Proposed law against spanking toddlers in Calif. causes stir

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — If a Democratic assemblywoman in California has her way, parents in that state could soon be fined or even jailed for spanking their toddlers, a practice Sally Lieber said victimizes helpless children.

Lieber, who does not have children, plans to introduce a bill this week that would make California the first state to make the spanking of children 4 years old and under a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.

"The only thing a child learns by being beaten is that it's OK to beat or dominate children or animals that are smaller," Lieber told the Sacramento Bee. "To my mind, there's no amount of physical force that's appropriate on a child 3 years old or younger."

Lieber said her office has received numerous phone calls about the legislation, and most callers are against it. She compared the opposition to protests against the protection of women who are victims of domestic abuse, The New York Times said.

"I have to question why our society holds so tightly to physical discipline among the very young," Lieber said, according to The Times. "We're very addicted to violence."

It was unclear what position Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would take on the proposed legislation, though he told reporters he got "smacked about everything" while growing up in Austria. He added that he and his wife, Maria Shriver, did not spank their four children but used alternative methods such as threatening to revoke play time privileges.

Bill Maze, a Republican assemblyman, told The Times he didn't think the legislation had a chance at passing.

"California has garnered a reputation over the years of supporting these extreme legislative measures," Maze said. "Disciplinary action is up to the parents. This is a wrongheaded measure, and there is zero support among the Republicans I have talked to."

Some say the law is unnecessary because California already prohibits spanking in schools and spanking by parents with a degree of force that is considered excessive or inappropriate for the child's age.

The Campaign for Children and Families, a pro-family organization based in California, called Lieber's proposal "the wackiest bill of the year."

"This punish-you-if-you-spank-your-children bill is intrusive, unenforceable, and the most blatant violation of parental rights I've ever seen," Randy Thomasson, president of CCF, said in a Jan. 19 news release. "What's next, jail time for parents who raise their voices at their children? We already have enough legitimate laws prohibiting physical abuse of children, and this proposal is certainly not one of them."

Thomasson said government regulation of parents' discipline practices interferes with the rights of parents to raise their own children. He believes a lack of parental discipline and a philosophy of permissiveness can produce a rebellious, compulsive teenager.

"There are untold numbers of Americans who testify that being spanked has made them a better person in life — I'm one of them," he said.

CCF noted that leading child development experts advise that children under 15 or 18 months old should not be spanked because they don't understand what is happening. But the experts also teach that appropriate spanking of rebellious children between ages 2 and 10 "is the shortest and most effective route to an attitude adjustment."

James Dobson, in the "Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide," says corporal punishment, when used lovingly and properly, is beneficial to a child because it is in harmony with nature itself.

"Consider the purpose of minor pain in a child's life and how he learns from it," Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, writes. "Suppose 2-year-old Peter pulls on a tablecloth and with it comes a vase of roses that cracks him between the eyes. From this pain, he learns that it is dangerous to pull on the tablecloth unless he knows what sits on it.

"When he touches a hot stove, he quickly learns that heat must be respected," Dobson adds. "If he lives to be a hundred years old, he will never again reach out and touch the red-hot coils of a stove. The same lesson is learned when he pulls the doggy's tail and promptly gets a neat row of teeth marks across the back of his hand, or when he climbs out of his high chair when Mom isn't looking and discovers all about gravity."

Kids often experience bumps, bruises, scratches and other minor physical injuries, Dobson notes, and each one teaches a lesson about life's boundaries without typically making the child take on a violent nature.

"When a parent administers a reasonable spanking in response to willful disobedience, a similar nonverbal message is being given to the child," Dobson writes. "He must understand that there are not only dangers in the physical world to be avoided. He should also be wary of dangers in his social world, such as defiance, sassiness, selfishness, temper tantrums, behavior that puts his life in danger, that which hurts others, etc. The minor pain associated with this deliberate misbehavior tends to inhibit it, just as discomfort works to shape behavior in the physical world."