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Snake Oil

Catholic Digest carries a Q&A column by Dr. June O’Connor. In the July issue there’s one question, from a mother in Texas, and it pertains to “child discipline.” The headline over the question reads: “My Husband Hits Our Son — What Can I Do?”

The mother and her husband have two children, an eight-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl. The mother believes in nonphysical discipline, but the father uses physical discipline on the son daily, though he has, says the mother, “rarely laid a hand on our daughter.” The mother describes the physical discipline used by the father, and none of it sounds abusive — the mother doesn’t use terms such as “beat” or “beat up” or “batter,” and she says nothing about any wounds, scars, or permanent damage. There is no mention of drunkenness or drug use, nor of gratuitous or unprovoked spankings or smackings.

The only troubling thing here might be that the boy is hit daily. Could that really be necessary? We don’t know, of course. But the mother admits that “my son minds his dad more than he does me.” That should tell her something. It tells us something: The dad is apparently making progress with the boy. Is every spanking he administers in order? We have no idea — but then, show us a parent who has infallible judgment!

Yes, there is such a thing as child abuse, and it should not be tolerated, but, based on what the mother reports, it appears to us that the only problem here is an obstreperous son — and we suspect Dr. Laura would agree. But the mother didn’t address her question to Dr. Laura, but to Dr. O’Connor, who offers snake oil, some of it poisonous.

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