Physical Punishment and Parental Rights

A recent study published online in the Canadian Medical Association Journal brings up the unresolved debate about parental rights and physical punishment of children.  This study lends support to an argument I made some years ago in an article called “Suing for Lost Childhood” about the use of the delayed discovery rule in child sexual abuse cases.  In my article, I argued that physical abuse of children and neglect can have impacts on children’s development that are as destructive as sexual abuse, but for a variety of reasons we are as a culture more attuned to issues related to children and sexuality.  (I later called the analysis used in that article “narrative genealogy” as it traces the cultural origins and migrations of stories that ultimately had shaping effects on legal decisions.)

The CMAJ study reviews 20 years of published research on physical punishment of children and concludes that no evidence exists of positive outcomes.  Physical punishment is correlated with aggression and antisocial behavior, cognitive impairment and developmental problems, as well as depression, spousal abuse, and substance abuse.  Co-author Joan Durrant says, “”There are no studies that show any long term positive outcomes from physical punishment.”   Summaries of the study say that the study refutes the frequent argument that aggression comes before corporal punishment and not vice versa.  (I’ll get to the viral video of the dad shooting his daughter’s computer with a .45).

Despite the volume of studies showing the harmful effects of physical punishment (not to mention emotional abuse and physical and emotional neglect), it remains difficult even in some Western countries to challenge parents’ legal right to hit their children.  The Canadian Supreme Court ruled corporal punishment within “reasonable” limits to be legal in 2004.   The practice is legal in all 50 states.  In contrast, the UN has been out in front of this issue.  After a 2006 report found shockingly high levels of violence against children in all aspects of their lives, the UN created the position of the  Special Rapporteur to the Secretary General on the issue of Violence Against Children.  Since 2009, Marta Santos Pais has served in that position and the United Nations has staked out an aggressive stance anti-violence.

U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been stalled by fears (not completely unwarranted) that the Child Convention will undermine parental rights.  In response to comments by President Obama suggesting that his administration was rethinking the U.S.’s  position on the CRC — now a non-signatory outlier with Somalia– the culture wars are again beginning to ramp up.  A coalition of US organizations has set November 20, 2012 as the target date for the U.S. to ratify the CRC.  A coalition of groups opposed to the CRC and in favor of a “Parental Rights Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution are preparing to oppose ratification.   The domestic debate about the ratification CRC may soon become fiercer, now that an Optional Protocol allowing children to file an individual complaint to the Committee on the Rights of the Child will open for signatures on February 28th.

Coincidentally, as I write this, the internet is roiling from a video a father uploaded on his daughter’s facebook where he excoriates her for a disrespectful and swear-word laden post that made it seem as if her parents are using her as a slave.  The father tells his story in language just as vivid as his daughter, and I’m with him until the point when he takes his .45 and fires  8 or 10 rounds into his daughter’s computer.  (“And this one’s from your mother…!”)  Available here.   If a husband shot a .45 into a wife’s computer, I have no doubt it would be considered an act of domestic violence.   But there seems to be a lot of support for the father out there.

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15 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    The father in question shot an unarmed computer. Back in the 1990s, Indiana Congressman Dan Burton shot an unarmed watermelon, cantaloupe, or other like piece of produce during a display in his backyard to prove that deceased Clinton Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster had not committed suicide, but instead had been assassinated.

    What is this penchant people seem to have every couple of decades with shooting unarmed items – produce and computers – that cannot shoot back? Isn’t that just a little weird?

    Burton has announced this is his final year in Congress. But the daddy mentioned above will be in the parenting business until either (a) he dies or (b) his daughter leaves the planet. What’s he going to do next: Use an AK-47 to shoot a computer tower? Turn his pistol on his daughter? Cap himself?

    Has anyone asked Wayne LaPierre to provide the National Rifle Association’s formal policy position on this video? The NRA has too many common sense instructors and members who use their weapons wisely and with respect. It’s people like this daddy and LaPierre that make me nervous – with their actions, in the case of the former, and their silence, in the case of the latter.

  2. Jan says:

    I just completed CORE Compatency training in Fl. to work in a Domestic Abuse shelter. This is a clear case of domestic abuse as defined under the Domestic Violence Law. This is as disturbing as putting a convicted batterer on the same Grammy Stage as his survivor. It’s all institutionalized. I bet this prick hits his wife. And, one thing you can be sure of is that if Rihanna goes back to Chris Brown, there’s a good chance he’ll kill her.

  3. JR says:

    Yet another example of why we need gun control. The father in question is a buffoon. If the daughter is underage, Child Protective Services needs to get involved. If not, a restraining order is warranted.

  4. It’s hard for me to equate domestic violence with the father’s behavior in this case. Presumably no one would complain had he merely taken the computer away from his daughter. If he had donated it to Goodwill, would that have been OK? What about if he ran over it with a pickup truck? The net result in either case would be the same– daughter deprived of computer– but it seems likely that the complaints of excessive force levied in this case are tied to Dad’s use of a gun, and not to his removal of dear daughter’s computer.

    (Parenthetical note: I only have sons, so what do I know?)

  5. Three Oranges says:

    There was no physical threat from the father. He took the computer outside; it’s not as if he shot it in the house. The child wasn’t even present.

    There is no way in which this can be considered child abuse. Nor would it be domestic abuse had he done the same thing to his wife.

    It’s just a slightly more flamboyant version of taking the computer and throwing it away.

  6. Robert says:

    Sorry Elizabeth .. this father IS being a creative parent. He did not snatch away the computer in a fit of anger and smash it against her wall.. He created a work of thought out art with this piece. Suspense, impact, life’s lesson learned .. this is a good father.

  7. Ian says:

    Robert is dead on. Also, the whole “if a husband did to his wife what he did to his daughter it would be domestic violence” is fundamentally flawed logically. A parent/child relationship is one in which the power structure is necessarily skewed to the former, while a husband/wife relationship is not (at least, in theory). Everything from spanking to grounding to “go to your room” to curfews to mandated spinach ingestion to refusal to sign a field trip permission slip would constitute spousal abuse were they interjected into a husband/wife relationship.

    I get that many of you hate guns, but it’s pretty clear you’re letting your abhorrence for the tool skew your impressions of the entire event, which was a non-violent and heartfelt reaction on the part of a hurt father. Additionally, his behavior in the aftermath has been nothing but classy. He has refused interviews and TV appearances because he does not wish to send the message to his daughter that it is acceptable to profit from misbehavior. I think it was rather silly to shoot the computer, but it was about as far from child abuse as making your kid finish her vegetables.

  8. Concernicus says:

    Legal scholars can determine if this is child abuse. That being said, this is one sick redneck. To think that this demented freak is allowed to own a firearm, let alone hollow point bullets is mortifying. I hope he seeks the professional help he so obviously needs before going off the deep end. Too many nuts with too many guns. Scary.

  9. feathered_head says:

    Robert — this is not a good father. This is an abusive man whose ego has been bruised and he is vengeful. How dare his daughter disrespect and embarrass him in public??? Recall that Texas judge who savagely beat his daughter because she illegally downloaded a song? Was he teaching her not to steal? Or was his fury unleashed because the respected JUDGE’s own child cannot be a thief? The beating appeared to be more about his vanity. When the daughter outed the judge, he didn’t apologize for the abuse — he attempted to invalidate her by exposing that he’d been supporting her and given her a car. And now this dear dad says he slaved for half a day fixing her computer, spent $130 and this is the thanks he gets?! She should pay for the bullets. The bruised ego is the same, the desire to control is the same — using material gifts to control is the same, the only difference is the level of violence used to enforce the control. This man’s violence hasn’t gone as far as the judge’s (that we know of) but it sure looks like he’s heading in that direction. When a parent reacts is such an over-the-top, cruel manner, the lesson learned by the child is not respect for the parent, but fear — and a child fearful of her parents learns to live in secrecy. The violent targeting of the daughter’s computer — at age fifteen, her window to the world — is a very controlling act aimed right at the child’s sense of self. He is deliberately isolating her from her community and keeping her neck under his boot. I think the daughter vented on Facebook because it was the only place she could express her frustration to people who would listen. Ironically, thanks to her control freak Dad she now has several million witnesses to her nightmare. The whole world is watching — he better make damned sure he never touches a hair on her head.

  10. MBL says:

    1) It’s really, really creepy that you think the power relationship between this man and his daughter and this man and his wife are the same;

    2) The very idea that anyone could consider this “domestic abuse” is horrifying and deeply offensive to anyone who has actually experienced domestic abuse. Domestic abuse generally involves people, or at the very least living things. If he’d shot her dog you’d have a case. He shot a computer. In a field, in the middle of nowhere, with no one and nothing nearby in any actual danger. At no point anywhere in the video is he even rhetorically violent toward his daughter. Not for one second does he threaten her with any physical violence of any kind, nor does he ever appear to be remotely out of control of his emotions. She loses privileges. TEMPORARILY. He even says that she can have a computer– once she can buy it herself and thus have some respect for it.

    His daughter isn’t even THERE, for crying out loud. This is so far from domestic abuse that to compare the two is literally sickening.

  11. MBL says:

    Incidentally, feathered_head, if taking away a privilege is “over-the-top” and “cruel” to you, please do us a favor and don’t reproduce. The second your kids hit school and discover that occasionally adults who say “no” actually mean it, their lives are going to fall apart.

  12. Rachel Karash says:

    If the intention was to take away a privilege temporarily, why not just confiscate the laptop? Shooting it created a ton of work. I really can’t see what advantage this might have over the former in any area except inspiring fear.

  13. Alice says:

    Shooting the laptop was bad parenting, but it wasn’t a red flag for domestic violence IMHO. Think about the context of this: the daughter trashes her father on facebook, so he posts a video that demonstrates her punishment on youtube; both of them were appealing to the rest of the world for support in their feud. Two family members that struggle to get the upper hand in an dispute are not in a true domestic abuse situation; real abusers always work to get much more power and control than the family members the victimize.

    From a domestic abuse perspective, the fact that the father videoed the act instead of forcing his daughter to watch is a sign of weakness rather than strength. Shooting a prize possession can certainly be a threat of violence, but there’s no evidence of that threat here. Remember that abusers aren’t stupid; if the father wanted to threaten his daughter, he’d have known that shooting the laptop in her presence would have been much scarier for her and safer for him.

  14. Mark says:

    The man could have taken the laptop computer away from his child and retained ownership of the machine.

    The man could have taken the laptop computer away from his child and, after wiping the system clean, sold the machine or donated the machine to a charity.

    Instead, the man chose to empty nine rounds into the computer and videotaped himself doing so. People have argued that his actions constitute “tough parenting” or some sort of stand for Second Amendment rights.

    He made no sort of moral or political stand here. He videotaped himself shooting a laptop computer. That’s all. Anyone who tries to derive some sort of moral or legal lesson out of his actions is, I respectfully submit, only slightly less foolish than this man. He’s having a temper tantrum with a pistol and a video camera. That’s all.

    Personally, I think the guy has acted like a jackass and may well be a bit nuts. But a moral beacon of tough love parenting or a champion of a Constitutional amendment? No. No. And 1,000 times No.