Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, August 18, 1997

Upshot of tough love
hit and miss

ACCORDING to a new study regarding the long-term effects of spanking children, I should be a hardened, violent criminal by now.

A New Hampshire doctor studied hundreds of kids who had the heck beat out of them as kids and -- surprise -- they grew up to beat the heck out of their kids. This leads to a culture of violence in the country, the doctor says. Not to mention, it turns some people into violent criminals or, apparently, newspaper columnists.

Until a couple of psychologists started arguing about the study on CNN, I had pretty much forgotten about being spanked as a child. My older brother and I were routinely whacked for not "getting with the program," as military fathers liked to say. The trouble was we had a different program. Ours involved sabotaging the train that ran by our rural Georgia home and pelting the preacher's kid with dirt clods. You know, normal kid stuff.

It's hard to remember all the things we were spanked with. The list was pretty impressive. The ones that stick out in my mind are belts, wooden spoons, fly swatters, switches, ping-pong paddles and rolled up magazines. And it wasn't just the old man who was doing the spanking. My football coach had a paddle the size of a barn door that he'd use to help us focus on practice.

My mom could swing a pretty awesome wooden spoon, once she learned to choke up on the handle a bit. She also liked to keep up a running commentary during the spanking, her words in perfect cadence with each smack. "I'm (smack) not (smack) going (smack) to (smack) tell (smack) you (smack) again (smack) to (smack) clean (smack) up (smack) your (smack) room (smack.) (Smack). She always liked to sneak in one more at the end.

But you haven't seen an angry mom until she's broken her best wooden spoon on your butt. Then she'd really be angry. Taking the second longest spoon -- she had a veritable arsenal of wooden spoons -- she would go: "You (smack) broke (smack) my (smack) best (smack) wooden (smack) spoon! (Smack. Smack.)"

Dad on the other hand, had a more psychologically terrifying way of issuing a spanking. He'd send us outside to pick out the switches with which we would be swatted. There is nothing sadder than the sight of a couple of boys in the backyard, tears streaming down their faces, trying to figure out the structural dynamics of various tree branches to try to come up with one that would hurt the least. By the time we got back into the house with our branches, we were basket cases. And later, we'd compare notes. The thicker switches, while imparting a hearty wallop, actually were easier on the derriere than the thin switches, which tended to have a nasty sting.

All this raises the question, did the spanking do any good? Well, it seemed to make the spanker feel a lot better. The spankees just figured it was an unavoidable part of life. After all, we weren't robbing banks or anything. We were just being kids. And there was nothing we could do to stop it.

My mom finally gave up spanking and started giving us spoonfuls of cod liver oil as punishment. Now that was a definite attitude changer. We got cod liver oil once for playing in trenches that had been dug for the construction of a new building and I haven't been back into that part of town since. Hell, I've pretty much stayed out of the state of Georgia. Cod liver oil is foul.

So, doc, I don't know the long-term effects of spanking. I don't spank my kid, but then again, we don't live next to a preacher with a sissy son and I don't know if she'd dirt clod him or not. I think most parents know that showing kids a lot of love, interspersed with the judicial use of time-outs, is the best recipe for family harmony.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to charley@nomayo.com or

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