parent opinion

'Half of Australian parents smack their kids and I used to be one of them.'

I am in the 50 per cent of Australian parents who have smacked their child. I'm not proud of it and I stopped smacking years ago because it made everyone feel worse in already difficult situations. I also considered the evidence base which showed higher rates of anxiety and depression emerging in adults who were smacked as children. But new research out of The University of Queensland surveying 8500 Australians aged 16-25 has found 1 in 4 parents still think smacking is okay.

It's likely these are conservative figures as this survey relied on people self-reporting a behaviour that many of us now realise is wrong. The figures might seem surprisingly high, but there are a few reasons why smacking is such a deeply entrenched form of discipline in Australia. Physical punishment was only banned in private schools in 2006 and it remains legal in Australia for parents to use 'reasonable force' in disciplining their children. Also, 60 per cent of respondents in the survey were smacked themselves and that was found to make people more likely to smack when disciplining their own children.

Watch: Is it okay to smack our kids? Post continues below.

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The other problem is that translating parenting research into evidence-based practice is notoriously slow and difficult. Research pointing to the ill effects of smacking began mounting as early as the 1970s, yet views that smacking is okay persist albeit mostly in the older age groups. Parenting is laden with cultural beliefs, 'old wives' tales' and social expectations which can often cloud the literature.


Parents may also be slow to adopt behaviour changes based on the evidence because it's an intensely personal experience. New information that tells us maybe we aren't doing it right is often interpreted as a personal attack. Changing our ways and beliefs first requires us to admit we were wrong. It's hard work and parents often prefer to ignore or discredit information that doesn't reinforce their behaviours or views.

When I first came across the smacking research, it made me feel bad about myself. I could have responded by rejecting the smacking research based on my own anecdotal experiences, for example, "I know Sally was smacked as a child and she turned out fine". I could have attacked the integrity of the research which showed I had been doing the wrong thing by smacking. I could have written angry emails to the media outlets that published the research. But in the end I knew smacking felt awful, and the research was clear. So I chose to own my behaviours and work to change them. 

I have enjoyed much support as a parent and was accessing psychological support when I was learning alternative measures to smacking. Often parents are not in a position to change their behaviours by accessing the right support and this is a societal failing. If we expect parents to adopt best practice, we have to ensure they are parenting within social systems that enable them to do that. 

We live increasingly separate and busy lives, often lacking community support in our roles as parents. People who are stressed are less able to regulate their emotions and therefore more likely to become violent. They also may lack the capacity for serious self-reflection or not be able to afford psychological support. They may not know any better or may feel that they have no options.


Parenting has become a very private and personal experience. What was once carried out in communal settings for all to see is now occurring behind closed doors. Accountability is quite low because sometimes the only people who see our parenting behaviours are our children rather than our peers. I feel accountable to my children but because of the obvious power dynamic many parents do not. We lack the social settings that may have once helped to moderate parenting behaviours or where other adults may have been able to see we were struggling and step in.

Many parents today were raised in the 'smacking era' but are now trying to parent their own kids in the 'gentle parenting era'. It's a lot, change is hard and progress can feel slow. It hurts when we realise we may have exposed our children to harmful scenarios because we love them so deeply. The ultimate parenting strength is being brave enough to admit we are wrong and putting the work into changing our ways.

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Featured image: Supplied.