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Spare the rod; spoil the child: It is never OK to use a weapon on a child

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


I do not care what the Bible says. Physically assaulting a child is wrong.

I swatted our son Lee on his backside more than once as he was growing up. My parents occasionally chose among a switch, a ruler, a paddle, a belt and a pancake turner. That the assorted physical punishment was part of my generation’s upbringing didn’t make it right then; it certainly doesn’t make it right now.

It’s understandable that physical punishment was acceptable child-rearing until the late 1960s. It took that long for Dr. Spock’s teachings to catch on. We can chalk it up to not knowing better, to doing things the way they were always done. But beating a child today as acceptable punishment? Unenlightened at best. Sadistic at worst.

Putting aside for the moment the exceptionally troubled who use the scriptures and physical control to abuse their children, most adults will admit to having lifted a hand to a child at some point. It might have been the instant reaction when the two-year-old stuck her hand on the blazing gas grill.

It might have been a swift and focused pat on the butt coupled with a clear “no,” or a firm and determined hand-holding. Or a shoulder-grabbing “stop right there” when a 14-year-old stomped out the front door.

I empathize with the ease at which an adult can strike a child, when patience has worn so thin that you just know another “time out” is not going to work. I get it because I’ve been there. Doesn’t, as I wrote earlier, make it right.

There’s no “win” when an adult strikes a child. None. Violence breeds violence. When someone powerful that you love, trust, respect — or are downright afraid of — strikes you, the wounds are physical and emotional. And, the lesson is crystal clear: It’s OK to solve conflicts with your fists.

It is never OK to use a weapon on a child, though clearly not all agree with me.

The “spare the rod” debate continues. The recent deaths of three children in homes where physical punishment escalated into full-blown abuse give us another chance to examine the casual acceptance of a couple of Bible verses gone darkly awry.


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