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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Parents waver over wisdom of spanking
Most still think it's acceptable, but fewer will grab the paddle.
By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
Published February 6, 2008
Lorraine Schneider favors "timeouts" when it comes to disciplining her kindergartner.
It works most of the time when Julia, 5, acts up or mouths off.
Sometimes, though, when a timeout doesn't stop the bad behavior, when the girl gets out of control, the 38-year-old St. Petersburg mother said she'll give her daughter a swift spank.
"I don't like it," she said, "but I will do it if I have to."
But one thing Schneider will never do is spank her daughter in public for fear someone will think she's abusive.
She's not alone.
These days, it's rare to see a child get a spanking at the mall or a playground.
While the majority of parents still believe spanking is acceptable, surveys show the number of parents who do spank has declined for the past 40 years.
In 1968, 94 percent of parents believed spanking was necessary, according to the Family Research Laboratory. By 2006, the General Social Survey found only 75 percent of parents to be so inclined.
There's research on both sides.
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When Middleton High School varsity basketball coach Derek Smith, 33, of Tampa was arrested recently for felony child abuse after hitting a girl in his home with a black leather belt between five and 10 times around the waist and thighs, several people came to his defense.
Some ridiculed the media for reporting the story, calling it his personal business. Others defended belt spankings and said children need more "whoopins" these days to help keep them in line.
While Smith could not be reached for comment, his arrest report says the "spanking" caused bruises, welts and swelling.
The judicial system will decide if Smith's actions were parental discipline or child abuse.
But to Rachel Mayer, 37, a stay-at-home Tampa mother of five, spanking should only be done out of love, without injury and only when there's proper warnings and explanations so the child understands the reasons behind it.
As a Christian, she believes spanking is grounded in biblical teachings such as Proverbs 13:24, spare the rod and spoil the child.
She said she will spank her daughters, ages 3 to 11, when they hit one another or disobey her or her husband.
"We want to teach our children we're here and we have to make good use of our time here and we're not going to do it by being rebellious or causing other people harm," she said.
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Child development experts often recommend against spanking, saying it hurts children physically and emotionally. They also say it can escalate and turn into abuse.
Lutz resident Karen Lillibridge said she has never laid a hand on her 14-year-old daughter.
"It doesn't feel right to me," said Lillibridge, a social worker who prefers to take away privileges like computer time when family rules are broken.
The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to use nonphysical punishment. So does the American Psychological Association.
Numerous studies show frequent and harsh spanking is detrimental, causing aggression and depression in children and adolescents. But most studies have not proved mild and occasional spanking to be harmful.
Still, Elizabeth Gershoff, a social work professor at the University of Michigan, found a link between corporal punishment and a higher level of childhood aggression and a greater risk of physical abuse.
She reviewed 88 studies, conducted over a period of 90 years encompassing 36,000 children.
Even though most of the studies did not distinguish in the severity of spanking, she said some research shows spanking can stop a child's bad behavior in the short term, but its longer-term negative consequences are plentiful.
She believes spanking diminishes the bond between parent and child.
Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, believes spanking is morally abhorrent.
"It's a medicine that works, but it ought to be withdrawn from the market," Straus said.
St. Petersburg father Brandon Daniels agrees.
He said he was spanked as a child, but he wouldn't think of spanking his 22-month-old daughter Bianca.
"I think times have changed," said Daniels, an account liaison at Raymond James. "Years ago, parents were too harsh. Nowadays people tend to be more lenient."
* * *
Researcher methodologist Robert Larzelere, a professor at Oklahoma State University, discounts a lot of the research, saying it lumps together all spanking - from mild to severe.
He and a colleague reviewed 50 years of research on child discipline, identifying 26 relevant studies on child outcomes of physical punishment.
They concluded the effect of spanking depends on how it is applied.
Mild spanking turned out to be neither better nor worse than other types of discipline, their review determined.
He supports conditional, or backup spanking. Parents should try a milder discipline tactic, like timeouts, and then use a two-swat spank for children ages 2 to 6.
"Good parents," Larzelere said, "... whatever discipline they endorse, they try to make it out of concern for the child."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 893-8813.
Corporal punishment is legal in the United States, but can be reported as abuse if a child suffers injuries.
In Florida, corporal punishment was used in 29 of the state's 67 school districts last year.
Corporal punishment by the numbers
94: Percentage of parents who believed spanking was necessary at times in 1968.
75: Percentage of parents who believed spanking was necessary in 2006.
1988: All 67 of Florida's school districts used corporal punishment.
2007: Only 29 of the state's school districts used corporal punishment.
24,198: Incidents of corporal punishment in Florida schools in 1991-92.
5,245: Incidents of corporal punishment in Florida schools in 2006-07.
78: Percentage decrease in corporal punishment incidents in Florida schools in the last 15 years.
23: Countries that ban corporal punishment.
Source: Florida Department of Education, Center for Effective Discipline, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Florida Department of Children and Families, Family Research Laboratory, General Social Survey.