What's the Matter With Kansas? The Spanking Edition.

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Feb. 19 2014 5:31 PM

What's the Matter With Kansas? The Spanking Edition.

A Kansas lawmaker has introduced a bill allowing parents, caregivers, and school officials to give harder spankings. The Sunflower State is already one of 20 (mostly Southern) states in which children can be hit as long as no mark or bruise remains afterward, but this proposed law would protect adults who strike kids forcefully enough to cause redness or discoloration. The woman behind the measure is Wichita’s Gail Finney, a Democrat and mother of three sons. She outlined her objectives for the Wichita Eagle: to define corporal punishment for the judicial system, to restore parental rights, and to shield old-school disciplinarians from child abuse charges. “What’s happening is there are some children that are very defiant and they’re not minding their parents, they’re not minding school personnel,” Finney said. Even with “a small amount of a bruise, a parent could still be charged with child abuse when it wasn’t anything serious.”

So what counts as not “anything serious?” While it would still be illegal in Kansas to hit a kid on the head or body, with a belt, switch, or a closed fist, the bill would license “up to ten forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child.” It also seeks to permit “any such reasonable physical force … as may be necessary to hold, restrain or control the child in the course of maintaining authority over the child, acknowledging that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result.”

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If you’re not persuaded that this is ethically wrong, consider the practical argument: study after study shows that spanking doesn’t work. It only makes kids more aggressive. Bonnie Rochman has a sobering rundown of spanking’s ill affects in Time:

Children who are spanked may feel depressed and devalued, and their sense of self-worth can suffer. Harsh punishments can wind up backfiring because they can foster lying in children who are desperate to avoid being spanked. Later in life, physical punishment is linked to mental-health problems including depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol use. There’s neuroimaging evidence that physical punishment may alter parts of the brain involved in performance on IQ tests and up the likelihood of substance abuse. And there’s also early data that spanking could affect areas of the brain involved in emotion and stress regulation.

Furthermore, the bill greenlights school administrators to spank any student whose parents have given permission, including teenagers and students over 18. I can’t imagine the humiliation of enduring that discipline as a high-schooler. Wouldn’t it feel sex-tinged?

Finney’s proposal is the latest clue that some rumple in the space-time continuum has Kansas stalled in the Dark Ages. On the heels of a vicious gay segregation bill (thankfully killed last Thursday), another state lawmaker, Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, recently crafted legislation requiring parents to opt in to sex-ed classes for their kids. School boards would need to supply “all instructional material on health and human sexuality to any parent who wants to see it” before making a decision, reports the Kansas City Star. Pilcher-Cook framed the measure as a safety curtain lowered between innocent pupils and “hurtful material.” Yet she did not say whether such educational hazmat—which has in some states reduced teen pregnancy rates by up to 60 percent—is baleful enough to leave redness or bruising.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

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