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Hana Williams died of "hypothermia and chronic starvation," according to the Skagit Valley Coroner. The parents who adopted her, Larry and Carri Williams, pleaded not guilty to charges related to her May 2011 death. (Photo courtesy Sodere, an Ethiopian Social Media Network)

To spank or not to spank? The debate rages as abusive parents stand trial

Should you spank your kids? The age-old debate is being fiercely waged again this week in the wake of the high profile trial of a Skagit County couple charged with homicide by abuse, manslaughter and child assault for allegedly abusing their adoptive children, killing one of them.

While the case of Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley is extreme, conversation about their case sparked emotional discussion this week on KIRO Radio's Ron and Don Show.

Co-host Don O'Neill says he was regularly spanked, switched or whipped by his father, and vows to never use corporal punishment with his 3-year-old son.

"I think a lot of us grew up in houses where our parents would swat us or our parents would spank us and they'd say they were doing it out of love," Don says. "And I made a decision I wasn't going to spank my own child."

Pastor Michael Pearl would disagree. The controversial preacher is the author of "To Train a Child," which advocates spanking children as young as six months old with anything from sticks to rubber hoses.

One of the Williams' children testified this week his parents made him beat his siblings with belts, a glue stick or a spatula, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ron and Don.

And many listeners feel the same way.

Molly in Sammamish says, "I can tell you that hitting a child teaches them that I'm bigger than you and I have power over you and I can hurt you. It isn't love; it isn't correcting the child. It's abuse."

But listener Jason in Seattle argues spanking is an important parenting tool. "Hell yeah, the problem with the punk kids today is they never got a smack. I remember every single spanking I got and why I got it."

Co-host Ron Upshaw cites numerous studies, including the work of University of Washington professor of Bioengineering Dr. John Medina, as proof corporal punishment causes far more harm than good.

"Spanking caused more behavioral problems than any type of punishment, producing more aggressive, more depressed, more anxious children with lower IQ's," Medina says.

In his acclaimed book, "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five", Medina argues corporal punishment can seriously harm a child's development.

"If you strike a child in the short term, it surely works to get an immediate change," Don says. "But in the long term, as the brain is wiring itself, there's a fight or flight mechanism and you can screw that up by hitting your child," he says summarizing Dr. Medina's findings.

Still, many listeners tell Ron and Don they believe corporal punishment can be a necessary way to get kids to change their behavior, if done gently and judiciously. Keith in Federal Way says he uses spankings very rarely, generally if one of his daughters gets physical with the other.

"I've very rarely had to do it, but it is appropriate to remind them that 'Hey it hurts. Don't do it to somebody else.'"

Still, Ron is surprised by how many people still use spanking despite the research arguing against it.

"I think if you're not even acknowledging the possibility there's a superior way, that's a problem."

Ultimately, Don says he remains more convinced than ever that even when things get tough with his own son, hitting isn't the answer.

"All I do is get down on my two knees, so we're eye level, and I tap down on the floor three times and I say 'G-Force look at me.' And when he looks at me, he'll come right up to my eyeballs and he'll look at me and we'll just have a talk."

What do you think?

Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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