Magazine article Ebony

To Spank or Not to Spank: Parents Weigh in on Old-School versus New-School Methods of Discipline

Magazine article Ebony

To Spank or Not to Spank: Parents Weigh in on Old-School versus New-School Methods of Discipline

Article excerpt

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Spanking as a form of discipline, continues to take some hits. As parents grapple with how to effectively discipline their children, two distinct groups of parenting styles are evident in the African-American community. There's the "I'll whip your butt!" parent--better known as the "old-school" parent, who believes in physical punishment when necessary. And then there's the "new-school" parent, who chooses to correct inappropriate behavior with a non-physical approach, including "timeouts" and open dialogue.

While Craig Herndon didn't consider himself an old-school or new-school parent, he does admit that he was hands-off as far-as disciplining his children during his first marriage. Now remarried, Herndon, 60, and his second wife, Ingrid, 49, have three children: Maya, 10; Monica, 15; and Marcus, 17. After his son Marcus begum having behavior problems in school, Craig, a professional photographer who lives in Highland Beach (outside of Annapolis) Md., began to rethink his discipline methods.

Craig and Ingrid were told by school officials that Marcus was not focusing in class and was showing tendencies of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Frustrated with his son, Craig, who had become frustrated about the boy's problems, tried to correct Marcus' behavior by physically disciplining him. "What was different for me this time is that I felt because I was older, I had less time," he says. "There was no guarantee I was going to be around forever to make sure that they got the important lessons."

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Eventually Craig and Marcus went to see an African-American male family therapist who didn't believe in medicating children, which has been a controversial way method of treating ADD. Instead, the therapist stressed the importance of "talk therapy." "Believe me when I say that I got as much talking to as my son did," Craig recalls. "Because part of what was happening was I don't think that I was accepting Marcus for who he was. And I was trying to force him to be this image of what I thought he should be."

Ingrid Herndon eventually went to therapy as well. She says she was yelling and screaming at their children. Also, when she says she would hit Marcus, who was a pre-teen at the time, she says her son would retaliate. "That was when we 'all had to go into family therapy," Ingrid recalls.

Many child-development experts don't recommend spanking, hitting, pinching, or other forms of physical punishment, such as forcing a child to stand in a corner. In most cases, they argue that the punishment usually fails to change a child's behavior, which is the overall goal of discipline. "Spanking is more for the adult than for the child," says George E. Smith, Ph.D., a licensed mental health professional, who is based in Chicago and wrote The Do's & Don'ts of Parenting. The book has an entire chapter on discipline.

"What happens is that when you spank a child, it's very punitive. You want immediate results. It's intimidating, it's embarrassing, and it's demeaning."

Many critics say it's also dangerous to hit a child while you are angry, and they view physical punishment as child abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, in 2005 approximately 3.3 million allegations of child abuse and neglect were made to child-protective services. Statistics indicate that African-American children have the highest rate of victimization (19.5 percent), compared to White children (10.8), or Hispanic children (10.7).

The main problem with discipline, or corporal punishment, is that it can lead to child abuse, critics say. For that reason, 19 states have enacted bills that ban parents from spanking their children, especially when belts, whips and electrical cords are used. Last year in California, a bill banning spanking children under the age of 4 was rejected. …

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