The apple of my eye, source of my sappiest moments and my greatest worries, Hailey recently celebrated her first birthday. So I took her to that photography place where a grandma, or Mae Mae as I prefer to be called, drops hundreds of dollars before leaving. I have to hand it to them — they are creative with their props, shots, and sales pitches. Really, it’s impossible to select only a few poses. My most favorite is the one where Hailey is reaching for the sky with complete abandon and unbridled joy. I find myself at random moments thinking of her in that picture. Born and raised by parents who had their own struggles and demons, I’m not sure I ever had such carefree abandon. Yet, I know that whatever the cost, I want what she displays to be protected and preserved.
I’m not exactly sure how a parent preserves that in a child, but I do have a few ideas. Of course I do my best to avoid sounding like a nagging know-it-all to Hailey’s mother, my oldest daughter, but am certain I do not always succeed. I caution her to speak softly, interact with Hailey in very gentle ways and keep her environment, especially home, peaceful. The thought of her hands ever being smacked, much less any other part of her body, makes me cringe. If that happens and I am witness, I dare say there will be some difficult discussions with my daughter. And yet I know the likelihood, because physical discipline is a constant thread in our society, the default button for so many, handed down from one generation to the next.
A 2012 poll conducted by parents.com found that 81 percent of parents have “spanked” their children at least one time, while 22 percent reported spanking on a regular basis. So we really should be asking, does this help a child to learn or does it cause negative outcomes? Researchers from Columbia University studied data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study and found that children who had been spanked acted out more and showed greater aggression than children who had not been spanked. Furthermore, children who had been spanked by their mothers when they were five years of age showed higher levels of externalizing behavior at age nine.
Clearly, there is evidence that spanking results in negative behavioral and cognitive development in children over the long haul. And yet, many parents spank because it appears to be effective in changing a child’s behavior in the moment. Techniques that promote positive behavior like reasoning and consideration in children often take great effort on the part of those in parenting roles and take more time to put into place, but they really do work in the long run.
It seems to me that those of us who work with families and children can spend decades listing all of the cons for physical punishment and all of the reasons why positive parenting techniques should be the preference of all parents. We cite research, we quote parenting gurus and child development specialists and we pull every trick out of our logic-based hats. All I know is I want to see unbridled joy on Hailey’s face when my skin is wrinkled and my hair white from old age; when I am no longer sitting behind the desk and reviewing what current expert says on the topic. The intuition of this Mae Mae says children have wonder and awe in their eyes and at a spot somewhere deep inside and unseen, is a fragile spirit that experiences and expresses pure joy. That is, until adults need immediate results and decide physical force is best for their child. To learn more about current research visit _http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/15788849-spanking-linked-to-negative-behavioral-and-cognitive-development
This past weekend, I served as chief diaper-changer, activities coordinator and snuggle bunny for my eight-month-old granddaughter, Hailey. I am in awe of this little one! When she looks at me with her bright eyes, smiles broadly and wraps her small hand around my finger, I melt. And when I am not in a euphoric state, I am a nervous wreck. I realize that I am on high alert and rarely take my eyes off her. I am determined that she will not get a scrape, bruise or bump on my watch.
I don’t recall watching my own children so closely. It seems looking back that I was always in a state of constant motion, with house chores and job tasks sprinkled in between the diaper changes and formula preparation. Now, when I am with Hailey, the chores go undone. Maybe that’s because as I have aged, dirty dishes and dust bunnies no longer concern me as they once did. Or maybe it’s because I now see danger where once I did not. I guess that’s what becoming a grandma, or Mae Mae, as I am called, can do to a person.
For all of us whose life experiences have helped us develop this watchdog-like alert, how do we look out appropriately for other children we know, especially over the summer months when kids aren’t being watched at school? Every summer, PSFA responds to callers who express concern about children whom they believe are too young to be left home alone. Most people incorrectly believe that Pennsylvania has a “legal age” when a child can or should be left alone. Not so – it’s up to each parent to decide what’s best for their family and it is a hard decision to make.
Here are some tips for neighbors concerned about children alone over the summer months from The Front Porch Project:
- Establish a relationship with the children and parents, if you don’t already know them. Plan get-togethers so people get to know each other.
- If appropriate, offer to be the emergency person that a child can call or go to if he needs help.
- Maybe a child could help you with a yard project or join your family in an activity. Check with parents first, of course, and be creative with ways to interact with neighborhood kids.
- Tell parents about any community programs that they may not have considered.
- Keep an eye out for all the children in your neighborhood. Have an open dialogue with parents and older children if you are concerned – and when kids are doing positive things too.
For more information and ways to help keep kids safe and support parents, visit www.pa-fsa.org.
The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) provides training on recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse and neglect to schools, early childhood education centers, law enforcement agencies, religious institutions, and social service agencies. PFSA is the Pennsylvania sponsor of The Front Porch Project®, a training initiative that educates community members so they can play a vital role in child protection.