Move to Criminalize Spanking Sparks Questions A California lawmaker is expected to propose a bill that would make California the first state to criminalize spanking a child under age 4. The bill would face an uncertain future in the legislature. But it has already raised interesting questions about corporal punishment.
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Move to Criminalize Spanking Sparks Questions

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Move to Criminalize Spanking Sparks Questions

Move to Criminalize Spanking Sparks Questions

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Spank your toddler, go to jail? Well, a California lawmaker is pushing a proposal that challenges what was once a belief of many American parents that an occasional spanking was actually good for children. The lawmaker is planning to introduce a bill in the next few days that would say it is never right to hit kids before the age of four. And if it passes, California would become the first state where parents who do could be charged with a misdemeanor.

NPR's Elaine Korry reports from San Francisco.

ELAINE KORRY: Sally Lieber has been under siege since word of her bill got out. The Democrat from Silicon Valley has drawn fire across the country - in blogs, editorials and on talk radio. Outraged parents have accused the childless lawmaker of promoting a nanny state. But Lieber says she isn't targeting soccer moms and dads.

Representative SALLY LIEBER (Democrat, California): This isn't about trying to catch the caring parents that in a very rare situation may use physical discipline. This is about protecting children that are being physically punished many times a day everyday.

KORRY: Lieber is glad her bill is controversial, that it's got people everywhere talking, debating the merits of corporal punishment. Many parents swear by a swat on the bottom as both harmless and necessary discipline.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nine out of 10 American families spank their kids. Several states still allow it in the schools. But the pediatricians' group says hitting is not effective discipline, that there are better ways. John Myers, a law professor at the University of the Pacific, agrees.

Professor JOHN MYERS (University of the Pacific): It's remarkable how many fatal and very serious injuries are inflicted on children in the name of discipline, not inflicted by people who were trying to hurt or kill a child, but rather they're inflicted by an adult who thinks it is okay to hit a child because that's the norm in our society. And in that fit of anger that every parent has experienced, the discipline simply goes too far.

KORRY: Lieber wants to send a message that it's never okay to hit an infant or toddler. Ever. But critics say she's going too far, trying to intrude into family life and micromanaging parents. Joseph McNamara is a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Dr. JOSEPH McNAMARA (Stanford University): Most parents know far better how to raise their children than the legislature does by imposing rigid boundaries on what can be done and what can't be done.

KORRY: McNamara, a former police chief, says he never spanked his own children, but he understands why other parents do. For instance, when a toddler runs into the street. McNamara also fears what Lieber's bill would mean for overwhelmed police departments.

Mr. McNAMARA: It creates thousands of new crimes in California at a time when criminal justice agencies are in a state of crisis.

KORRY: Look, says Lieber. This bill isn't about jailing loving parents. It's about going after violent adults who leave their defenseless kids black and blue. Penalties would range from mandatory parenting classes or fines to a year in jail. Lieber says all the criticism reminds her of the days when violence against women was often a family secret.

Representative LIEBER: I'm seeing the same kind of language be used about this as was commonly used about domestic violence 20 or 30 years ago, when those issues were considered to be private within a home, not meriting the police focusing on.

KORRY: Today, says Lieber, laws against hitting spouses are the norm. Laws against hitting children are already the norm in many European countries. She says it may take another generation to change American beliefs about spanking young children. She hopes California will lead the way. But the given the anger of many parents and the concerns of law enforcement, Lieber's bill faces a tough battle in the legislature.

Elaine Korry, NPR News, San Francisco.

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