“Spare the rod, spoil the child” may not actually be in the Bible, but it was on the mind of Delaware Valley state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) during a recent podcast interview with DVJournal.
The topic was crime- specifically the rise in violent crime- and as he often does, Williams pointed out that both sides offer incomplete solutions. Defunding the police isn’t a serious approach, he argued, but at the same time, the police aren’t perfect. He pointed to the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility, unintentionally shot by Sharon Hill police officers, as an example of law enforcement’s need for better training and smarter strategy.
But there is one home-grown remedy, he told DVJournal, that he believes can help prevent crime before it occurs.
“With all due respect, I believe in corporal punishment,” said Williams. “Now, I don’t believe in beating to bleeding and breaking bones and abusing, but spanking somebody in the butt when Johnny’s acting a fool at a public place, and you want to say ‘time out.’ I don’t think it necessarily works,” said Williams.
He also called for parents to be held accountable for their children’s behavior.
“I mean, children driving those three-wheeler vehicles down the street around City Hall at midnight, I don’t know who thinks the police officer should be fixing that, right? That’s a parent problem. So, for me, fundamentally, a lot of stuff goes back to the parents, period.”
Inna Leiter, Psy.D., director of the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Media, told DVJournal she believes spanking is counterproductive.
“Consistency with punishment is super important, and having firm boundaries. Having consistency with your kids is important, and being able to follow through on consequences. Hitting your kids, spanking, corporal punishment, that serves as a model for aggression and leads kids to be more aggressive,” said Leiter, a clinical psychologist specializing in pediatric behavioral problems.
While “being too lenient is not effective,” she said, neither is “hitting kids.” Parents need to make sure there are consequences, but those consequences should not include spanking.
“The gold standard in behavioral treatment doesn’t include any kind of corporal punishment for kids,” she said.
“This old-school mentality does the opposite,” she said. “Hitting your kids will increase their aggressiveness in the short term.”
Williams said parents need to administer correction via a child’s backside when necessary, but parents also need the community to get their backs.
“Parenting needs to be supported much more significantly than it is,” said Williams. Parents should teach their kids the fundamentals, including respect.
“Let me be clear: when you’re 14, and no one told you that not every police officer is an enemy, but you look at them as such, guess what? You’re going to act accordingly,” said Williams.
“A lot of recklessness that I see today would never have happened in my neighborhood,” said Williams. He grew up in a predominately African American community with “working class folks who had some issues with the police officers, but they knew that, generally speaking, you respected the authority in place.
“Children going to school and acting up, and the teacher is the enemy, and the parent comes up to the teacher and says, ‘You did something to my child.’ When I went to school, If I did something, I was guilty as charged,” Williams said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also opposes spanking.
“Corporal punishment – or the use of spanking as a disciplinary tool –increases aggression in young children in the long run and is ineffective in teaching a child responsibility and self-control. In fact, new evidence suggests that it may cause harm to the child by affecting normal brain development. Other methods that teach children right from wrong are safer and more effective,” the AAP said in a statement.
Dr. Marion Mass, a Bucks County pediatrician, does not favor spanking but agrees with Williams that children need discipline and guidance and that parents need to step up to provide it. She listed some incidents.
“Somehow, we have gotten to a point where some are letting kids run the show,” Mass said.
“Kids are destructive in the most horrific of ways. Look at the case of slain police officer Fitzgerald at Temple.” Allegedly “gunned down by an 18-year-old carjacking with his younger brother.”
“Remember when 13 and 15-year-old girls carjacked and were responsible for the death of an Uber driver? It’s gone on for a long time,” she said. “In 1994, 10 and 11-year-old boys wouldn’t take ‘no ‘for an answer, and they dropped 5-year-old Eric Morse 14 stories to his death because he refused to steal candy for them.”
Mass added, “It’s in the schools. We saw a 6-year-old bring a gun to school intending to hurt his teacher in Virginia, and more and more teachers are reporting violence. In 2019, there was $1.3 million in damage done to a Central Bucks school. It looked as though it were arson and implications that a juvenile was responsible.”
And “the historic Perkasie covered bridge that was burned down by six young college students in 2004. Those young men tried to set an unsuccessful fire and came back later with a gas can,” said Mass.
“The Perkasie fire of 1988 caused $9 million in damage and destroyed buildings erected in the 1800s. How? Two 12-year-old boys were playing with a lighter, started a fire, then walked away. I think a fire truck melted,” Mass added.
The Rev. Dr. Jerome Coleman, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Abington, also sees a lack of discipline as a problem and agrees with Williams that spanking is an effective remedy.
“I do agree that the problem with youth today is that parents are not disciplining their children. I don’t think discipline means that you have to spank your children. Discipline comes in many forms, like timeout, taking away cell phone privileges, withholding video games, not giving an allowance, sitting down and talking with your children, etc.,” he said.
“However, I’m not against spanking. What I am against is abuse. There is no factual data to support that spanking a child leads to an abusive child. We have made the mistake of raising our children off of theories and hypotheses, often by people who have never had children,” said Coleman.
“Many parents feel handcuffed by a government who they feel is undermining their authority and gives the benefit of the doubt to children instead of parents,” said Coleman. “A child can receive a spanking, and that child can accuse the parent of abuse, and the parent immediately comes under suspicion. I was in a meeting where a parent said she felt threatened by her teenage son, and the police said there was nothing they could do. But if a child makes the same accusation…”
“The core of why children appear to be so violent, angry, and depressed starts at home and the failure of parents to discipline their children. Discipline is not a curse word. It’s teaching children to obey rules and obey those in authority. It’s correcting misbehavior to improve moral character and ethics so that children can be positive, productive citizens and contribute positively to their families, communities, and society. It’s “training a child up in the way that they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). The National Institutes of Health still says that parents have the greatest influence on their children,” said Coleman.
“When you look at our children’s behavior currently, you can clearly see that at the core, it is a lack of discipline at home,” Coleman added.