Regardless of where you stand in the spanking debate, it’s fair to say most consider it abuse to leave a mark on a child. A Kansas lawmaker is trying to change that though, and has proposed a bill making it legal to leave redness or to even bruise your child during discipline.

Spanking is one of those controversial parenting topics which is almost guaranteed to spark a passioned debate. Proponents will usually use the "it worked on me" defense, saying spanking taught them respect. Opponents liken spanking to abuse, stating the only thing it really teaches is fear. But regardless of your stance, the thing that should generally be accepted is this: One should never beat a child to the point of leaving a mark.

Not in Kansas anymore

This won't be the case in Kansas if Democrat Rep. Gail Finney gets her way. She has proposed Kansas House Bill 2699, which would allow for legal spanking to leave redness or bruising, intentional or not. Her bill also extends that authority to responsible caregivers with parental permission. Bill advocates say children are losing respect and claim parents need to be able to discipline without fear of arrest. Those against the bill call spanking antiquated, and say the law is splitting hairs over what level of violence against children is right.

Bill advocates say children are losing respect and claim parents need to be able to discipline without fear of arrest. Those against the bill call spanking antiquated, and say the law is splitting hairs over what level of violence against children is right.

Not all that new

Sadly, what Rep. Finney's bill proposes isn't at all new. Many states have written into their laws the legality of leaving "unintentional" marks. Several already allow adults other than the parent to exact such discipline (teachers, caregivers, etc). And a few even specify that it is fine to strike a child with an object other than your hand, such as a belt or switch. Where the Kansas law is making waves, aside from the approval of injuring a child, is the specificity of it.

Ten times is fine

The proposed new law specifically states that a parent or parent-authorized responsible adult may strike a child "up to 10 forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child." The bill also would allow "reasonable physical force" to restrain a child during a spanking, "acknowledging that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result." Can you imagine how hard you have to spank a child to bruise them with just 10 open hand strikes? I can't. What I can imagine is a dominant, abusive parent claiming to have only hit "nine times" when child protection comes to investigate bruises and marks. While this law claims to protect parent rights, it seems more like it would protect abuser rights to me.

Spanking doesn't work

It teaches no internal decision making, which is ultimately what you want a child to master.

Expert after expert agrees spanking doesn't work. Admittedly in the short-term you may correct the offending behavior. Fear is a powerful motivator. But over time what it really teaches children are two very sad lessons. One, it is appropriate to hit those you love (and to be hit by those you love). And two, might equals power. It teaches no internal decision making, which is ultimately what you want a child to master.

Back in the old days…

Sure, it used to be common to spank. It also used to be common for children to ride unsecured in vehicles, to play with mercury when a thermometer broke and for pregnant mothers to have X-rays during labor. Times change. We learn. And we adapt what we do with that knowledge. "(N)ow we have research that shows (spanking) is less effective than time outs. It tends to lead to more aggressive behavior with a child," says child abuse expert Amy Terreros. And now lawmakers want to legalize even more violent corporal punishment, to lead to even more aggressive behavior in children. And we wonder why our prisons are crowded?

Rep. Finney: Defender of parents

The attorney who suggested the bill to Rep. Finney, McPherson Deputy County Attorney Britt Colle, has defended the law saying, "This bill basically defines a spanking along with necessary reasonable physical restraint that goes with discipline, all of which has always been legal. This bill clarifies what parents can and cannot do. By defining what is legal, it also defines what is not." Rep. Finney backs this interpretation, saying the bill is meant to restore parents' rights and improve discipline among Kansas children. And although the bill may not even pass committee, Rep. Finney isn't going to give up. She has vowed to introduce it again in the next legislative session. Because if there is anything our lawmakers should be tirelessly championing, it is the rights of parents to bruise their children.

More on helping children

How to recognize child abuse
Skip spanking & avoid power struggles with positive parenting
The right way to praise your child

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