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Heated Debate Sparked About Corporal Punishment In Wake Of Plants Investigation

Reported: Apr. 16, 2014 6:15 PM EDT
Updated: Apr. 17, 2014 9:16 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Leslie Rubin) -- The criminal case against Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants, accused of striking his son repeatedly with a belt leaving a large bruise, has sparked a heated debate about corporal punishment.

Eyewitness News took those opinions to a local social worker with many years of experience when it comes to crossing the line between discipline and abuse.

"I used a form of discipline, spanking with a belt, that both my ex-wife and I have agreed upon is an appropriate form of discipline," Plants said during a press conference on Monday after the Office of Disciplinary Counsel recommended his immediate suspension to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

The word "appropriate" varies parent to parent. At the Children's Advocacy Center at Women and Children's Hospital, coordinator Maureen Runyon explained how a form of discipline, socially accepted years ago, isn't so much today.

"We are more knowledgeable today about proper parenting techniques than what we were 30, 40, 50 years ago," she said.

Runyon said that if a parent does choose corporal punishment, that it should never be administered while the parent is angry because that's the most common time that whipping or spanking turns into abuse by an otherwise "good parent."

"Anytime a child is whipped with an object of any sort, that should not happen," she said. "Any time that you whip them so many times or so hard that you leave marks on bruises on them that last for more than, you know, 30 minutes or an hour, then that's excessive and I would say that that's crossing that line."

In it's "Guidance For Effective Discipline," the American Academy of Pediatrics said, "the only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity of which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse. Thus, at best, spanking is only effective when used in selective infrequent situations."

Runyon said alternatives to spanking include taking away a child's privileges such as video games, and toys. She also recommends timeouts for younger children.

If a parent does use corporal punishment, Runyon said most agree an open hand is the best way, but she also says that anytime you use force, you can easily send a mixed message.

"When they see you as a parent, hitting them or hitting their siblings, as a way to get change or to get what you want to happen, then they're more likely to do that also," she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also said that corporal punishment leads to children who experience more anger as adults, and they are more likely to approve of hitting a spouse.

Plants has said publicly several times that he believes if more parents spanked their children, there would be less crime.



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