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Letters to the Editor: Don’t Hit Your Kids

Plus: Diddy’s lyrics are fair game.

By The Free Press

June 12, 2024

The self-described “pronatalist” and father of four Malcolm Collins—who hopes to have as many as twelve kids with his wife, Simone—recently sparked controversy when a Guardian profile described what happened when his toddler “knocked the table” in a restaurant and caused it to “almost topple”:

“Immediately—like a reflex—Malcolm hits him in the face.”

On June 3, Malcolm defended himself in a piece for The Free Press. He described how he disciplines his children:

When someone is at risk of getting hurt, and our spoken warnings don’t land, we lightly “bop” the kids to reorient them and show a boundary has been crossed. This is done to shock and refocus attention, not to hurt. We use this method very sparingly. We never act in anger, and we never act to cause pain. We don’t use the “bop” with kids over four, who are capable of reasoned conversation, and we never engage in delayed punishment, like spanking.

Hadley Freeman, a columnist for The Times of London who has contributed to The Free Press, doesn’t buy this defense. Here, she explains why:

Malcolm Collins complains that the media depicted him as “evil and backward” because of his desire to have lots of children to counterbalance falling fertility rates in the West. Given that I, too, have an above average number of children, I have no objection to—or interest in—how many kids Collins decides to father. But I do see him as, if not evil and backward, then certainly cruel and disingenuous, because he hits his toddlers. 

The excellent reporter Jenny Kleeman—whose work I have long followed—spent time with Collins and his family for an article for The Guardian, in which she described the moment when Collins’ two-year-old son knocked a table in a restaurant with his foot, and “immediately—like a reflex—Malcolm hits him in the face.” The public outcry was swift and fully deserved. 

There are two truths about bullies: they are powerful people who pick on the vulnerable, and few fit that definition better than a parent hitting their toddler. Another truth is that bullies always insist they’re not hurting their victims. They were just playing, or joking, or tapping. True to form, Collins insists in his Free Press article he merely “bops”—such a cute word, no?—his children, and it doesn’t “hurt” them, only “shocks” them (Kleeman wrote she could hear the slap on her recorder when she played it back later, and the two-year-old “whimpers”). Collins insists he and his wife never hit their children when they’re over four years old “and capable of reasoned conversation.” I’ve heard—alas—plenty of excuses from parents for hitting their children, but “we only do it when they’re babies” is a new one. 

Collins links to what he describes as “a recent meta study [that] shows. . . light corporal punishment has a neutral or even mildly positive effect.” In fact, the study was about punishments as a whole, including time-outs and grounding, and it warns against the “narrative fallacy” that punishment improves a child’s behavior. He claims that the “majority” of Americans hit their toddlers and cites a ten-year-old study that in fact says, correctly, “that physical punishment of children is associated with problematic outcomes, such as child behavior problems and poorer mental health and physical health” and concludes that “spanking young children may also increase the likelihood that a family will face a CPS investigation.” (CPS have called on Collins’ family more than once; he told Kleeman that it’s because “The government says, if you raise your kids in a cultural context that’s different from ours, that’s child abuse.”)

Collins also cites an article that he claims backs his argument that hitting toddlers is the norm in the U.S., when in fact the article shows fewer and fewer parents are doing it, and that the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advises against it, saying “experiencing corporal punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future. There’s no benefit to spanking.”

Anyone who has ever been hit as a child knows that—and they will also know the feeling of betrayal when the person who is supposed to protect you instead chooses to hurt you. With the perspective of adulthood, that feeling of betrayal may well curdle into contempt for that parent, or worse. Collins can try to gaslight his family by framing his fondness for hitting his toddlers as somehow countercultural to the government’s norm (while also, contradictorily, insisting most parents do it). But everyone else sees it for what it is: a grown-up physically assaulting a toddler. And one day, his children will too. 

Hadley Freeman

Last week on Honestly, Bari interviewed the world’s first libertarian head of state, Argentine president Javier Milei. In the episode, he blames the decline of his nation on one thing: socialism. He also said: “States’ reform needs to be undertaken by someone who hates the state. And I hate the state so much.” One listener wished we’d been tougher on Milei: 

Honestly could have significantly increased its credibility by asking much tougher questions of President Milei. Unchallenged, Milei blamed socialism for every wrong, ignoring inconvenient successes like, say, Sweden.

The president of Argentina needed to hear not only that his people are hungry but also that the libertarianism he is advocating is utterly incoherent and simply not capable of occurring in reality, as much as he paints himself a realist. Libertarians of his unhinged, violent, and charismatic stripe—who avowedly seek destruction—evidently don’t have to propose a cogent system of governance—which is helpful because they can’t. They just have to capture popular resentment in search of an object.

It is a shame our antiquated social contracts have no mechanisms to cut bloated bureaucracy, but why must their deregulation be so extreme, and the wealthy always the outsize profiteers? If only lefties would speak up and against the excesses of government more often, there would be less of a vacuum to be filled with such noxious hot air. For an amusing, alarming background, watch the John Oliver episode on Milei

Stephen Lyle 

In her most recent piece for The Free Press, Kat Rosenfield emphasized the difference between violent acts and violent art. She argued that a rapper’s lyrics shouldn’t be used against them in court, referencing the allegations of sexual assault against Sean “Diddy” Combs:

Diddy’s lyrics may describe real violence—but it is the acts we must prosecute, not the words. To do otherwise threatens not just the freedom of artists to create without fear, but our ability as a society to reckon with the existence of the things that terrify us.

Here, a reader responds:

I agree with you that censors and authoritarians tend to take aim at art. And as a socially conservative–leaning person, I understand the disdain for art that promotes or glamorizes degenerate behavior, which can and sometimes does influence society in a negative manner—but I would never argue that it be censored except in extremely limited instances, such as depictions of child abuse. 

However, I would argue that Diddy’s lyrics are fair game for a prosecutor. They shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a confession—unless a specific crime with specific details is outlined. But violent, misogynistic, explicit lyrics can be used to give a jury a glimpse of someone’s character. Lawyers routinely bring in witnesses for the sole purpose of swaying a jury’s view of whether a defendant has a decent character. An individual’s art is a useful tool to build a case against that person. 

In the public domain, I believe we can and should separate the art from an artist. Just because Bill Cosby committed despicable acts against women, it doesn’t necessarily mean The Cosby Show or some of his stand-up or even his inspirational college lectures can’t be enjoyed. But in a court of law, where a crime is being prosecuted, if the art that a defendant makes features themes related to the crime, over and over again, it would behoove a prosecutor to point juries toward that body of work to show what is on the artist’s mind. It’s like when a prosecutor takes pictures of the “entertainment” material of a serial killer, if that material is graphically violent or grotesque, to show the depravity of said killer to a jury.

Jim Kanalley

Do you have a unique perspective on a Free Press story? Can you bring your personal experience or expertise to bear on an issue we cover? We want to hear from you. Send us a letter to the editor: letters@thefp.com.

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