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Web sites such as Gawker and The Stir have raised awareness of a viral video showing the sad beating of a teen girl with cerebral palsy. The young woman is attacked by her father with what he himself describes as a “large belt” in the clip for a misdeed that is unclear — but seems to involve something as simple as the girl placing an unwanted program on a computer. The circumstances surrounding this corporeal punishment are complicated further by the fact that the father executing this spanking is allegedly “William Adams, a judge running for re-election in Aransas County, Texas” (The Stir).

Of course this YouTube clip is now being used as a political tool in the region by Adams’ political opponents, who seek to prove that the man is unfit to sit on the bench — particularly if it involves judging child abuse cases. But instead of turning a horrible family drama into fodder for election scandal, this video of a father beating a daughter who already has a physical handicap should raise moral and ethical questions about how to raise a family. These questions are much more important to how we live our daily lives. This clip might be difficult for some of you to watch, but it will get you thinking about the role that physical punishment should or should not play in raising children:

As horrible as this is, I suspect that this level of intensity is often employed by parents, particularly in the south, in order to ensure that their children obey their wishes. In the black community, spanking, beating, “getting out the extension cord,” and cutting limbs off trees to pummel disobedient youngsters is not only common; it is also routinely joked about by stand up comics and our own relatives at family dinners.

On The Stir, a blogger wrote a follow up story about this video full of emotional angst concerning the plight of the young girl pictured above layered on top of her own disbelief that any parent could treat a child this way. In particular, she enumerates in detail her own extensive patience with her six-year-old who she would never beat, not even for engaging in a disruptive temper tantrum. Of her own misbehaving kid, Jeanne Sage writes:

Looking at my daughter’s tear-stained face through eyes clouded by sleep, I softened. I knew her tantrum was over something patently ridiculous, and yet I couldn’t imagine raising a hand to her.

She was acting in a way that she was clearly old enough to understand was inappropriate. And yet, a hand, a foot, a belt on her body weren’t going to make that stop. It would hurt her body and make her distrust me … and distrust the words I was about to use to explain why her actions were so inappropriate. It would effectively negate my ability to actually parent, to teach her to improve her behavior. I’d be hurting her physically now, and hurting myself in the end.

Well, that’s all well and good for you Jeanne. I’m glad you got the opportunity to use someone else’s misfortune to highlight what an excellent parent you are. But that is beside the point really. The real issue is corporeal punishment, it’s limits of effectiveness, and a parent’s judgement regarding how to use it. The relatively of its appropriateness to adults seems to vary according to race, culture and region.  And many people say it depends on the kid. Some kids are just really bad and only respond to being spanked.

Of course, the obviously sensitive young lady in this video did not deserve such punishment. But in the privacy of one’s home in which a child is powerless, a girl such as her is at the mercy of a parent who might have horrible judgement about the use of force. It’s very unfortunate that this father, as a judge by profession, has such terrible judgement regarding how to treat his daughter. And the mother is no better. Clearly a situation of dysfunction. I hope William Adams loses the election, and that the loss of his role as a judge of the conduct of others forces him to reflect on his own.

But this is also an instance for all of us to reflect on beating kids. I am personally against parents beating their children for the overwhelming majority of cases. In particular, in the black community there is an issue with corporeal punishment being used too flagrantly, and usually out of proportion to the “crimes” of the child. I am sure many of you are watching this viral video and don’t even think of this as a beating, while on mainstream sites this is seen as outrageously violent. What does this say about the overuse of spanking among blacks?

In considering this relativity of opinion, would you re-classify some of the treatment you witnessed and received as a child as abuse? What do you think of the video and the use of force against a disabled child who is disobedient?

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