Outraged at Public Response to Child Abuse

by Darlene Barriere
(Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada)

A 27-year-old mother of three was arrested earlier this month on a charge of felony child abuse after a neighbor lodged a complaint with authorities. When authorities arrived on the scene, they found a 5-year-old boy lying on a bed, on his stomach, with an ice pack on his back. His mother had used a belt on his upper back because he had reportedly lost one of two $12 balls she had purchased. Paramedics were called to examine the boy. The mother claimed she was distraught over financial concerns and estrangement from her husband.

My Comments: It has taken me more than two weeks to put this article together. Not because of the abuse in this case—I read cases like these every single day—but rather, because of the outrage I felt after reading comment after comment written by the general public when news of this child abuse incident made the airwaves.

By the time I read the article, more than a dozen people had responded with their comments; better than 90% supported the mother. I was appalled by the offhanded remarks, and the total lack of concern about the well-being of the boy. One person had the audacity to joke about it.

My approach to this article has taken many forms these past several days, as I struggled to make sense of nonsense, and regain my faith in the human race. In the end, I decided to share some of the replies that were posted, then respond to each of them.

"Hmmm, sounds like discipline to me . . . no blood, no broken bones, no permanent injuries, nothing but a bruised ego and the woman now is a criminal."

Taking a belt to the back of a 5-year-old is discipline? What kind of a human being really believes this? Based on this person's ideology, a parent could punch a child in the face, leave the child with a black eye, and as long as there was no blood, no broken bones and the child healed from the injuries, that would be okay. But most of us know that this would be child abuse. At least I would hope that most people would know this.

The boy's mother was out of control. She stated that her personal situation was responsible for losing her temper. She gave herself permission to beat the boy, not just for the loss of a ball, but because she was distraught. If she had done this to any other individual, whether it was another child or an adult, there would be no question in anyone's mind that what she did was assault. The woman deserves to be a criminal for what she did. It shouldn't matter that what she did, she did to her son.

"I wonder who gave the child ice."

"The mom probably felt bad for having to discipline her child then put an ice pack on his back to make the boo boo go away."

Based on the logic of these comments, the fact that the mother may have felt bad for hurting her son supposedly discounts the fact that she hurt him in the first place?

Before I face off on this remark, let me clear up one thing: Subsequent reports identified the boy's aunt as the one who put ice on his back, not the mother. But even if it had been his mother who had done so, why would this absolve her of assault?

Consider this: If we were talking about a boyfriend who had strapped his girlfriend, or a husband who had used a belt on his wife, most of us would call it assault. For the purpose of this discussion, I am not referring to consensual Domestic Discipline; that's a whole different matter that I won't go into.

In order to make my point, I'll compare relationship violence and domestic violence facts with the reported facts of this child abuse case.

There are three phases to the Cycle of Violence. The first phase is the Tension Build-Up Phase. In this phase, the assaulter is being emotionally abusive in some way. In the case of this mother and her son, she lost control and terrorized him by bringing out the belt, and heaven knows what else she might have said and done to him, when he lost the $12 ball.

The second phase is the Violent Episode Phase. In this phase, the assaulter uses violence. This 27-year-old grown up mother used a belt on her 5-year-old son. Think about that for a moment. Whether she used it on his back or his backside, she struck him. Striking a person is violence, no matter what spin one might put on it.

The third phase is the Honeymoon Phase; and this is where I'll make my point. In this phase, the assaulter experiences feelings of guilt and remorse, and may apologize, and may even lavish the victim with gifts to show repentance. It is during this time that the assaulter may start blaming the victim: "I wouldn't have had to do what I did if you hadn't done what you did" or some such statement is often made during this phase.

So, even if the mother had put the ice on the back of her son after strapping him because she felt bad for "having to discipline him" as the commenter suggests, the Honeymoon Phase would have applied here. Most reasonable people would agree that when discussing the issue of either relationship or domestic violence, showing compunction doesn't pardon someone for assault. Why would anyone believe that it does pardon a mother who chooses violence against her young son?

"All my friends got the belt when needed at any age. And guess what . . . nobody from my generation even considered shooting up a school or hitting a teacher. It's people with this attitude (not believing in the use of a belt on a 5-year-old) that has caused the lack of respect the youth of America has for adults. Stop trying to be their friend and be a parent."

This person's argument has no basis in fact.

Firstly, how many times have we all heard the reasoning: "I got the belt and I turned out just fine." I suggest that people who say this have resorted to coping skills in order to deal with the feelings of betrayal and hostility and anger and all the other feelings they would have had after being spanked, strapped or whatever-you-want-to-call being struck. Whether or not they turned out "fine" is highly debatable. After all, they think it's okay to strap the back of a 5-year-old in the name of discipline. That's not "fine"; that's twisted.

Secondly, I say, how quick they forget. How quick they forget the shame and the guilt they felt after being struck. How quick they forget the feelings of helplessness and worthlessness. How quick they forget the way it felt to be demeaned and intimidated. Because like it or not, these are the very real side effects of striking a child, whether or not it's in the name of discipline.

Studies have repeatedly shown that spanking is no more effective than a time out for short-term behaviour modification. What those studies show, however, is that the long-term negative consequences of spanking make it one of the most ineffective forms of discipline that parents use.

Thirdly, how dare this person make reference to shooting up a school or hitting a teacher, and then put it on the back of this little boy! He lost a ball, for goodness sake.

STAT: 87% of the general public, parents included, believe that spanking is an acceptable form of discipline.

STAT: In an American Gallup Survey, 28.4% of parents of two- to four-year-olds and 28% of five- to eight-year-olds reported using an object to spank the bottoms of their children. Thus, more than 1 in 4 parents admitted to using an implement to hit their children in the name of discipline.

STAT: In another study, 94% of parents of toddlers reported using corporal punishment in the previous 12 months; 35% hit infants.

STAT: Children and youth who received high levels of negative parenting such as physical punishment, scolding and yelling, were more likely to be involved in aggressive behaviours.

To advocate that children be punished with a belt in order to prevent school massacres is absurd. Evidence points in the exact opposite direction.

We now live in a world that brings disasters, wars, and a myriad of violence into our living rooms every day. We are kept aware and "in the moment" of these violent acts through television, newspapers and the Internet. To suggest that students of the past who had a belt taken to them never resorted to hitting or harming teachers is groundless. In those long ago days, we as a society were simply not made aware of such cases.

"Spare the rod - spoil the child."

This quote has become a staple when arguing in favour of spanking a child. But does it really mean what so many have come to believe is gospel?

There is a growing number of Christians who have come to believe that this Biblical reference is not referring to striking a child with a rod, but rather, it is a metaphor for teaching children a strong set of values by using the rod as a measuring stick for those values.

. . . the line between discipline and abuse has gotten so fuzzy, who is to know what is acceptable."

There is no fuzzy line. This is about the attitude of adults. It's about understanding that discipline is not synonymous with striking a child. To strike a child, whether it is on the child's bottom or any other part of their body, is wrong.

The role of parents is to teach right from wrong. Parents must incorporate discipline in order to ensure their children learn the lessons required to become fully functioning, healthy, contributing adults.

Discipline is a requirement of child-rearing. And so are love and nurturing and respect and dignity. When parents give themselves permission to become violent with their children in the name of discipline, they teach their children a lot more than they bargained for. They teach their boys how to lash out violently and that violence is an appropriate way to behave. They teach their girls how to submit, particularly when a father spanks his daughter, and then tells her he spanked her because he loves her. Parents today can't really want this for their children, can they?

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