Late last year the Australian prime minister made some unhelpful comments, in response to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report that calls for a ban on smacking. The Children’s Minister, Maggie Atkinson, also made some remarks shortly after, this time supporting a ban in the UK. However, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, reckons “You chastise children when they are bad, as my parents did me.” The Guardian ran a poll asking people their opinion on the subject. Depressingly, the majority were against a ban. The accompanying comments were the usual mish-mash of the three basic sentiments:
“Children need discipline.”
“No-one tells me how to raise my kids.”
Have you noticed how it’s always the people who were smacked, like Mr Grayling, who are making these comments? I have never seen or heard, “I was not smacked and therefore have decided it’s a good idea.” No. It’s never that way round, is it? Why is that, do you think?
What amazes me is the remarkable lack of self-reflection evident in the ‘I was smacked and I’m fine’ camp. Come on guys, take a harder look at yourselves. Clearly you haven’t learnt about respect. You’ve learnt that using violence, power and fear to control another person is OK. You think smacking is OK because that’s what you were taught. Has it never occurred to you that maybe you were taught bad parenting? Sorry, but it seems someone does need to tell you how to raise your kids because you haven’t yet reached that level of self-understanding and self-awareness to break the cycle.
But the problem is, smacking is just one part of a bigger picture, an attitude towards children, an approach to parenting that fails to grasp the difference between fear and respect, compliance and cooperation, that fails to recognise the importance of relationship. Even if we banned smacking, there’s a whole host of other inappropriate methods at parents’ disposal: time-outs, threats, punishments, shaming, bribery. How can parents that still see the need to use these methods be expected to understand why smacking’s a bad idea?
It’s not just a ban on smacking that’s needed, it’s an education, a major paradigm shift.
In the meantime, stop telling me you’re fine. If you think it’s OK to smack your kids then you’re not fine. Think about it.
I always use this example to explain why I am against smacking:
Imagine you are at a dinner party. There are only adults in the room. You have a disagreement with a friend – nothing very serious, but a major difference in opinion. The friend then marches you across the room and starts smacking you in front of the other guests. The friend justifies this by saying that you needed to be taught a lesson – after all, how else would you ever learn?
Most people would think this was appalling behaviour. You would say that the person being smacked has suffered a loss of dignity, has been the victim of an act of aggression, has had their feelings undermined etc. As for the person doing the smacking, you would say that he/she has not learned appropriate self-control, has overreacted, is being hugely disrespectful, is expressing an unhealthy need for power and control over someone who is an equal.
But, replace ‘adult guest’ with ‘your child’ and this is suddenly fine. There is a sense of entitlement: ‘it’s MY child’. But perhaps the only reason why you feel this way is because you are so used to these attitudes, they are so prevalent in our culture, that you have never considered that they may be unhealthy. Maybe your child is an equal (similar to a friend or colleague) who doesn’t deserve to be smacked because of what is essentially a disagreement.
Also (and I apologise for leaving such long rants in the comments section!), the argument ‘it never did me any harm’ is often missing the point. I don’t claim that people who were smacked as children are any more neurotic or aggressive than those who weren’t. It is more than just a case of looking at the ‘end product’. We can’t always use outcome to determine what actions are right and wrong. If I break someone’s leg tomorrow and their bone becomes stronger after it has healed I could say, ‘I didn’t do them any harm in the long-run. In fact, they’re better off now because their leg is stronger!’. But that would be missing the point.