Mia Freedman: "I'm begging you. Please re-think smacking your children."

Imagine this.

Your co-worker does something you’ve repeatedly asked her not to do. It doesn’t matter what. The point is that you’ve explained why she cannot, must not, should not do this and yet she’s done it. Again. You’re over it. When will she learn!

How can you make her understand she’s done something wrong? So you walk over to where she’s standing near her desk and hit her. On the bottom. Through her clothes. Not too hard. Just enough to teach her a lesson.

You are charged with assault.

Woman at work
"How can you make her understand she's done something wrong?" via iStock.

You're picking up your child from school and you see another mother walking towards the school gate. She's talking on the phone as she's crossing the road and walks straight in front of your car.

You nearly run her over. It's a dangerous situation and you feel the prickle of adrenaline. You get out of your car, grab her by the arm and hit her across the back of the legs. It's for her own good, you tell her.

She could have been killed. She must be more careful when she's crossing the road. This will teach her a lesson.

You are charged with assault.

Your toddler is being impossible and you're over it. After having several tantrums about various silly things, he has decided he doesn't want to eat anymore of his lunch and throws his plate on the floor. It smashes. You hit him, not too hard, just enough to shock him, show him he's crossed the line and pushed you too far. He cries.

Nothing happens.

Except that your child learns that it's okay to hit someone as an expression of frustration, anger, punishment... or even love.

"I'm begging you. Please re-think smacking." Image supplied.

How do you think this message is internalised as that child grows up? Could it form part of the virus of domestic violence that infects our community?

The idea that hitting someone inside the home, inside the family is somehow different to other kinds of violence? That it's OK to hit someone you know and love?

Holly Wainwright and Jessie Stephens agree that smacking your child is never okay. Listen to Mia Freedman lecture them anyway, on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after audio.

We have never been more aware of domestic violence and violence against women. And yet hitting children is still somehow socially acceptable. Not just acceptable but aggressively defended by many as a basic parental 'right'.

The only people in our society we are permitted to hit are our children.

Children aren't allowed to hit children though. Oh no. That's still frowned upon and punished by schools and inside families "don't hit your brother!" - but adults hitting children is astonishingly considered by some to be just another aspect of good parenting.

Let that sink in for a moment.

"We have never been more aware of domestic violence and violence against women. And yet hitting children is still somehow socially acceptable." Image via iStock.

If you are someone who hits their child occasionally or regularly, your hackles will be going up around now and you will be feeling highly defensive.

The mere fact I have mentioned domestic violence in a conversation about smacking hitting children will make you irate. You may even feel the intense desire to hit me. But you're not allowed to hit another adult under any circumstances no matter how much you want to and you understand that.

So you suppress the urge to lash out in anger or as retribution. You would no sooner hit another adult than shoplift or deliberately start a fire. These are all crimes and you know it.

But children? How are we living in a society where any type of hitting children is accepted? How are the most vulnerable members of our society somehow immune from the social shame and consequence that accompanies hitting someone your own size?

Here are a few arguments that may be swirling through your head when this subject comes up. Let's dismantle them.

ARGUMENT #1. "My parents smacked me and I turned out fine."

My parents smacked me too. It was considered perfectly ordinary, acceptable and harmless when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s and in all generations prior. I'm sure my grandparents were smackers too. Most parents were.

So yes, my Dad and occasionally my Mum hit me. My mother also smoked at the end of her pregnancy. Like most people before the 1980s, my parents also probably littered, may have driven after a few too many drinks and possibly didn't wear seatbelts occasionally.

These were all typical behaviours until we realised the harm they could cause and changed our attitudes towards them. There is now a widespread understanding and acceptance that you shouldn't smoke during pregnancy or throw your rubbish out your car window or drive drunk or without a seatbelt. Our values and our behaviour has evolved.

"It comes with having a child. Sometimes you want to smack them." Image via iStock.

And so it's time for smacking to be relegated to the category of 'things we thought were fine but now realise are not".

There are so many other behaviours that we have, as a society, agreed must stop. Pinching women on the bum at work. That's called sexual harassment now.

Forcing your wife, girlfriend or date to have sex with you. That's called rape now. Smoking with your child or baby in the car. That's inflicting passive smoking on them and it's illegal. Now.

Just because something happened in the past does not justify it happening in the present or the future. Changing your behaviour is not an admission of guilt, it's called evolution.

ARGUMENT #2. "There's a big difference between smacking a child for discipline and hitting to hurt them."

Yes there is. I was smacked by my parents for discipline and also occasionally out of a build-up of frustration and exasperation that as a parent myself now, I completely recognise. It comes with having a child. Sometimes you do want to smack them. But a crucial part of being a parent, hell, being an adult, is impulse control.

Not everyone can distinguish between the different 'types' of hitting a child.  It's why there was such universal outrage when the extremist group Hizbut Al Tahrir published this video of two devout Muslim women explaining the 'right' way for a man to hit his wife. Do it gently! Symbollically! With love! Use a tea-towel! Or a small stick!

Watch the video below. Post continues after.

Remember that? This was a repugnant concept rejected by most Muslims and all sectors of society. There is no 'acceptable way' to hit a woman, we all railed, as one.

The line is clear and we must all stay on the right side of it. No exceptions. No qualifications. In a society infected by domestic violence, we must have an unequivocal, singular message. No nuance. No grey area.


It doesn't matter if it's done in a loving way or a symbolic way or a "this is what's best for you" way.

No justification of any kind is acceptable.

ARGUMENT #3. "I smack my kid and I'm a good parent."

I'm sure you are. I'm not suggesting you're not.

But smacking a child cannot, should not, must no longer be considered as just another activity on the spectrum of what good parenting looks like.

If you're a smacker - or were one - I'm not trying to shame you or even judge you. I'm not trying to call you a bad parent. I'm just begging you to rethink. To reconsider your position. To perhaps consider changing your mind.

Anyway, banning your kid from screens for a certain amount of time is going to be a far more effective punishment than a smack. Try it. You'll see....

"Banning your kid from screens for a certain amount of time is going to be a far more effective punishment than a smack." Image via iStock.

POSTSCRIPT: In the interests of transparency - and because he will probably leave a comment - I am happy to admit that I have smacked my eldest son when he was four. He pushed me over when I was on rollerskates WHICH WAS A SHITTY THING TO DO LUCA and I lashed out instinctively because let's be honest, this is how most physical punishment is delivered - when your buttons are pushed and you lose it. I felt horrible in the aftermath of that moment. I shocked myself and I can still see the look of shock on his face. 

You can listen to this week's full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here:

Is smacking your child ever okay? Do you feel guilty about it, or not at all? Let us know in the comments below.