In his short letter “Government cannot tell parents how to discipline their children,” Feb. 4, Ben Coleman twice flatters and insults me with the label “overly educated.” Yet I must struggle to make sense of his objections to my Jan. 25 letter, “Spanking is not ‘reasonable discipline.’” Allow me to try:
Mr. Coleman imagines I am suggesting governmental authority should replace parental “right” to punish children, including violent attacks with a blunt instrument. In my half-century as Children’s Advocate I have vigorously opposed any such governmental intrusion. But laws are needed to protect from assault those of any age who cannot protect themselves, and that includes children. In this violent society, too many children need to be protected from their own violent parents. (Read your newspaper.) In the past 35 years, more than 30 nations have passed laws protecting children from assault and battery, and the numbers are growing. Alas, USA is not among them.
Mr. Coleman tells us that if parents are denied absolute authority to punish offspring as whim or rage dictates, the kids will call the police. My answer: If only this were so. Such an objection is the usual attitude of abusive, under-educated parents who, early on, created adversary relationships with children by punishing them. Hence, parents can never win their war against children. Kids have rights, too, though often violated. (See U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.)
Mr. Coleman maintains that he and his wife are the highest authority over treatment of their children, including the “right” to inflict any punishment, whether chosen by whim, mood or rage. In his letter he defends assault with a wooden instrument. My appeal is not to government, but to moral authority. Children are born with basic goodness, and place their trust in their parents to protect them from harm. Punishment — any punishment — is a betrayal of trust so traumatic and terrorizing as to impair their learning and social skills for a lifetime.