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Judge tells parents: “Some level of pain is permissible” when disciplining their children.

A high court ruling has determined that smacking a child does not turn a parent into a criminal, with a judge saying “some level of pain is permissible” and that leaving “redness” was “not unreasonable”

“The suffering of some temporary pain and discomfort by the child will not transform a parent attempting to correct a child into a person committing a criminal offence,” Supreme Court Justice David Peek said.

The judge was ruling on the case of a father who had been convicted for aggravated assault for smacking his 12-year-old son and was appealing the conviction.

The Adelaide man, an Air Force Pilot had smacked his son, then 12, in 2014 three times — once on his bare thigh, twice on his shorts after his son “threw a tantrum” at lunch and “disrespected” the man and his wife, the boy’s step-mother.

The father, 43, is reported to have told the boy “if you’re going to act like a four-year-old, I’ll treat you like a four-year-old”.

He was arrested and charged with assault after his former wife notified police.

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The father, 43, is reported to have told the boy “if you’re going to act like a four-year-old, I’ll treat you like a four-year-old”. Image via IStock.

The Advertiser reports that the father had a “different” parenting style from the boy’s mother whose approach to parenting was described as very “laissez-faire”.

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In his ruling the judge said the pilot was “of excellent character and work ethic” with a “distinguished” military career. He said the man was  “a good, loving father” to his son, who set down “firm boundaries” about issues that 12-year-old boys find challenging, such as bedtimes, TV and computer use.

“The pilot gave evidence that he tried to instill self-discipline in his son and values similar to those of the Air Force including respect, dignity and integrity,” he said.

“(The boy) would become indignant and stubborn … he did not like being corrected … he was quite adamant that he was in the right and his father was in the wrong.”

Justice Peek said that the father had previously punished his son by giving him “time out”, but found it ineffective.

And so after the boy would not behave himself over lunch the father smacked him. Three smacks that left the boy in pain but not “serious” pain, pain that “hurt a little bit for a day”, and the redness that “lasted two days.”

Little boy sitting on a staircase, looks lonely.
The father had previously punished his son by giving him “time out”, but found it ineffective. Image via IStock.

But the effect of the smacking went further than that, the boy’s mother who objected to their 12-year-old son being disciplined in that manner by his father alerted authorities and after he was arrested and went to trial the man was convicted of assault but discharged without further penalty.

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In Australia there are no anti-smacking laws. In fact studies show that over 69% of Australian parents say they smack their children. Thirty-three other countries across the world including New Zealand do have anti-smacking laws where corporal punishment is against the law.

In South Australia, like many states “reasonable force” in certain circumstances is allowed in parental discipline.

Yesterday Justice David Peek upheld that law saying that the man’s previous conviction was “misdirected” on “the issue of parental correction”.

“Some level of pain is permissible” he said  “and in the present case there was little … the mere existence of red marks caused by the punishment does not prove unreasonable correction.”

Little boy clinging to a staircase at home, because of the violence from his mother .
The father gave him three smacks that left the boy in pain but not “serious” pain. Image via IStock.

“It is very important that parental conduct which is not considered unreasonable in the Australian community should not be stigmatised as criminal offending in a criminal court” the judge ruled.

He said the unreasonable application of force for “malice or revenge” was a criminal act, but genuinely disciplining a child of appropriate age and size for the punishment was not.

“If one can ever safely say that something is as old as mankind, that something might be parental correction of children,” he said.

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“There has long been a fundamental question as to the extent to which the law should intrude into such areas.”

Justice Peek ruled that the pilot’s actions were reasonable.

Wooden block, judge's wig and gavel on a wooden desk
Justice Peek ruled that the pilot’s actions were reasonable. Image via IStock.

“While it may be that some children … may be too old for physical parental correction, such an argument does not extend to a 12-year-old boy.”

Adolescent and Child Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg told The Advertiser that while he believed a parent should not face charges for smacking it isn’t something he hoped parents would consider.

“Virtually every health, psychological and medical authority agrees smacking is a very, very dumb thing to do,” he said.

“It tells children that it’s okay to use violence to get what you want — and that you, as a parent, have run out of ideas.”

“I’m against the criminalisation of smacking” he said “but I would hope this decision does not encourage parents to try it.”

What do you think? Should parents be legally allowed to smack their children?