Our family car didn’t have seatbelts in the back seat when I was growing up, let alone child restraints. I rode to school without a bike helmet. I don’t remember wearing a hat or sunscreen when I played outside in the sun.
Clearly I survived, because I’m writing this, and obviously I don’t blame my parents, because that was all normal for the era. People didn’t know better back then. But am I doing things differently with my kids? Well, of course.
When I was growing up, my dad smacked me, occasionally. Again, that was normal for the era. But I don’t smack my kids.
Since the SA Supreme Court judgement last week that an air force pilot hadn’t committed a criminal offence by slapping his 12-year-old son, everyone has been having their say on smacking. The comment I’ve read, over and over, is, “I was smacked as a kid and I turned out just fine, so I’m going to smack my kids too.”
I don’t know. Did our entire generation turn out just fine? That’s a matter for debate.
Over the past couple of decades, a lot of comprehensive research has been done into corporal punishment. These are some of the findings:
- Children who are physically punished are more likely to become physically violent themselves. This continues through teenage years and into adulthood, where they're more likely to physically abuse their partners.
- Children who are physically punished are more likely to experience mental health problems throughout their lives. They're more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and to abuse drugs and alcohol.
- Children who are physically punished are more likely to be abused or killed by their parents. Some deaths of children result from parents unintentionally going too far when punishing them. When corporal punishment was banned in Sweden, fatal child abuse dropped to very low levels.
Sweden led the world when it banned corporal punishment of children in 1979. People expected juvenile delinquency to increase. It didn't. The rate of drug and alcohol abuse by young people decreased, and so did the youth suicide rate.
Dozens of countries have followed Sweden's example since then, including Germany, Spain, Israel and New Zealand. Australia isn't one of them.
In the SA Supreme Court, Justice David Peek declared that while some children might be too old to be physically punished, a 12-year-old boy wasn't. He said the slaps delivered to the boy's thigh only delivered redness that lasted a couple of days, not bruising, so they weren't "unreasonable".
Isn't it a bit disturbing to be quibbling over what kind of marks are acceptable to leave on a child's body? Doesn't it seem wrong that it's only legal to hit people who are smaller and weaker than you?
"If one can ever safely say something is as old as mankind, that something might be parental correction of children," Justice Peek pronounced.
Well, society's views on a lot of things "as old as mankind" have changed in recent generations.
As a parent, it's essential to be able to look back at how your own parents brought you up, and judge what they got right and what they got wrong. No one's parents were perfect.
We need to do what's best for our kids, based on the knowledge we have today. For a lot of parents in Australia and around the world, that means giving up smacking and learning better ways of disciplining their children.
What's your view on smacking?