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On Monday night, we saw the most controversial parenting choices play out on TV.

Parental Guidance aims to “shine a light on parenting in Australia and start a conversation about parenting”. 

And if we are going off Monday night's episode alone, the show has certainly achieved this.

There was quite an emotional debate over a particularly controversial parenting choice.

Case in point: is it ever okay to smack your child?

“A smack quickly communicates there are boundaries, there are consequences, [and] you can’t just do whatever you want,” one parent said last night on the show.  

And the reactions and discomfort from the panel of parents were visceral. 

Watch: is it okay to smack your kids? Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia.

As the debate rages on, let’s take a look at the conversation that took place and the potential impacts smacking can have on a person long term.

What is Parental Guidance?

Parental Guidance follows 10 sets of parents with 10 vastly different parenting styles. Throughout the series, the parents will go up against each other to compete in various ‘extreme parenting’ challenges.

Some of the parenting styles include strict, French-Nuevo, routine, nature, attachment and free-range. 

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Given the contestants’ vastly different parenting styles and opinions, the series is expected to drum up a lot of debate, the show hosted by Dr. Justin Coulson and Today show host Ally Langdon. 

Image: Channel Nine. 

Parental Guidance and the conversation about smacking. 

Monday's premiere episode of Parental Guidance started with quite the heated debate: is it okay to smack your child? 

The resounding response from both co-host Dr. Coulson and the parents on the show: absolutely not.

According to Dr. Coulson, who is the founder of Happy Families and author of six books on raising children, our opinions on smacking are outdated. 

“Around 50 per cent of Australians still think smacking is okay. And really this is something that needs to change,” he said. 

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Now onto last night’s episode.

The self-titled ‘Strict Parents’ are Andrew and Miriam who are all about boundaries and rules when it comes to parenting their three children.

Image: Channel Nine. “Smacking is one of the tools in the parenting toolbox. It is by no means the first tool. But a smack quickly communicates that what they’ve done is not okay,” Andrew and Miriam say. 

And judging by the looks on the other parents’ faces, Andrew and Miriam quickly realise they are in the minority in their view. 

“For me in this day and age: you smack a child? You’re violating someone’s body,” one of the other parents says. 

“If you hit your wife or your husband, or an animal, that is abuse. What’s the difference?” another one whispers to their partner. 

To see their parenting style at play, the co-hosts set up an experiment: opposite day. Namely, let’s have the kids be the adults for the afternoon and vice versa. 

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Now for Andrew and Miriam, it’s a pretty confronting challenge. 

We immediately see the kids go for the wooden spoon and begin hitting their parents on the bottom repetitively. 

The role reversal makes Andrew and Miriam quite emotional, as their kids immediately saw the opportunity to become ‘adults’ as a means to exercise physical control.

Image: Channel Nine.
 

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“We all love our kids heaps. You don’t want to do anything as a parent that will give baggage to your kids. So, we’re doing our best,” Andrew says while becoming quite upset. 

Going back to the initial reaction from the other parents when Andrew and Miriam revealed they smack their children under certain circumstances, co-host Langdon then asks the room, “Let’s have some honesty: raise your hand if you have you ever smacked your child.”

And essentially half the room puts their hand up. 

Image: Channel Nine. 

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So, what are the impacts associated with smacking a child?

American researchers Elizabeth Gershoff and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor in 2016 found children who are physically punished are just as “likely to defy their parents when they spank as comply with them”. 

So, in actual fact, smacking doesn’t really do a whole lot in terms of discipline. 

And the lack of disciplinary success also comes with a much greater concern: the long-term social and psychological impacts. 

One concern according to leading experts is what smacking teaches children about using physical force. 

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“Quite often when children do get smacked, what they’re learning is when you’re annoyed with someone or when you’re angry at somebody the [solution] is to lash out,” Dr Vivienne Lewis said to Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky.


Listen to Mamamia's The Quicky. On this episode we discuss, why are children the only people it's still legal to hit? Post continues after audio.


Dr Lewis, a clinical psychologist at the University of Canberra, noted: “sometimes you see that children will smack other children when they’re not happy with their behaviour, because they’ve learnt that that’s what Mum and Dad do when they don’t like things.”

There are also lots of negative outcomes associated with corporal punishment on children (not abuse) such as antisocial behaviour, aggression, mental health problems and negative parent-child relationships. Not ideal at all. 

“We don’t need to hurt kids to teach them lessons. We need to help kids to learn to be better. That’s the essence of great discipline,” says Parental Guidance co-host Dr. Coulson.

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What does Australia think about smacking children?

Historically speaking, the act of smacking a child has been considered relatively harmless from a sociological perspective.

Yet the statistics on smacking’s impact speaks for itself.

Research shows children who are smacked are more likely to be involved in partner violence in adulthood.

One 2021 study also found smacking has a similar effect on a child’s brain to that of abuse, with the stress and fear it provokes causing neuro response changes.

As for perceptions on smacking in other countries, it looks like Australia is being left behind.

Image: End Corporal Punishment. Across the globe, 63 countries have a full prohibition of all corporal punishment of children. Examples include Korea, Columbia, Japan, France, Ireland, South Sudan, Argentina, Spain, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway and Germany, just to name a few. But Australia is not one of them. 

It remains lawful here to smack a child, under certain conditions. But perhaps this is the sign Australia needs to reconsider these laws. Time will tell.

Feature Image: Channel Nine.