Dr. Phil
I saw a woman strike her child in a store. I was horrified, but didn't stop her. Now I feel guilty. Should I have said anything? -Allison from Tenafly, New Jersey

DR. PHIL: I think most people would say you wanted more information, right? You wanted more information: Where did they hit the child? How aggressive was it? Now I have to tell you, I am not a fan of spanking, and the country is evenly divided on that. About 50 percent believe spare the rod, spoil the child, and about 50 percent say, no, you shouldn't hit them. I'm one of those that say, no, you shouldn't hit them because I think it creates confusion. It's like, okay, you're supposed to love me and now you're inflicting physical pain on me? I don't get that. There are so many other ways that you can discipline a child, and you don't learn much, you get immediate suppression but there's really no learning that's there.

So, should you say something? Or have they swatted the child? If so, that's probably none of your business even though you disagree with it. But if they're hitting this child aggressively or in anger, they're hitting a child in the face or the head, or they're just hitting them too hard, then you do need to say something. And what do you say? The best thing you could probably do is tell them, say, "Excuse me, ma'am, sir, can I help you in some way? I mean, are you overwhelmed here, are you out of control? Is there something I can do to help you?" And what they're going to do is turn that anger on you and say, "You need to butt out and mind your own business, lady." And if that's what happens, then you need to say, "Okay, look. I'm uncomfortable with what I'm seeing you do here and so..." you're just gonna have to go and find the authorities. Write their license plate number down if you need to, go get a police officer in the store. Go get someone in authority so you can intervene.

Now I believe that the Child Protective Service - when we're talking about molestation of children, or abuse of children, it's what we call a false positive situation. Most situations, that people are innocent till they're proven guilty. I think this is the other way around. I would rather investigate a thousand cases where there is not abuse then fail to investigate one where there is. Listen, trust your gut, particularly parents, you know, if you're a parent, if your gut tells you that's just wrong, trust your gut. Write down the license number, find a policeman. Tell him, and don't care if you're gonna make the person mad. They'll get over it or they won't, I don't care one way or the other. But you have to protect the child. So what you don't wanna do is get physical. Don't put your hands on that child, don't try to separate them, and don't get in an altercation. Use the authorities, use the system: it works.

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