Survey Gives Children Something to Cry About

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LAURA DWIGHT/CORBIS

I was an incredibly annoying adolescent. From age 10 to about 16, I was sulky, snotty and self-righteous. I talked back. I smirked. I never got into any serious trouble, never drank or smoked and I did well in school. But I was a pain in the ass to live with.

Nevertheless, my parents somehow made it through my childhood (and that of my considerably better-behaved younger brother) without dispensing a single spanking. They sent us to our rooms, sure, and grounded us or withdrew telephone privileges. But they never hit us. And even now my mother says that while she doesnít see anything wrong with a quick swat when a kid really pushes the envelope, she just never thought of spanking as a way to deal with parent-child conflict. And most parents they knew felt pretty much the same way.

Either my parents were in the minority even then, or times have changed considerably since the early 1970s. These days, according to a study released Wednesday, most adults approve of spanking children.

The report, which was issued by Zero to Three, a nonprofit child development organization, in conjunction with the nonprofit Civitas, and Brio, the toy maker, is based on interviews with 3,000 adults, including 1,066 parents of children under the age of six. Sixty-one percent of all respondents felt regular spanking was an acceptable form of punishment. Even more surprising, thirty-seven percent of parents of young children believe itís acceptable to spank children younger than two. And as a corollary befitting the old adage "spare the rod, spoil the child," fifty-six percent believe a 6-month old baby can be spoiled by too much attention.

Apparently, these folks havenít been keeping up with the trade magazines: The American Academy of Pediatrics frowns on spankings, and recently called on all schools to ban in-house corporal punishment. Child psychologists and social workers expressed disappointment and surprise at the studyís findings; many believe there is a link between spanking and anti-social behavior like cheating and misbehaving. Others worry that childhood spankings enforce childrenís fear and mistrust of adults, and encourage children to use force themselves.

The study coordinators admit spanking is a sensitive subject (no pun intended). Many parents are torn between carrying on their own parentsí tried-and-true disciplinary practices and their discomfort with the idea of hitting their kids. Fierce opponents of spanking compare it to child abuse — although logically, a quick swat to the rear-end is hardly analogous to the horrors of beating a child. Fair-minded people can disagree on this — as long as weíre actually talking about a quick swat, rather than a "letís you, me and my belt go out behind the woodshed, son" scenario.

Every parent needs to make up his or her own mind, of course, and in turn they need to be able to live with themselves. But in a country where everyone moans about the violence saturating our television and movie screens, it seems awfully hypocritical for spank-happy parents to introduce their children to violence at such a young age.