much as Dick Cheney’s “a dunk in the water” comment did.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Oh, the number of wooden spoons & paddles my mom busted over my ass & head as I was growing up (before she learned better methods of discipline). I’d hardly call it torture or assault. I’ve seen kids whose parents beat & abused them, it’s a whole different kettle of fish.

        As a matter of fact, of all the spankings I did get growing up, the only one that firmly stuck in my head was when my parents caught me shoplifting. That was the one time my dad used a belt on me.

        That said, I won’t be a spanker.Report

      • @leeesq

        I was spanked occasionally as a child and it happened only when I did something really bad and I remember it never hurting. It was more embarrassing than anything, sort of a signal that I had messed up so bad that I had to be subjected to *this* kind of punishment. It wasn’t assault and it wasn’t torture. I did have kind of a rough relationship with my parents, but the spanking was not a part of that.

        I freely admit spanking could approach something like assault, or even torture, depending on how it’s done and for what reasons. If I had children (I don’t and won’t, so take this for what it’s worth), I think personally it would be a bad decision for me to spank, in large part because I don’t trust my temper and my own anger issues. (That’s actually one of the reasons I won’t have children, because I don’t trust myself to restrain my temper. In some ways one might attribute that to my upbringing, but I think that spanking isn’t the cause.) But I’m not categorically opposed to spanking.

        I think even something like excessive grounding or excessive timeouts could be abusive. And frankly, the analogy to making spanking illegal could extend to those punishments, too, maybe on its similarity to false imprisonment. That analogy doesn’t mean spanking is therefore right, but it’s an example of how parents sometimes exercise a certain authority that adult-on-adult interaction does not.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        We have a difference between taking a swing at a guy at the bar and swatting a child’s backside because one of them in an adult and thereby a rational actor, while the other is a child and NOT a rational actor.

        A 4 year old is not a rational reasoning adult. Anyone with any long term contact with a 4 year old knows this. They can have bouts of being rational. They can appear rational. They can even sometimes make better choices than “rational” adults. But by and large they are not rational creatures.

        You cannot draw a line between “how adults interact” to “how adults and children interact”. It doesn’t work. Your boss can’t hit you for screwing around at work because you’re supposed to be rational and you’re supposed to respond to different consequences better.

        I propose an experiment:

        Take two 4 year olds. Put a cupcake in front of both. Tell Child A that if they touch the cupcake before they’re told it’s dessert time they’ll get a spanking. Tell Child B that if they touch the cupcake before it’s dessert time that they’ll have their allowance cut off.

        Dimes to dollars, Child B won’t make the connection and will go for the cupcake.

        Now if you repeat it with say a 13 year old… yeah, now they get it.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        A Teacher, whether someobody or not is a rational adult actor is irrelevant for the quesion on whether physical violence is an appropriate way to discipline misbehavior or other problems. If we generally hold that physical violence is not a solution to problems than it really shouldn’t matter if the receiver of the violence is a four year old child or a forty year old adult. If anything, the fact that children are not rational adults is another reason not to use corporal punishment against them.

        If a forty year old adult commits a theft related crime of some sort, we punish them by jail rather than tying them to a whipping post. The latter is considered cruel and unusual. I don’t see why smacking a four year old for taking a cookie from the jar is appropriate punishment while corporal punishment against an adult who does much worse is considered to be a violation of our most sacred principles.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        If I’m understanding @a-teacher correctly, @leeesq , I think he is discussing spanking as a means of communication.

        Let me use my son as an example. He is 14-months-old and only understands a very few words receptively. Sometimes he does something I want him to stop. I can’t just say, “Mayo, don’t pull on that cord.” He doesn’t understand. Instead, I have to communicate to him via other means. I can raise my voice and lower my tone and assume stern face: “No!” He understands this. At least better than he does other things. I also can pick him up and physically remove him from that space. I’m not violent and here I assume a neutral tone: “No, Mayo. That’s not safe.”

        I have to communicate with him differently because his ability to understand my typical means of communication are limited. I am generally not a fan of spanking and hope not to use it with my children. However, were I to, it would be similarly as a means of communication. “I need you to understand that what you did was unacceptable and this appears to be the only way to do so.” It is not about inflicting harm or punishment; it is about communication. Ideally, other methods of communication are used first and prove effective.

        The same is true for adults. However, we generally expect them to be more amenable to less intrusive forms of communication. And even then, we will sometimes resort to physical contact if absolutely necessary. The threshold is just in a different place.

        Now, lots of people spank for other reasons. I find most, if not all, of those problematic. I think how much control the adult exerts over the situation matters greatly. Are they in control, responding purposefully with a clear outcome desired? Or are they out of control, responding emotionally or without thought? My wife jumped the other way when I raised my voice with Mayo. I then quick pivoted and resumed talking to her in a normal tone. “How’d you do that?” “I wasn’t actually angry. But I had to convey to him that what he was doing wasn’t okay.”

        As a teacher, you learn how to do these things.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @kazzy has the measure of it, @leeesq .

        In one sense spanking can be used as a form of “punishment” that is clear, understandable, and definitive. It sucks to get spanked. It hurts. We’re not talking branding iron or whipping hurts, but it’s not an overall pleasant experience.

        What I’ve read about using spanking is that the spanking is NOT of the form of “I caught you swiping a cookie –BANG–” variety. It usually revolves around “You did X. We told you that if you did X you’d get a spanking. Now we’re here and we have to have a spanking. Do you understand? Okay. Spank. Now, we’re sorry we had to do that, but you need to know that X is a bad thing and you’re not allowed to do X because it’s dangerous/ bad/ not good judgement. Now I want you to sit here and think about what you might do next time, instead of X, and when you can tell us you can come out of time out.”

        Should someone turn around and hit a kid in anger? No. But spanking a 3 year old is a different beast.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        My stepmom’s theory was that she only spanked when the child was in diapers. The cushioning assured no real pain was inflicted but that the message was received. Seemed to work (not with us, but with step siblings, nephews, etc.).Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        James, I’d argue that in law-based societies, and practically every society in the Greco-Roman Abrahamic matrix is law-based, the law symbolizes many of the values of society. The desire to have things we as a whole disapprove of enshrined in law is a very old and powerful instinct because in Western and Middle Eastern cultures law has been a reflection of society since Mesopotamian civilizations started writing them down.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        No doubt, but without some live and let live pushback, the range of legal activities is going to be mighty damn small, and the range of punishable actions mighty damn big.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Going to be?

        Try “is”.Report

      • JMelfi in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Hypothetical questions for those with children in support of spanking:

        #1: If you found out today that you would suddenly cease to exist in exactly 1 month, would spanking your child(ren) still be a part of your parenting arsenal? You would not suffer from declining health for the duration.

        #2: If you found out today that your child(ren) would suddenly cease to exist in exactly 1 month, would spanking your child(ren) still be a part of your parenting arsenal? Your child(ren) would not suffer from declining health for the duration.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        That’s an interesting question. I’m not the one you’re asking, since I don’t spank, but if I did my answer would be yes, absolutely.

        Just like if I knew I only had a week to live and found out my 15 year old had been out driving drunk with friends, I would still discipline him in an attempt to get through to him. That seems like one of my most important jobs as a parent, even if it is the least fun. I can’t imagine abdicating that job just because my time was limited.

        I suspect a parent that spanks instead of grounds feels the same way.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Like Tod, though with less behind me and more ahead of me, I don’t spank and don’t plan to. That said…

        In the event that I was dying, proper discipline would probably not be high on my priority list. For the same reason I wouldn’t worry too much about spoiling them.

        If they were dying, or would cease to exist, it would take an awful lot for me to worry about properly forming them into the exemplary adult that they’re not actually going to grow up to be.

        Not that it would be “anything goes” but there are certain things that can wait.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        The problem with your question is that it removes one of the core reasons for ANY form of discipline: to help your children learn the “rules” to live by, be them social norms, safety rules, or family traditions. Any discipline, from a swat on the bottom, to a time out, to denial of desserts is based on the idea that “I have to punish you on some level so you learn how to behave and treat other people.”

        If the child will simply cease to be in one months time, the better question is not to spank or not to spank, but do you discipline at all in that time? Do you waste a single precious remaining moment on timeouts when you can now ~~literally~~ count the moments remaining?

        And what’s the point of making them a better person? Why not let them simply be and live and do because there is no consequence for letting them do Just That?

        So would I spank? Nope. But not for the reasons you want me to say I wouldn’t.Report

      • JMelfi in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Thanks for your responses.

        I agree that our mortality plays a role in the decisions we make in life, including how and whether to discipline our children.

        Would your position be the same if the timeframe were 1 year, 2 years, 5 years or 10 years?

        Do you see yourself as mainly an authority figure in the life of your child, or something more? Will this change when your child becomes an adult?

        What kind of relationship do you hope to have with any potential grandchildren?

        I believe more is gained by peacefully parenting by example than by using force and intimidation. This approach is not without its significant challenges, but it is also not subject to the whims of mortality.Report

      • @jmelfi

        I believe more is gained by peacefully parenting by example than by using force and intimidation. This approach is not without its significant challenges, but it is also not subject to the whims of mortality.

        As noted above, I’m not a parent and if I would, I would believe that spanking would definitely be the wrong choice for me, but not necessarily others.

        Is what you describe always possible? I suspect a parent sometimes has to sometimes use the fact that they’re bigger and stronger than the child in order to confer loving discipline. That doesn’t mean spanking, and I imagine that a parent who relies exclusively, or even mostly (or even too frequently but not majority of the time) might be doing it wrong. But I find it hard to believe that force never enters the picture.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “I believe more is gained by peacefully parenting by example than by using force and intimidation. This approach is not without its significant challenges, but it is also not subject to the whims of mortality.”

        This makes me wonder if you’re a parent at all, and if you’ve been put into any long term parenting-like situations because it seems disconnected from the realities of parenthood.

        The “if you were to die in a month” and “if they were to die in a month” attempts to make “mortality” a factor underscored just how little you seem to respect what parenting really is: An effort to lead, mold, and guide another human being into being the best human being they can be. When you factor in the “Whims of Mortality” you are effectively either saying: A, my job is nearly done as I will be gone or B. It won’t matter as they won’t become a human being regardless of my interaction.

        So trying to pick a parenting style based on the “whims of mortality” or not simply disconnects the actions from the expected outcomes. You’re effectively missing the entire point.

        On the concept of peaceful leading by example, let point out that the a home with children is not peaceful. It cannot be. No child quietly walks to time out every time she needs punishment. Few children will stop a behavior without some negative consequence because their brains aren’t hardwired yet for bigger morality conversations. A 5 year old just isn’t really ready, always, to see the bigger picture.

        Heck, I work with 17 year olds that will not function without fear of punishment. They don’t “Do” doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Punish me for not, or reward me for doing, or I don’t do it.

        Then there’s that moment when you see the 3 year old has a death grip on the cat’s tail. AGAIN. You’ve talked to her about how it hurts the kitty. You’ve talked to her about how it’s not nice. You’ve tried to explain the pain. Do you think that if you carry her to time out to think about these things she’s not going to scream? Sorry, there goes your peaceful leading by example.

        And I’m sorry, I’ve seen what happens when you try to be a friend. A relative’s daughter regularly calls her a B to her face. She storms off and pouts if she’s ever told no. She threatens constantly to never come home. She ignores most rules and boundaries and my relative just shrugs and says “I don’t know where I went wrong”. I’m not an expert but my gut says part of it comes from wanting to be a friend more than an “authoritarian” figure. It comes from wanting to be loved more than wanting to lead.

        The truth of parenting is that it’s hard and often you are NOT liked by your children. It’s unavoidable. But you do your best because they are your children and you have a bigger plan in place.

        You need them to grow to be good people, even if that means not liking you along the way.Report

  10. Zac says:

    You know, I think to an extent my family is something of a good test case for this. When I was growing up, my parents spanked both my and my three-years-younger brother as children (although probably not more than a dozen or so times apiece, in total). However, when we were teenagers, if I “talked back” to my parents, I would get backhanded and then grounded; my brother would not. Now, as adults, I am respectful and polite whereas my brother is a rude prick (towards my parents and myself, at least; I don’t ever really see him with his friends). On the other hand, I suffer from occasional bouts of major depression and smoke pot on a near-daily basis (though never before work or school or the like, cuz I’m *responsible*, dammit!); my brother does not. Is that because my parents smacked me and not him? Was it just cooked into our respective brain chemistries from birth? Obviously I’ll never know, but I certainly do wonder…Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Zac says:

      @zac My only issue with this is that for every case I can think of that worked out like yours (or your brothers), I can think of a case that worked out exactly the opposite.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Zac says:

      Poorly designed experiment, that – testing two variables on two subjects. Your parents should have had four kids, so they could test grounding and smacking in isolation and in combination, and have a control kid receiving neither.Report

  11. Saul DeGraw says:

    Can I add that I am a bit skeptical of the idea of kids losing the right to roam?

    I know the stories of parents who got arrested for letting their kids play on the front loan or ride their bikes to the park but these seems like anecdotal exceptions more than anything else and I think there is more to the stories than internet outrage lets on.

    When I was visiting friends in Santa Cruz, I saw kids in the park without adult supervision. I’ve seen kids in SF and NYC without adult supervision, etc.

    Is there any really good data, actual data on kids losing the right to roam?Report

    • I, too, would be interested in some statistics.

      My brother did provide a concrete example of how things have changed. When we were young, we went out and waited for the bus at the corner down the street. Now they are accompanied by parents.

      I don’t know the extent to which the law has changed. I am still not at the point where I would worry about letting my kids roam. It doesn’t seem outlandish that we would get there, though.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        I also waited for the bus without parents when I was a kid and can remember going to playgrounds with Lee or other kids and occasionally walking home after school or to a friend’s house (my elementary school was too far from home to walk the distance.)

        I was not a latch key kid though (as was allegedly common during the 1970s). Both my parents worked and sent Lee and I to an after school program during my early elementary school years. I believe the program was run by the school district. Later we went to Hebrew School after elementary school on certain weekdays. However by the time we were 9 or 10 or so our parents would go out for an evening and leave us alone without a babysitter. I think that changed.

        I don’t know about modern suburban living with kids and transportation to school. I’ve seen kids in middle and high school transport themselves to school via subway.
        Elementary school kids are seemingly able to walk to their schools in NYC, at least they were in my neighborhood but I would see moms and dads walking their kids to school and then waiting to pick them up after school.

        I don’t know how it is done in San Francisco. I haven’t seen many school buses here and SF is the most child-free city in the United States from what I’ve heard*. I live near a bunch of schools: public elementary, public high school, and a fancy private school that goes from 6-12 grades or grades 9-12. I’ve seen kids for the public high school wait for buses after school hours.


        According to this article, only slightly more than 13 percent of San Franiscans are under 18. Manhattan’s under 18 size is 15 percent of the population. According to wikipedia about a third of the households in Brooklyn have children under 18.Report

    • Zac in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      I would like to see this data as well. My intuitive sense has always been that this has decreased (maybe not due to laws but just due to changing parental trends); when I was growing up in suburbia, all the neighborhood kids rode bikes all over town and spent most of our daytimes unsupervised by parents. Nowadays, when I go visit my folks (who still live the same house I grew up in), I never see kids playing outside, even on nice days. Of course that’s purely anecdotal, but I’d be interested in seeing if the data bears out my experiences or not.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      @will-truman @saul-degraw Here are some stats on the decline of walking to school, which went from 48% in 1969 to 13% in 2009. Only a small portion of the decline is caused by kids living farther from school, indicating that there’s a broader shift besides simple living patterns. It’s only a part of the freedom to roam, but it does suggest that fewer kids are walking or biking to get around.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Dan Miller says:

        @dan-miller They recently built an elementary school right by where I was raised. You’d think that the neighborhood would love it since it was kind of a pain to get to the school that I went to. Instead, parents were upset that they now had to drive their kids ten blocks to school. People are weird.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Dan Miller says:

        @will-truman Yeah. This seems like a clearly sub-optimal outcome to me (kids get less exercise and less freedom to wander the neighborhood, parents have to add one more task to their workload, and all that traffic around schools probably isn’t great from either a safety or pollution standpoint), but I’ve got no idea how to inculcate a cultural shift back to kids walking to school where it’s possible.Report

  12. Maribou says:

    I agree with those who don’t think spanking should be illegal. I’ve seen friends spank their children appropriately and not even blanched. But I do struggle with one question:

    If corporal punishment is legal and physical abuse of a child is not, how the hell do you draw the line?

    Speaking as someone who has personal experience both of being (reasonably) spanked and of being physically abused (including a couple of unreasonable, abusive spankings), I can say with certainty that there is a difference.

    But how does the law tell the difference? Because where I draw the line has a lot to do with “how terrified was I at the time?” and I don’t think that holds up in court. Or at least, I don’t think you’re going to have much luck getting the kid in question to testify “properly”.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Maribou says:

      Another good reason to ban corporal punishment outright is that the line between corporal punishment and child abuse can get blurry. I can live with spanking even if I don’t like it but using a physical object in the punishment like a stick or a fist or a kick rather than the back of the hand is over the line for my taste. I suppose that the real dividing line is what invokes the use of corporal punishment, how frequently its applied, and the intensity and injuries involved. If every misdeed gets punished physically or if physical punishment happens for no reason than its abuse. If its a frequent rather than rare occurrence, its abuse. If the resulting injuries are noticeable to the eye than its abuse.Report

    • A Teacher in reply to Maribou says:

      I would say the line is in how it’s administered. There’s a lot of miles between dragging your kid over your knee, pinning him in place and going to down, and making it clear that rules were broken, which leads to consequences which leads to a spanking, and then administering the punishment.

      The real catch, I think, isn’t there, it’s in how we want the legal system to deal with this. Do we really want to interview every parent all the time to try to figure out which side of the line the case falls on?

      I am not a fan of criminalizing spankings personally, because I’ve learned there is an age where respect for rules should be learned but lots of other punishments just don’t work (or there are days when they’re not working with that child). But I agree that given the fear of the law (and my own views on Zero Tolerance) makes it all a mess.Report

    • zic in reply to Maribou says:

      I think spanking is, all too often, a vent for the parent’s rage, @maribou and parental rage is potentially impossible to avoid.

      It’s an assault. No matter how we try to skirt the issue, it is a physical assault on your child. There may be good reason; but if, as a parent, that’s the place I decide to go, I should go there comprehending exactly what I’m doing; and at least ask myself if I can think of how the lesson I’m trying to teach could possibly be positively reinforced by a physical assault on one’s body.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to zic says:

        I’m not a parent, so this is a hypothetical question asked in ignorance, but what method aside from spanking would you use to impress upon a two-year-old that they should NOT be trying to stick a fork in the electric socket?Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to zic says:

        Socket protectors, outlet covers, outlet caps…Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to zic says:

        @creon-critic – and never ever go to the house of anyone who has no toddlers? Or have one parent wait in the car while the other does a run through the house child-proofing all the outlets? But what if you miss one?

        Seriously though, it depends on the child and on the parents. With our daughter, she heard us really yell seldom enough that when one of us did, she knew it was for real, and pretty much dropped what she was doing and fell to the floor weeping. And if, having done so, we were to take such a draconian punitive measure as to keep her in her room with the door closed for ten minutes, she would be so helpless with grief, we might have entirely overshot didactically useful punishment.

        But a parent who let their kid ‘cry it out’ every night, and yelled at them weekly probably would have to do something else.Report

  13. DRS says:

    A very interesting article about parks that are a modern parent’s worst nightmare and a kid’s paradise: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/

    Basically junk yards with minimal supervision so that kids can let their imaginations run wild and incur calculated risk.Report

  14. DRS says:

    I suggest that if we really look at it carefully, we would find that in fact very little has changed in the past 60 years re North American childrearing. There have always been those adults who knew better than anyone else how other people’s children should be raised. They might even have been right more than half the time.

    The difference is that in the 50’s, 60’s and most of the 70’s, in most locales, that knowing-better was passed on through neighborhood peer pressure. Stay-at-home moms kept an eagle eye on the neighborhood – not out of a benevolent desire to keep kids safe or happy – but to make sure the little &$*#%#’s didn’t run riot through other people’s back gardens or play in tool sheds that didn’t belong to them or climb trees that were on other people’s property. It was the well-being of the neighborhood those mothers were monitoring, not that of the kids. The kids were expected to stay within limits and not run wild. And if someone’s kids did get out of hand, there would be phone calls made and backfence gossip along the lines of “I can’t believe how she’s raising her kids! Little brats, all of them. No manners, no consideration.”

    And that meant that their own kids got the law laid down in no uncertain terms: “If I ever catch you acting like those kids you are going to be in big trouble!” “If Mrs. So-and-So calls me to complain about you going into her backyard again, you are grounded!” “If you have to act like that, then go to the park!” Which in many cases, kids did.

    Peer pressure – unlegislated, unregulated – did a lot towards keeping things in line and mothers both supported and contributed to it. In the past 30 years, there’s been a substantial decline in this kind of thing, for many reasons: more mobility and moving around, less interaction with neighbours, more isolation from communal activities and perhaps most important – the identification of the family home with a kind of self-reliant castle where everything you might possibly need is under one roof. Also the technical breakthroughs that allow us to decrease interaction: if you wanted to see a movie in the 60’s, you had to go to a theatre, today you have Netflix or dvd players or whatever.

    Declining social interaction cuts both ways: kids don’t play like they used to and adults don’t exert social peer pressure like they used to. A result in the increase in channeling that peer pressure into campaigns for this or that bit of legislation and the never-ending fear-mongering about dangers and risks.Report

  15. zic says:

    Just to remind you what corporal punishment looks like. This is Judge William Adams; remember him?


  16. Damon says:

    Yeah, I’m going to have to agree with notme and his comments about the statist getting blowback for the system they helped create, and it’s generally rich fare, but let’s remember one thing I didn’t see in the comments….

    The situation Brooks writes about, which obstensbily was created to help the child, ended up actually causing damage. Now he’s afraid to be away from his parents because the cops will come.

    The fundamental problem was that no one thinks anymore. It’s all about process. You see this in Zero tolerance…have to suspend the student who draws a picture of daddy holding a guy….because he’s a soldier. Couple that with petty bureaucrats who live to exercize petty power, and noisy assholes who think that butting into everything in the name of safety is their calling from god and you have a nice toxic soup. These are some of the reasons why I’d never have kids.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Damon says:

      There are some things that are so dumb that only a functionary of government would do them.

      Let’s say you’ve got a situation where a boy who, in the process of packing his lunch, mistakes a can of Coors Light (The Silver Bullet) for a can of Diet Pepsi. Once he gets to school, he realizes that he brought a can of beer and not a can of pop and so he gives the beer to his teacher.

      Do you:

      A) Laugh about it, put the beer in the trash in the teacher’s lounge in a plain brown wrapper, and forget about it?

      B) Yell at the kid and send the kid home with a note telling the parents to organize their goddamned fridge so something like this never happens again?

      C) Suspend the kid and send him to “an alternative school” for two months?

      If you picked ‘C’, you could get a job as a functionary!


      • dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird says:

        I notice that none of your options involve drinking the beer. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had a Coor’s Light – is it really that bad?Report

    • A Teacher in reply to Damon says:

      I agree up to a point….

      I rarely interact with people who exercise power JUST to exercise power. It may seem that way, but at least in my line of work nearly everyone is all about helping kids and making sure that the kids get their fair shake, full support, etc etc.

      I can sympathize with the outside view. I understand where it comes from. And things like “Dont draw guns or you’re suspended” is a sign of poorly designed policies more than anything. What’s the problem with a kid drawing a gun? That he’s going to be violent? News Flash: Banning gun drawing doesn’t make kids less violent. But maybe interventions would. Maybe a counselor would.

      Only… yeah… you cut funding for those so the school doesn’t have the resources to differentiate between the two. They have to suspend Timmy because they don’t have the resources to fully counsel him, and you see, when little Joey drew the guns last year he actually acted on it. Or should we take teachers out of in-services on how to administer state required tests and train them in that instead? On top of…. on top of….Report

      • zic in reply to A Teacher says:

        Only… yeah… you cut funding for those so the school doesn’t have the resources to differentiate between the two.

        The same is true of state social-service agencies. They do not have the resources to spend the time sorting out the actual threats from the perceived threats, and have to react as if every single child’s life is endangered once they have a complaint.Report

      • DRS in reply to A Teacher says:

        You also have issues with things like liability and property insurance. If you’re going to keep your rates from going sky high, then you’ve got to show you did every thing possible to prevent a Bad Outcome that might result in someone suing your school or community centre.

        And if a child is injured, the parents’ insurance company will want the parents to sue before it pays out anything so that the fault is clearly established. Vicious circle.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to A Teacher says:

        Only… yeah… you cut funding for those so the school doesn’t have the resources to differentiate between the two.

        How much funding do the resources to differentiate between the two require? Because, lemme tell ya, the beer example doesn’t seem to require that many.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to A Teacher says:

        Well it’s not hard to tell if it’s beer or not.

        What’s costly is to ascertain if the beer was brought to school by accident and thus requires only a little course correction, or was it brought to school with the intention to be drunk and kid got caught before she could actually consume it. That is where it’s costly in manpower.

        In the case of the 8 year old who brings it up right away and says, panicked, “ohmigod I’m so sorry!” it’s a bit easy. In the case of the 15 year old who opens it in the cafeteria… a bit murkier. Did she notice it was beer because she got caught with it, or did she notice because it tasted weird. And then there’s the time to interview students… and teachers… and… and…

        Then comes the real headache: “You didn’t suspend that kid last year” / “That was different” / “no it’s not. It’s because my kid is special ed!”

        Trust me.. that one sucks.Report

  17. Chris says:

    Man, I’ve found a lot of things between my couch cushions, but never a baby.

    Alternatively: so that is where babies come from!Report

  18. Mike Dwyer says:

    I find it interesting that in 120+ comments the conversation seems to only be about spanking vs. not spanking. What about all the other forms of discipline? In my anecdotal experience there is a sever breakdown of discipline among parents in general. It’s amazing what our friends tolerate. A couple of examples:

    I was talking to my neighbor one evening and his five-year-old got too close to my fence. She is scared of dogs and our dogs were barking their heads off when they realized she was there. Now keep n mind, there was an 8-foot privacy fence between her and the dogs but she immediately started crying and ran to her dad. He is pretty tired of her dog-fear at his point and so he was laughing about it. She proceeded to punch him in the stomach about 10 times as hard as she could, screaming for him to stop laughing. Now, maybe he shouldn’t have laughed, but my kids would NEVER have been allowed to punch me a second time. They would have ended up in some serious trouble. His daughter? Sent into the house for some feel-good ice cream from mom.

    Also, my brother’s kids routinely ignore adults when they are talking to them. If they are walking through a room and you say their name they will look at you and then walk away. Again, my kids would have gotten in trouble for that. His kids? Well, that’s just their personalities. Oh well!

    For lack of a better word, many parents today are weak. Like, our-kids-are-running-the-show-and-we-are-just-hanging-on-for-dear-life weak. I don’t know what made my generation like this but it’s hard to watch as someone who did most of my parenting a decade ago.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Now, maybe he shouldn’t have laughed, but my kids would NEVER have been allowed to punch me a second time.

      First, he shouldn’t have laughed. Even if it was an adult, he shouldn’t have laughed (that’s just dickish, in my view) but attributing the rationality of an adult to a kid (it’s an 8 foot high fence!) is beyond moronic. Second, tho, why wouldn’t you let your kids hit a second time if you were laughing at them for what could only be described as dickish reasons? If they had a better command of language I’m sure they would express themselves in more cutting terms, but the sentiment is the same, no?Report

      • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

        @stillwater She’s five, not two. You catch her wrists (not too hard to do gently, without hurting, in the case of a 5-year-old), and you tell her, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have laughed at you, but we don’t hit people. And then you hug on her until she settles down.

        And you do it not just because Children Should Know Better, but because she’ll be a lot happier once she stops being violently angry, too. It’s very bad to meet anger with anger, but ignoring violent outbursts, or worse yet meeting them with capitulation, also doesn’t help the kid. (I might not have kids of my own, but I was also very involved in raising my sibs – by the time I was thirteen, my mom was working 60 hours a week and my dad, when he was home, was usually sick, stoned, and/or needed avoiding.)

        That said, I had two cousins who ran WILD, completely wild, as children, because their parents refused to discipline them IN ANY WAY for almost anything until they’d reached an age where they could fully understand it (I forget the exact age, but I think it was like 9? or 11?). It made all of us other cousins very grumpy (because they would do stuff like hit us and if we hit them back WE got in trouble). But it turns out that as adults they are among the happiest, kindest, gentlest, and most well-adjusted people I know. So much for my opinions.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


        Yes, you’re response was better than the one I suggested, no doubt. In my (limited) defense, I wasn’t trying to offer parenting advice there (let your kid hit you!) as much as trying to make a point that the kid was frustrated because of the way his parent was acting. And justifiably so, in my opinion. I think the kid was calling out his dad for treating him poorly – a response to inappropriate behavior by the father which he (the father) could actually learn from – even if his (the kid’s) actions aren’t something anyone should condone. But I muddled that all up in the initial comment. But frankly, I do lose my patience a bit when parents view discipline as a trumping value to justify actions in relation to their kids. It’s a bad setup for the kids. Maybe not so much for the parents.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        And to your other point, my immediate and extended family is full of the same types of stories. Undisciplined kids who tore it up without regard to consequences who are now some of the most highly functioning, responsible, happy adults you’d want to meet. It’s strange how that works out.Report

    • A Teacher in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      While I’m new to the parenting gig (6 years experience) I’m less new to the teaching gig (9 years till retirement and second career). Here’s what I’ve seen happen to my discipline over the last decade and a half:

      We continue to worry about the impact on kids for the slightest thing. If you raise your voice are you being verbally abusive? If you punish them for a first offense are you giving them a chance to show they learned? If you write up the same kid 3 times for doing the same thing on 3 occasions, do you have a personal problem with that kid?

      As often as not my meetings with parents have been to complain that I discipline their kids too much rather than how they can help discipline at home so the kid can learn.

      For parenting I think we’ve done the same. We’ve created a system where parents are afraid of what will happen if they do anything “parental” up to the point that they simply do just as you said: They let the inmates run the asylum.Report

  19. Emily says:

    And I wonder why I constantly fantasize about my children growing up and moving out. I am not enjoying their childhoods much, and that is sad. Sad because I’ve internalized the expectation that I should, and sad because I’m so stretched and inadequate that I can’t.Report