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Parents Beware: Spank and You Go to Jail

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Delaware is bullying parents. They just passed Senate Bill 234 making spanking of children by parents illegal. If I were a parent in Delaware, I’d be worried because the bill also states that if a parent causes physical harm or “pain” to a child, he/she can go to jail for a year. Yikes. Pain? Can we clarify, please? Don’t ask my grown kids what kind of pain I’ve inflicted on them over the years. My six-year-old daughter was jumping on the bed with her two-year-old brother and broke his leg while I was folding laundry nearby. Does that count?

What about Lara, the mother of my patient, eight-year-old Jack? Lara is a single mother and Jack has taken to back talking and swearing. “The only way he stops is by getting a firm swat on the butt,” she recently told me. Time outs, taking toys away, and grounding him don’t work. He’s extraordinarily stubborn. Should Lara go to jail for a year? Should I report her?

Not only does the government need to get out of parenting, but it also needs to begin to make some sort of sense.

Consider that Jack’s mother Lara could also go to jail if her fourteen-year-old pregnant daughter went to the doctor and got an abortion and suffered “pain” (bleeding, post traumatic stress, anxiety or depression) afterward. Even though Delaware state law requires 24-hour parental notification (not parental permission, based upon my reading of the law) of a teen’s desire for an abortion, the law also allows for teens to appeal to have that notification waived. It’s a real possibility that the government would have denied Lara the right to know about (or consent to) her daughter’s getting an abortion (that wasn’t her business as a parent), but then allowed her to go to jail if her daughter suffered pain. Have we lost our minds? Parents can’t use their judgment regarding discipline with toddlers, nor are we allowed the right to protect our teens?

No one believes that it’s acceptable to abuse children.  But that’s not what the new law in Delaware is about. Parents who abuse children couldn’t care less about the law, and social workers in every state are so overwhelmed trying to punish parents who are really  hurting their children that only a tiny fraction of abusers actually go to jail. The point of the law is to allow government officials to send a clear message to parents: You are the bad guys and we know how to parent better than you. Seriously?

During the last five years, I’ve personally experienced how well the government “helps” me take care of my patients, and it isn’t pretty. Government regulations haven’t done anything but hurt my relationship with them. My patients and I know how to solve their health issues much better than any government employee does (and they come to our office to “check on us” all the time). If the government gums up my relationships with my precious patients, how much more harm can they be when they get between a parent and a child?

Delaware’s real mistake is in perceiving parents as the bad guys. They have already taught parents that when it comes to their teenager’s health issues, we parents should get out of the way because we don’t understand and we can’t help our children make the right decisions. The government assumes that parents simply can’t handle their child’s dilemma—like teen pregnancy or sexual activity—so they need to step in and move parents out of the way. I have news for the government: it’s not 1970, and most parents don’t kick pregnant girls out of their homes anymore.

Now Delaware is allowing them to extend this twisted mentality to parents of young children and it needs to stop. If they really want to help kids, they should build parents up, not tear them down, because great parenting happens when kids and their parents are brought closer together not driven further apart.

And one more minor point. Delaware says that parents should go to jail for spanking their children but not for aborting them. Can you tell me what I’m missing?

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I’d love to hear from those parents living in Delaware. Are you aware of this bill? What do you think?

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