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Byers: Aren’t we past beating our kids?

Rob Byers

My 1970s-era middle school had an open floor plan. The classrooms had no walls. You could hear the other teachers lecturing.

I got used to it, I guess. But there was another sound that carried very well among these “pods” of classrooms, as they were called. It was a sound I never got used to.


The sound meant a teacher somewhere was beating one of my classmates. Sometimes it was just a single sound. But, often, a few more sharp reverberations followed as the paddle landed again and again.

Depending on the teacher, the offending child was ordered into one of two somewhat sexual positions — leaning over slightly with hands against the wall or “grab your ankles!”

I never got paddled in school. In fact, my father — who was on the receiving end of many brutal school paddlings in the late ’50s and early ’60s — warned that if I ever let a teacher paddle me, I could expect another paddling when I got home.

So, I had that going for me.

My school’s open floor plan has long since been corrected with walls. And corporal punishment in schools no longer exists in my home state of Pennsylvania — or in West Virginia.

But, as it did for me in my boyhood, it certainly still exists in homes. In fact, legal filings show Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants believes it is his constitutional right to beat his child.

Plants is charged with domestic battery of his 11-year-old son. According to those filings, Plants doesn’t deny beating his child with a belt, nor does he deny the nasty 6- or 7-inch-long bruise that police say he left behind.

Unbelievably, Plants’ lawyer said the U-shaped bruise, most likely caused by the edge of the belt, is evidence that Plants didn’t mean to truly injure the boy.

“After all, there were allegedly multiple spanks, but only one bruise,” Jim Cagle said.

So, that makes it all better, doesn’t it? If I repeatedly beat my defenseless child and on one of the swings, do some damage, it’s OK because I didn’t mean to do it.

Speaking of children, that is truly a childish response.

It’s obvious that Plants needs to resign before he does any more damage to an office that’s already seen its share of problems in the past.

The Kanawha County prosecutor is supposed to protect our children — not beat them black and blue. With this kind of baggage, how can Plants ever prosecute a child abuser again?

But concerns about the office aside, what about the issue at heart — beating kids to make them behave?

There are many parents like Mark Plants out there, who still make spanking a regular part of child rearing.

Raising children is hard work. Doing it without the crutch of physical violence — or even the threat of physical violence — is even harder. Timeouts and positive reinforcement for good behavior take time to work. Spanking gets immediate results. But at what price? What does it give us?

In some cases, it gives us violent adults. It gives us more spanking in the next generation, more child abuse and worse.

The American Academy of Pediatrics adamantly opposes physical punishment of children. A 2012 study published in the AAP’s journal Pediatrics backs that up by showing direct links to later mental illness in those who were harshly punished as children.

What happens when the one person a child loves and trusts completely — his parent — suddenly turns on him, beats him, hurts him? What does that child learn?

He learns that the big and strong victimize the small and weak. He learns that he can’t even trust the people he loves.

These are not the lessons I want to instill in my own children.

Rob Byers is the Gazette’s executive editor.

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