Opinion

‘Whipping’ and ‘spanking’ have no place in South Carolina

Look, I don’t have kids.

And I grew up with great parents who were very communicative.

So based on my own life experiences, it shouldn’t bother me so much when I see parents physically discipline their children in public settings.

But it does.

Because whenever I’ve seen an adult strike a kid in public, I’ve always walked away wondering one thing:

What’s really more traumatic for that kid at that moment?

Is it the obvious pain of actually being slapped in the face, on the backside, etc? Or is it the unseen pain of being thoroughly demeaned and humiliated in full view of others?

And each time I’ve walked away feeling deeply troubled.

That’s why I thought it was cool when Scotland recently became the first country in the United Kingdom to ban spanking or any other form of physically punishing kids in public.

And it’s why I can’t help but ask a simple question:

Why can’t we be Scotland?

Really.

Why can’t we?

It’s time for South Carolina to become the U.S. state that most closely resembles Scotland in putting an end to the outrage of children being physically punished by adults in public.

And there’s an easy way we can start down that path of enlightenment.

We can start by demanding that every community in South Carolina have at least 10 areas that are officially designated as “ no-hit” zones — public locations where prominently posted signs let adults know they’re in places where they can’t use physical force to discipline children.

Why is it time to take action?

Because it’s inexcusable that in the three years or so since Greenville pediatrician Nancy Henderson led a movement to create no-hit zones in the pediatric medicine center of Greenville Health System — now known as Prisma Health Upstate — there are still just a relative handful of similar sites across South Carolina.

Because it’s inexcusable that we’re still ignoring the fact that more and more major medical groups are calling for a ban on physically disciplining children — and especially in public settings — because of the data that shows it causes psychological damage to kids.

Because it’s inexcusable that we’re still dismissing research findings like a 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health study that listed South Carolina among the states with huge numbers of kids battling mental health disorders.

Because it’s inexcusable that we’re still underestimating the credible links between hitting kids and South Carolina’s alarming rates of domestic violence..

Seriously, do I need to list any more reasons?

“It’s really about educating people that there are better alternatives,” Henderson says regarding the need for no-hit zones.

“When you physically discipline children in public,” Henderson adds, “it’s not good for you. It’s not good for the kids. And it’s not good for the people around you who are witnessing it.”

She’s right.

So isn’t it time for Henderson’s common-sense approach to be embraced by every community in this state?

Sure, I respect the thoughtful views of compassionate experts like Ron Prinz; a distinguished clinical psychologist and professor at the University of South Carolina, Prinz is skeptical that no-hit zones can actually accomplish anything — and he’s absolutely against the mere idea of banning spanking.

“Do I think spanking is a good idea? No, I don’t think it’s very useful,” Prinz says. “But there always needs to be a differentiation between promoting good parenting — and non-aggressive discipline — and making something like spanking illegal.”

Adds Prinz: “I mean, just look at smoking. We’ve done a good job of educating people that it’s unhealthy. And we’ve done a good job of discouraging people from doing it. But we haven’t just banned smoking and made it totally illegal.”

Yes, that’s true.

But what happened when too many smokers kept ignoring the efforts to educate them about the harm they were doing to themselves by smoking — and, equally important, to those around them?

What happened when too many smokers kept right on pulling out cigarettes and puffing away inside restaurants, offices and other public places?

Didn’t our society respond to that by demanding the creation of no-smoking areas in public places? And hasn’t our society continued to show our lowered tolerance for open smoking by gradually expanding the number of public places where smokers can’t light up?

Now what’s the difference between that and increasing the number of no-hit zones to protect kids from being beaten — and to keep others from experiencing the secondhand trauma of witnessing it?

Here’s the answer:

There is no difference.

To me, two things should be beyond debate:

* It’s time for South Carolina to lead the nation in rejecting the outdated view that children only deserve the rights that parents think they should have during that early stage in their lives.

* It’s time for “whipping” and “spanking” — and every other quaint euphemism for “beating a kid” that people like to conjure up — to have no place in South Carolina.

Opinion Editor Roger Brown can be reached at (803) 771-8464 or rjbrown@thestate.com. You can also catch him @RBrown_SCOpin.

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