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Crime, Punishment and the Threat of the Paddle

September 15, 2002

I am a writer who has looked long and hard at the connection between childhood discipline and criminal behavior. The idea that paddling is useful always comes back when the pendulum swings too far toward permissiveness ("Not the Paddle, but Maybe a Little Dose of Fear," Sandy Banks column, Sept. 8).

This is much like alternating between gluttony and anorexia. Although it controls behavior in the short run, paddling, or fear of it, is utterly ineffective at building the self-control that leads youngsters to become responsible, nonviolent adults. Swatting a child teaches him that violence achieves control.

Parents need to be clear with their children about what kind of talk and behavior are acceptable. They need to teach their children healthy ways of interacting among siblings and schoolmates. Paddling is no more the answer than is lack of discipline. If you talk to convicted inmates, you will often find that, as children, they were subjected to these extremes. They offer us a look at how such youngsters turn out as adults.

CHERYL A. DAVIS

Palo Alto

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