WHEN LYNN KIVI slapped her 9-year-old son in a Georgia grocery
store, she couldn't have dreamed that just one smack would land her
in jail, put her on the network news and propel her into the center
of a continuing national debate over how Americans discipline their
"Will police now get involved with parents punishing their
children?" asked one angry letter to the editor in the Atlanta
"Total madness," fumed another.
Kivi, of Woodstock, Ga., was in a Winn-Dixie grocery store in
May when her son, who reportedly was picking on his sister, talked
back. She slapped him. Fifteen minutes later, in the parking lot, a
police officer summoned by a store employee arrested Kivi.
She was charged with cruelty to children, a felony that carries
a jail sentence of one to 20 years. Her husband cashed in his 401K
retirement account to pay the $22,050 bond. However, a prosecutor
has dropped charges against her.
Kivi sobbed upon hearing the news from the Cherokee County
District Attorney's office. "That big, dark cloud hanging over our
house has moved down the street," she said in an story in the
To many, the arrest was an outrage. Why were the police
involved in a private family matter? they asked. And what's wrong
with spanking, anyway?
"Is America going to spoil the child and do away with the rod?"
one reader wrote to the Atlanta Constitution.
But there are those in America who believe that doing away with
the rod won't spoil anyone. In fact, they say, it would raise
children's self-esteem and stop youngsters from growing up to
believe violent behavior is acceptable.
"Violence starts with physical abuse at home," said Adrienne
Ahlgren Haeuser, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at
Milwaukee School of Social Welfare and a founder of End Physical
Punishment of Children-USA.
Five countries - Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Austria -
have already made it illegal for parents to spank their children.
Germany, stereotyped as the most discipline-conscious of countries,
appears ready to pass a similar law.
Why isn't the United States on the list? Supporters of spanking
say it's because of this nation's deep respect for parents' rights.
"We have a constitution," said David Hodge, who has done
research into parent and child issues for Carroll County, Md.,
delegates. "We have privacy interests and liberty interests."
But opponents of spanking say the answer lies deep within the
"I think it's because - God help us all - we have gotten used
to expressing our feelings in a violent way," said Elaine Fisher,
executive director of Parents Anonymous of Maryland.
A new poll shows the country divided almost evenly on the
A survey by the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse found
that 49 percent of Americans had spanked or hit their children in
the last year. That was good news to the committee: It was the
first time a majority of parents reported they hadn't used corporal
A USA Today poll in April found that 67 percent of those
surveyed agreed that "a good, hard spanking" is sometimes necessary
to discipline a child. But opponents of spanking could find reason
to cheer that result as well: The number was down from 84 percent
Twenty-six states have banned spanking in schools. And many
child-care authorities such as Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. T. Berry
Brazelton recommend that parents try other means of discipline
before resorting to spanking.
"When you say spanking's acceptable," Fisher said, "you're
including in that some parents who don't know when to stop. What
starts off as a spanking can become something much more serious.
"We've grown to feel hitting a child doesn't hurt them, that it
runs right off their back," she added. …