Wednesday, January 24, 2007

No hits, no fits, yes nits!

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View (California), would like to fine or jail Californians who spank their children. Under her proposed legislation, people who spank children under the age of 4 would be subject to a maximum one year jail term and up to 1,000 fine.

Lieber is quoted in the article on SFGate (link above) as saying, "Under current law, parents can beat their children to a reasonable degree. I just think that that's plain wrong and we ought to ban any sort of physical attack on children who are not old enough to defend themselves."

Beating kids is not good. Agreed. But in fact, abusive attacks are already banned, not to mention strongly discouraged by child development experts. The difficulty is in determining where abuse begins. As
Lois Weithorn, of UC's Hastings College of the Law, notes in the aforementioned article, it can be hard to distinguish a spank from a pat. And it is hard to draw the line between a spank and a thrash, or a thrash and a some point it becomes a game of semantics. We may know bad discipline when we see it, but how do we put that on paper? Lieber's proposed law adds nothing to our current ability to sort out the true abuse from the one-time haggard-parent outburst, the occasional spank as relatively painless discipline strategy or even the loving tap on the baby's bottom. And for a relatively minor violation, is the treat of jailing a parent--and therefore separating mother or father from the child for up to a year--the best thing for the child?

So when do discipline and behavioral issues become someone else's purview?

Yesterday, the story broke of a family of three who were kicked off of a plane when they had difficulty getting their tantruming three-year-old to sit in her seat for take-off. When I first read this story (again, on SFGate), I wasn't sure what to make of it. I have a four-year-old, and I traveled with him when he was three, so I was at first thinking some combination of those-airline-Nazi's-did-what-now? and there-but-for-the-grace-of-the-Buddha-went-I. The article I read made it seem it unclear just how much time the child was given to calm down--they were 15 minutes late taking off, but were all of those 15 minutes spent waiting for the child to stop crying?--and the parents said they felt sure with a bit more time and understanding they could have managed. Still, a couple of hundred other passengers were waiting, and the airline got the family on another flight, reimbursed them the fare, and offered them three additional tickets. A pretty generous compensation package--certainly more generous than the ones routinely offered to people who wear T-shirts with words on them.

But then I read this Worcester Telegram article (provided in a comment by whatchoodo on SFGate's parenting blog, The Poop). It provides a more complete angle on the story as the child's parents see it. First, it heightens my own parenting fears, as the parents say their child is normally a dream and had not had a problem on previous flights. Hey--my child is normally well-behaved and flies well, too. God, maybe this could happen to me.

They say out of nowhere, when they boarded their flight home, their child threw a tantrum, perhaps out of fear because her ears had hurt on the descent of their previous flight. Who knows what goes through the minds of those little darling-monsters? Then, according to the parents, via the Worcester Telegram:

“I was trying to console her and the stewardess came over and said, ‘Did you buy that seat for her?’ remembers Ms. Kulesza, 31, who is four months pregnant. “I said yes, and she told me my daughter needs to sit in it. I told her I was trying.”

Moments later, an AirTran Airways employee armed with a walkie-talkie addressed Mr. Kulesza.

“Sir, you need to get her under control,” she said.

“We’re trying,” Mr. Kulesza noted.

The passengers, meanwhile, were quite understanding and one of them offered the toddler a lollipop, which she rejected. Then the walkie-talkie woman returned to the Kuleszas’ aisle and displayed the raw tact and diplomacy of Donald Trump.

“Sir, you need to get off the plane,” she announced.

“What?” a stunned Mr. Kulesza asked. “Are you serious?”

“Sir, you need to get off the plane now.”

They got off the plane, while their luggage and car seat flew on to Boston. In the terminal they were directed to an AirTran supervisor, who told the couple that the stewardess was uncomfortable “because you have an unruly child who struck a woman on board.”

Mr. Kulesza was incredulous. “That was her mother,” he explained. “She hit her on the arm. Lady, this is a 3-year-old child we’re talking about.”

“Sir, we don’t differentiate between 3 and 33,” the AirTran supervisor replied. Mr. Kulesza said the woman proceeded to lecture him about child discipline, and how she would never tolerate her children behaving in such a manner, at which point Mr. Kulesza said, “You really need to stop talking now.”

The couple were also told that, since they had been ejected from the plane, they were banned from flying with AirTran for 24 hours.

OK, so a family gets kicked off for holding up a flight. Sure. Makes me fear for my own future travel plans, but I kind of get it, particularly if the airline was apologetic and helpful later. But a family is kicked off because a three-year-old slapped her mother during a tantrum? Forcing them to spend 24 extra hours away from home, and forcing the father to miss a day of work? And--the real kicker--the supervisor proceeds to lecture the parents about discipline? I don't care who you are. If the parents' story is true, this is one of those it-could-happen-to-any-parent situations. The child is three, was in an unusual setting, was scared, and was being asked to sit and be strapped into a seat. What would the supervisor suggest parents do in this situation? Spank the child?

The scorecard so far: parents may soon have a right to be thrown in jail if they spank their three-year-olds, and they may be thrown off of flights and scolded if they don't put the fear of God in them.

Meanwhile, those nasty critters children sometimes bring home with them are getting a break. In Oakland, the school district is no longer enforcing a 'no nit' policy. While children were once sent directly home at the first sign of lice infestation, the district now reasons that lice are relatively harmless creatures, that their presence is not in fact a sign of bad hygiene, and that the policy of sending kids with lice home causes more trouble than their potential spread, such as missed days of school for infested kids and work for parents. Good points, but...ick. This is where we decide to butt out?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The parents are from Worcester. The story in their local paper was not objective.
To clarify: the problem was not the crying. Most of us are understanding when a toddler is in acute distress (though tantrums are another matter - they reflect on the parent).
The real problem was the so-called inability of two 30-year-olds to place one 3-year-old in her seat.
These 30-year-olds felt entitled to hold up a planeful of passengers. When the airline refused to indulged them, they whined to the press, hoping this would be their ticket to fame and fortune.
The diagnosis for their condition is narcissism.