A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


For Jenny and Joe, the answer was always clear: children could be taught discipline and self-control without the use of corporal punishment.

Then they had Becky.

Becky is an adorable child. She is bright and inquisitive, and she has a powerful personality. But she is a 2-year-old with all that that implies and she has a mind and will of her own. If she wants to do something, nothing short of nuclear holocaust can keep her from doing it. And if she doesn't want to do something, not even Barney and all the "I love yous" in the world can get her to do it.

All of which has been something of a revelation to Jenny. I've known Jenny since she was 15, and I have a hunch she was one of those children who rarely needed any kind of punishment. Naturally kind, sweet and cooperative, it probably never occurred to her to be disobedient to her parents. My guess is a gentle word or a loving reproof was all that was required when her course needed to be corrected.

Assuming, of course, that it ever did.

Joe, on the other hand, was spanked regularly as a child. He was bright and inquisitive. He had a powerful personality. He had a mind and will of his own. And he was stubborn.

Does any of this sound familiar?

So OK, Becky is a lot like Joe was when he was a child. That's not such a bad thing Joe has turned out to be a pretty terrific young man. But Joe never felt that spankings were particularly helpful to him in getting through the rebelliousness of his youth, and so he wasn't inclined to use that technique on his own children.

But now he's not so sure.

"It scares me sometimes, because I just can't get her attention," he told me recently as we talked about his dilemma. "If I were to spank her, that's what it would be for. Not to punish her or to frighten her, but just to get her attention."

Jenny didn't contribute much to the conversation. I think she still struggles with the concept, especially in light of recent news coverage of a mother who was videotaped repeatedly and heatedly spanking her 4-year-old daughter. There's fine line between a controlled swat to the backside of an unruly child and the disconcerting image of an enraged mother pounding mercilessly on a little girl. Thankfully, most parents seem to intuitively know where to draw that line. But let's be honest any parent who hasn't at least considered mayhem as a child-raising technique hasn't been paying attention.

Heaven knows, I gave my parents plenty of opportunity to make such considerations, although I remember Dad striking me only once. I was 16 and quite full of myself at the time. In one of those moments of jaw-dropping lunacy common to teenagers I angrily called Mom a . . . well, something awful. No sooner had the word escaped my lips than Dad's open palm struck my cheek, stinging my heart even more than it stung my face. I don't remember if Dad actually said anything at the time, but the look on his face spoke volumes. It said: "I love you, but you will NOT speak to your mother my wife that way."

Now, I'm not saying that Dad was right to slap me. But he made a point I never forgot and never again challenged. And if an occasional controlled swat to the backside can have that kind of impact on Becky,

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through