Don't Retract Pack

Top 7 Parenting Controversies of 2010

Yesterday The Week listed their "top 7 parenting controversies" of 2010. A few are topics that takes a strong (research based) position on. Others are those that are a little more cloudy - ones where it seems literature reviews suggest an array of complicating factors. So we'd like to know what you, peaceful parenting readers, think about these 'controversies' as presented by The Week - what experiences or data have led to your conclusions? How would you respond to any (or all) of the questions below? Feel free to chime in as your passions lead you.

1. Should male genital cutting (circumcision) be banned as female genital cutting already is?

In 2011 San Francisco may have a citywide vote on whether or not it should be illegal to "circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the foreskin, testicle, or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18." For more on this proposed ballet measure and related information, visit the San Francisco MGM Bill page or look into the federal and state MGM Bill propositions at The federal law prohibiting any genital cutting, for any reason - religious or otherwise, upon the body of a female minor can be found here.  If you are not otherwise fully informed on subjects related to the prepuce organ ('clitoral hood' or 'foreskin'), intact care, and circumcision, see resources on this page.

2. Why is ADHD on the rise in U.S. children? 

Nearly 1 in every 10 U.S. kids has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Back in 2003 we learned there had been an astronomical rise in ADHD during the previous decade - but now we find there has been another 22% jump since '03. What's at the root of it all? Toxins? Dis-attached parenting? Nature-deficit disorder? Kids not allowed to 'just be kids'? Over/mis-diagnosis? There are still many questions, much confusion, and not a lot of solid, for-certain answers.

3. Does writing by hand improve neurological functioning?

Kids today do so much typing and texting these days that the good ol' pen-and-paper is often pushed by the wayside. While teaching at the high school level I was astonished at the numbers of seniors whose penmanship appeared straight out of second grade. But it isn't just fancy letter writing that has been relinquished to the days of old - kids who aren't writing by hand are not utilizing parts of the brain that develop and perfect fine motor skills and other neuro functions. When children write by hand, their imagination improves, creativity increases, overall brain activity spikes, and they are even deemed to be more intelligent on standardized tests where writing is part of the assessment. In fact, the research is compelling enough to make me think we'd better start drafting a few of these posts via pen and paper instead of keyboard...

4. Is kissing your child on the lips creepy?

Yikes. I have to admit - this is a tough one for me. I realize that in many cultures a quick kiss on the lips is perfectly acceptable among people of any age. And in many families today, kissing a baby or child on the lips is a normative part of love and greeting. However, from a health standpoint, kissing babies or children on the lips is a big no-no. It is thee number one way that Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (otherwise known as "cold sores" or "fever blisters") is contracted. In fact, if you have oral herpes (HSV-1), more likely than not you got it when a well-meaning relative kissed you on the lips as a baby or child. Granted, it is a common herpes virus - one that the majority of people will carry by the time they are 60 years of age. Less commonly, genital herpes (HSV-2) can also be contracted when adults have oral sex with an infected partner and then spread it to the mouths of babies via an innocent kiss. As common as the various strains of herpes are, it is not a virus that you need to get or pass to your children. So for our babies here at home we have a rule: No kissing on the lips! Period. And really - why do you need to kiss a child on the lips? Love and kiss them all over their chubby little bodies, just not directly on the lips. Our rule has been violated twice (that I know of) by a smooch-happy relative, but hopefully we protect our own little ones enough in the future to let them decide for themselves who their lips come into contact with. I have a feeling the 2010 controversy on this subject, however, has less to do with kissing babies and oral herpes, and more to do with those who kiss older children on the lips and our general state of erotophobia.

5. Why are parents with daughters more likely to divorce?

Statistically, heterosexual parents with daughters are less likely to stay married than those with sons. Gordon Dahl (University of Rochester) and Enrico Moretti (UCLA) analyzed three million U.S. birth and marriage records, and found that married couples are 5% more likely to divorce when they have one daughter, than if they have one son. As children increase, the numbers increase - parents of three girls are 10% more likely to divorce than parents of three boys. In other nations, this division is even more pronounced. One theory is that men value sons more than daughters so they are more likely to stick around for their boys. Another is that parents believe their sons need a male role model, so rather than split and go with mom, the two remain together. A third is that mothers with daughters simply don't need a partner as much -- psychologists point to research demonstrating boys increase workload in the house, while daughters decrease it. Girls are also more likely to have strong social ties with their mothers, and daughters are more apt to stick around than sons. Notre Dame psychologist, Anita Kelly, says mothers of girls know they will "never be lonely or without help" and therefore are more likely to leave a bad marriage. An old proverb reads, "My son's my son till he hath got him a wife. But my daughter's my daughter all the days of her life."

6. What is behind the early puberty epidemic?

The AAP has repeatedly published studies in Pediatrics (their scholarly journal) citing the continued decrease in age of menarche (onset of menstruation) and breast development. A recent study (published this past August) demonstrates that 15% of girls show signs of puberty by age seven. This is twice as many as we found 10 years ago. So what is at the root of this concern? Toxins? Hormones pumped into our food/water? Chemicals in our environment/food/water/drugs/vaccinations? Does it have to do with the way we eat? Fat percentage in children (estrogen is stored in the body's fat cells)? This was a topic demanding our attention 16 years ago when I began studying human sexuality as a college student - never did I think it would grow even more concerning before we really started to wake up to what we are doing to our girls (and boys!).

7. How does spanking impact the brain?

Research is conclusive that spanking under the age of 2 and over the age of six is detrimental - to behavior, relationships, brain activity, and later success. In fact, virtually all health-centered literature on spanking shows that hitting a child or baby of any age, in any manner, is counter-productive and often downright harmful. Neurological research has shown spanking decreases IQ and impacts all other areas of development as well - emotional, spiritual, physical, relational (see: The Science of Parenting and Why Love Matters). Spanking toddlers has been shown to increase aggressive behavior. And research aside, more people are speaking up about how spanking (and those who take physical punishment to radical levels) impact our lives. One such voice comes through in Fenimore's How Spanking Changed My Life.

Still, at the end of 2009, Calvin College professor, Marjorie Gunnoe, published research based on interviews she did with 2,600 people. She found that those who were only spanked between the ages of 2-6 fared the best in a variety of other life categories as adults (academic success, optimism, careers, etc.). Although 25% of those she interviewed were never spanked, and those who were spanked as babies or after the age of 6 fared the "worst" in life, her "spanking makes you successful" conclusions were splashed across parenting boards and pop media pieces everywhere. Many researchers and parents realized it isn't the spanking that does any good for young children - rather, it is the use of age-appropriate limits set by parents with some type of structure and expectation for their kids to succeed and do well. Discipline can certainly be gentle and will be most effective if it is carried out in a manner that is truly respectful of all parties involved. See gentle discipline resources here.

Truly, in the end, it all boils down to the statement on our pp 'new parent' cards: Everyone will give you advice. The best thing to do? Listen to your heart, your instincts, and your baby. This is what parenting peacefully is all about.

What do you think?



  1. I'm sorry, I just don't think kissing babies on the lips is so terrible. My mom has a terrible case of oral herpes, resulting in huge, awful cold sores. My dad has NEVER had one. I have NEVER had one -- and I kissed her, and all relatives, on the lips very freely till I was at least 10! My brother is not a lip kisser at all (though, I do admit, he may have been kissed as a baby) and he gets the cold sores too. I think genetics plays a bigger role than we know.

    In any event, is it really possible to live in the same house with someone for 18 years and not expose them to germs living on your mouth? Will they NEVER drink out of your glass? Will they NEVER use your chapstick?

    It sounds like the blurb I've heard warning parents not to taste their babies' food with the same spoon for fear they will give them "bad breath germs." Personally, I think it's hard to avoid colonizing a baby's mouth with some germs or other; all we can do is encourage a healthy microbe balance, for example, by giving a healthy diet.

    1. Sheila, like you said it's all about genes (well more of your immune system that is not necessarily innate) and your brother and mother have herpes, what makes you think that your baby has those "superman" genes that will help her not contract the virus? It's just easier to not kiss your baby on the lips at all than regretting later.
      Then, 80% of people who are infected with HSV are asymptomatic so you probably have it and hopefully for your baby will be asymptomatic too (Poor future girlfriends/boyfriends your baby is gonna have!)

  2. I would not avoid kissing a baby on the lips because of the risk of herpes but because it is something at least I find quite intimate and something I would not want to do to cause discomfort in an individual. If it is an older child who would kiss me on the lips that would be fine but a baby could not say anything if that felt wrong. Even though I do not see kissing on the lips as sexual, it is private and intimate and I do not think that anyone should be made to feel uncomfortable that way, even a baby. Hugs and kisses on the cheek are OK I think.

    I might be in the small procentage who do not have herpes or I am a silent carrier as I have never had any outbreak of it this far and I am soon to be 30. As far as I know none of my parents or siblings have ever had herpes either.

  3. I was on a group camping trip one time with several other families who had professional connections to my husband. There were many kids there within the same age-range as mine (5-8 years old). One little girl was very excited to be running around outside, playing, being loud, etc. Her parents asked her repeatedly to settle down, to no avail. The worst, yet also most memorable, part of our trip was when the mom took the girl into their tent. The daughter ran away and then was corned, with a look of fear on her face, by both parents who carried her into the tent again. The sound of the spanking that came next was horrible. The dad, who had left the tent, was down by the fire, calmly cleaning up after breakfast and the rest of us were trying to clean up and divert our children's attention from what was so clearly happening 10 feet away. More than anything, ANYTHING, that day, I wish I had realized sooner what was going to happen to that little girl--but I really, truly, never even imagined that would happen on a camping trip! That little girl was SUPPOSED to be loud and "out of control!" Anyway, my 5yo kept asking me why she was hearing her scream and cry--why wasn't her mom helping her? It was a sad lesson for my kids and a heartbreaking reality check for me--this stuff really does happen! Did it teach that child anything? Yes, I will say it did. While the rest of the kids in the group spent the day exploring the coastline, collecting shells and climbing rocks, that little girl spent the day cowering by her parents' sides. She didn't explore, run, play, or otherwise act at all interested in what what going on around her. She was afraid of making a mistake. I can't imagine ever arguing that it will make her a better person in the long run. I would argue the opposite.

  4. Anon - my heart just breaks for that little girl reading your words. How awful that so many kids - who are just being kids - are hurt for expressing and exploring themselves and their world. Their spirits permanently crushed and left, as you said, cowarding in fear of any potential mistakes. I've never witnessed this as you have, so sometimes it is easy to think "it must not happen" or "it isn't that bad" but your example is a reminder that it does, probably more than we'd like to think. And I hope the 'research' proposed by this one person (mentioned above) does not escalate the damage done to growing, curious children.

  5. My heart is breaking too for that little girl!
    "When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility. When an adult hits an adult, ... When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline." — Haim G. Ginott ...

  6. I kiss my kids on the mouth, mostly because as toddlers they would attack my face :) but I dont allow any one else to. My 8 year old son is beyond this and I'm pretty happy that he willingly gives me hugs and allows me to kiss him on the top of the head. Giving affection should NEVER be done in a manor that makes the recipient (especially a child) uncomfy. My 6 and 8 year old daughter on the other hand think I'm unhappy with them if I just go for the cheek, and bed time kisses and hugs dont even count with them unless they are square on the lips. It is beginning to make my husband a little uncomfortable as they get older, his family was very "hands-off" after he was a toddler :(
    As far as spanking, well that just makes me want to vomit! would you hit your wife/husband/partner? who is more likely able to defend themselves and make the decision to stay or leave the situation? If not then why on earth would you hit a defenseless child? who more than likely must stay with you until they are an adult? I think there is a special place in hell for people who hurt children.
    The divorce thing is interesting, although I can only imagine it has to do with the intense gender inequality that exists in this world. But thats just a guess, I have one son and three daughters and I can't say that any one of our children is more of a point of contention with us than another. hmm?
    I think the early puberty thing is link with hormones in our food and childhood obesity.
    The hand writing seems to be a no brainer, and while we're talking about this *news flash* babies and toddlers and children/teens need actual books with actual pages!
    ADHD? I think there is a serious misunderstanding about how children should behave and how people think they should behave. So I think most of it is a mixture of bad parenting and misdiagnosis. That being said ADHD is real and for children that suffer with it, it can be devastating. The over-diagnosis just serves to normalize it and make it more difficult to make advances with the children who actually have it. "well little Johnny took this pill and it fixed him, there must be something else wrong with little Timmy" ergh this is a subject of major frustration for me!

    Happy New Year Dr Momma, and other Peaceful Parents, Keep up the good work in the New Year!

  7. I was physically abused by my parents as a child as were all my brothers. I am the only one of my siblings (apart from my 11 year old brother) who doesn't take drugs, mis-use alcohol, have mental and/or learning problems and an aggressive/violent personality.
    Hitting a child is disgusting and hypocritical. How can you teach a child that it's not okay to hurt others by smacking them?!
    My children are (in my opinion) well behaved, but they are still normal 3 & 5 year olds. They can be loud, they can be outspoken and sometimes they are naughty. We discipline without physical punishment and they are better behaved than my brothers children who are smacked often because 'it's the easiest way of showing them they were wrong'.

    As for number 6: I don't have little girls, but those 10 year olds dressed like 16/17 yo's creep me out :o(

  8. I work in a children't recreational center as a desk clerk. I have to say that one of the most horrible parts of my job is hearing and watching parents drag their children into bathrooms to spank them when they don't nail a landing in gymnastics class or do a routine perfectly in tap class. It's quite sad how disgustingly common it is for parents to punish their children for not being perfect. My children are far from perfect, but at least they are happy.. which is much more important than perfect in my book...

  9. Hitting a child makes me want to cry. I too was abused (by mom, dad was too drunk to really notice) and to this day on the very rare occasion I am near my mom, I cower and try to be perfect because I'm conditioned to do so. At the age of 23 it still affects me!

  10. great overview! will be using this for sunday surf!

  11. I don't dig the whole kissing on the mouth thing, but it's grosser to allow a dog to kiss you on the mouth.
    Seriously, why do people do that?

    But I'm more upset with the idea of hitting kids. Look at that kid. He's so little. I think it's wrong to hit kids. They'd probably end up president or something DESPITE the stupid spanking.

  12. Instead of outlawing routine circumcision, do the following:

    (1) Forbid the disciplining of health care workers for speaking their minds about this issue. Many hospitals dismiss doctors and nurses that advocate on the job for intact.

    (2) Stop all Medicaid reimbursement of routine circ. Many private insurers will eventually follow suit.

    (1) has always been the case in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK. (2) became the case in the UK in 1950, NZ in 1969, and Canada and Australia gradually over the past 40 years. What happened? Routine neonatal circ is gone from the UK and NZ, with the exception of some boys born into British Muslim families. Only about 10% of baby boys leave Australian and Canadian maternity wards circumcised and the rate is falling.

    Circumcision was all the rage 60-80 years ago because the bald penis was seen as cool and clean. This mental machinery has a reverse gear, though. Circumcision will go away when parents understand how the natural penis makes for better sex. Thanks to the internet, this understanding is spreading rapidly among American women of childbearing age.

  13. That couples without sons are more likely to divorce does not surprise me at all, although I can only guess at the reasons. Most mothers admit that they are not fully knowledgeable about male issues, so that a boy very much needs a father. Mothers feel much more confident that they can raise daughters without male input. Mothers and daughters can form a tight unit, making fathers feel left out and outvoted. I have noticed a tendency for mothers not to consult fathers about how their daughters are raised, on the grounds that the father is not competent to have an opinion on how a girl is raised. This leaves fathers feeling financially exploited, in that they have no say on how the money they earn is spent.

    I do agree that when a son grows up, he pretty much exits his mother's emotional life. His wife becomes the most important member of the opposite sex to him. On the other hand, the mother-daughter bond is generally lifelong. Mothers instinctively know this, so that mothers raising only daughters give their marriages less TLC.

    The harsh truth is that many women do not derive a lot of emotional or sexual satisfaction from their marriages. Hence they will stay married only for a strong economic or childrearing reason. Nowadays, there are plenty of jobs for women. A divorced woman can date freely and have whatever extramarital sex she desires.

    In many walks of American life, a woman who conceives out of wedlock is still a Fallen Woman. But if she conceives in marriage and then divorces the father, she is viewed with a lot of sympathy. I know of cases when women married primarily so that the children they desired would be legitimate, and to make rock solid any eventual claim to child support.

  14. I kiss my baby on the mouth too. If I thought it made her uncomfortable I would stop, but it clearly doesn't. She loves it! I agree with Sheila in thinking its just silly to think you could completely avoid passing germs/viruses to your children like that. Obviously its desirable that you dont, I avoid kissing when I have a cold sore, but otherwise I wouldn't sacrifice the joy of kisses. Oh no.

    I wouldn't let anyone not close to us kiss her though.

    1. Julia, the point is not about the joy that you get when you kiss your baby on the lips. The point is to try to minimize the risk of getting your kids infected, who's gonna later infect some other kids, whose parents didn't kiss on their lips when they were babies!!

  15. I have a year old son and I fully believe in hand slapping and spankings. I also know there is a major difference between correcting wrong behavior and beating your child. I was beat as a child and could never hurt my son like that, but i do not want him to think he runs my house either. How else would you teach them?

  16. I know it can be frustrating, and there have been times when I wondered if my son was really getting it with gentle parenting and redirecting him. But last week he proved to me that he is. We were out of the house and another child hit him. Instead of retaliating or crying or getting angry, he simply told the child "it hurts me when you do that". My son is 3.5. Now, I've not been perfect. I've yelled more than I care to admit and I did spank once or twice when he was younger, but I won't now.

    I also have a 14-month-old, and I have to redirect her a lot. She's been walking for quite a while now and is starting to climb more, but she isn't doing any of it to be bad. she's just exploring. So I redirect.

  17. Anon:

    I believe, in a sense, in setting up a child for success, not failure. If there is something that you absolutely do not want the child to get into, then remove the item from the child's reach. If you can't remove the item, then use redirection. Give the child something else to focus on or play with. You can use a firm no. I don't believe in hitting, spanking, slapping, or tapping. The baby is 1 yr. old and exploring his surroundings. You cannot blame him for getting into something that he finds fun to play with. Just my thoughts!

  18. Anonymous (if you were so proud of your decision, whay not print your name?)
    There are sooo many ways to teach that do not involve hitting or slapping. Use your big brain to figure it out now, so your kid won't have to spend thousands in therapy trying to understand why the people that were supposed to love and prtect them were instead hitting them and making them feel anger, shame and frustration.

  19. My daughter has terrible herpes in her mouth, there are blisters constantly and I have incredibly guilt over it. I wish I could have a do over. :(

    Hitting kids is not acceptable ever. Quite frankly it's not teaching anything but violence and submission to authority. Which consequentially means when there's no one bigger than me I am the authority and can hit smaller weaker children to get my way. Hitting anyone is assault, children deserve the same ethical treatment as adults.

    Before four to five years of age children are not capable of very advanced reasoning skills. After about four years old there are huge cognitive changes, and if children have been treated with respect up to that point it is a lot easier to reason with them and talk to them when problems do arise. Before that age children just don't have the cognitive skills for it to even make sense to hit them to teach them right from wrong. After that age you can use reason and violence isn't ever needed. What is needed is patience.

  20. Anon: As a child care provider who has worked with children for over 10 years let me share something with you: Nearly all the children who have shown high levels of agression and have had incidents of hitting, slapping or bullying we have found that spanking or slapping was common practice in the home. You are teaching children to use agression when someone is doing something they don't like, just as you are doing!

  21. I was raised with spanking and the like. I never liked it, and it always made me feel horrible. But when I thought about being a parent, I imagined myself doing the same thing, it was all I had known. Once I actually became a mother, I couldn't imagine hurting this sweet little wonderful person I was blessed with. Once I got so frustrated that I did spank him. He stopped what he was doing, but the pure and indeniable guilt that I felt afterwards was not worth it. I don't feel that one time damaged my relationship with my son, but I did spend most of the rest of that day giving him as much affection as I could. I felt that I had broken a trust between us, that he now had reason to doubt his safety with me, that broken my heart. I had a renewed desire to stick with my gut and parent peacefully.

  22. Dear anononymous mother of a one year old son, your child is a baby and his behaviour is natural, normal and not intentional naughtiness. It's never ok to hit anyone but to hit an infant is just about the saddest thing I can think of. I've never had to hit any of my babies to teach them. I've never had to hit any of my older children, either. It's not ok to hit my spouse when he does something wrong, nor is it ok for him to hit me, so how in the world could I justify hitting someone smaller and weaker than myself? Hitting/spanking/swatting/slapping/beating--whater you choose to call it--teaches only one thing. It teaches violence. It is ok to inflict pain on someone who does not do what you want them to do. I just can't imagine what goes through a small baby's mind and heart when the person he trusts and loves above all else on earth, hurts him. Anon, your baby doesn't think he runs the house. He is simply developmentally incapable of realizing that anyone else has needs, feelings or wants. Not because he is selfish but because he has not developed far enough yet. That will come later and no amount of "hand slapping" or "spanking" will change that or speed it along.