lifestyle

The first time I smacked my son.

no smacking

By MIA FREEDMAN

I’ll never forget the first time I smacked my son.

He was 4 years old and riding his scooter on the footpath outside our apartment while I roller skated slowly next to him – out of practice after more than a decade. As I wobbled along, he thought it would be funny to push me over so he reached forward and gave me a shove.

I stacked, hurting myself and getting a huge fright. Without thinking, I immediately swung around and smacked him hard on the bottom.

I will never forget it. The mix of shock and puzzlement on his face. The way my hand stung.

Instantly, I felt sick. And mortified. I was not a smacker! I was never going to smack my child and yet here I was. I smacked my son in anger – is there any other way? I wanted to hurt him because I was shocked and angry and it was totally instinctive. I lashed out. In that moment, I was not in control.

Fortunately, probably because I’d never smacked him before, he was as surprised as I was by what happened and burst out laughing before lightly smacking me back as if we were merely horsing around, having a playfight.

It was the first and last time I would ever hit any of my children.

And are you ready? Because I’m going to express an opinion that will no doubt provoke howls of protest from some.

I think it is a breach of your parental power to smack – or hit – your kids. An irresponsible breach of power. I think smacking is unilaterally wrong. I think it’s poor, lazy parenting. I think it’s bad for kids physically, mentally and emotionally. It harms them. That’s been proven.

And I find the reasons smackers give for hitting their kids to be utterly preposterous.

Reasons like:

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  • “I was smacked and I turned out OK”
  • “You can’t reason with kids”
  • “It’s the quickest and easiest form of discipline”
  • “My child doesn’t respond to time out….she needs a smack”
  • “Smacking teaches kids right from wrong”
  • “Children have too many rights these days”

smacking kidsWe published a post in 2011 called The 7 Reasons People Smack Children and Why They’re Wrong that comprehensively dismantled and discredited each one of those lame justifications.
And now, Australian doctors have come out and called for smacking to be banned – they’ve also called it out for what it is: violence. Yes, there are scales of violence. Smacking is not bashing. But when society says it’s OK to smack your child, we are explicitly condoning the right of parents to hit their children.

Is that seriously the message we want to send?

This week the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) joined the growing call for law reform regarding the use of physical punishment as a form of discipline for children. In their media release entitled Child health experts call for change on how we discipline our children they stated:

Launching the RACP’s Physical Punishment of Children Position Statement today, Associate Professor Susan Moloney, President of the RACP’s Paediatrics & Child Health Division also called for better support for parents and caregivers to educate them about the potential harmful effects of physical punishment and other violence on children.

“Research is increasingly showing that physical punishment may be harmful and children who receive physical punishment are at increased risk for a range of adverse outcomes both in childhood and as adults,” Associate Professor Moloney said.

“These include mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, aggressive or antisocial behaviour, substance use problems and abuse of their own children or spouse.

“While many children will not experience negative outcomes as a result of moderate or reasonable physical punishment, why put your child’s future health and emotional wellbeing at risk?”

Associate Professor Susan Moloney, President of the RACP’s Paediatrics & Child Health Division wrote for the Conversation (worth a read if you have the time):

As a paediatrician, what I am most concerned about is the serious long-term effects of physical punishment on children’s well-being. This is not about parenting styles or punishing parents, it’s about protecting children.

Research shows that a child who experiences physical punishment is more likely to develop increased aggressive behaviour and mental health problems as a child and as an adult. There’s clear evidence that physical punishment may be harmful in the long term – so why take the risk?

In 1979, Sweden became the first country to explicitly ban all forms of corporal punishment of children. The proportion of Swedes who considered physical punishment (even in its mildest form) necessary for child discipline halved between 1965 and 1981, and halved again by 1994.

A similar pattern is apparent elsewhere. A survey conducted in 2012 found 63% of New Zealand parents had never, or only rarely, smacked their child since the law there changed in 2007.

Countries that have banned the physical punishment of children have also seen other benefits including increased early identification of children at risk of abuse, and very low rates of mortality associated with child abuse.

Kiesha Whippeart
Kiesha Whippeart
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Wow. Let’s revisit that last sentence: “the benefits of banning the physical punishment of children have included early identification of children at risk of abuse, and very low rates of mortality associated with child abuse.”

With the mother of Kiesha Wieppart being sentenced for her murder this month – after the little girl was hit and abused from birth until her death aged 6 – this one fact should be enough to motivate law-makers and politicians to take action and ban the physical punishment of children. Surely.

Because there are parents out there who aren’t able to control themselves, they aren’t able to smack in an ‘appropriate’ way. And hey, on that subject, imagine if there was an ‘appropriate’ way to hit your wife or your elderly mother? Or a police officer?

Premier Barry O’Farrell has disagreed with the RACP. This from NineMSN:

Mr O’Farrell says it will be difficult to enforce such legislation.

“Parenting is difficult enough now without people proposing laws that would be impossible to police, and it wouldn’t take it any further,” he told reporters on Friday.

“I think we have got the right balance here in NSW and we are not proposing to change the law.”

Mr O’Farrell also defended parents against interference from authorities.

“Parents have difficult times in raising children. I think most parents do it bloody well, and we shouldn’t be trying to make it any more difficult for them.”

I like a lot of things Barry O’Farrell has done – including his support for marriage equality. But frankly, I think his position on this is bollocks.
Banning parents from hitting their children doesn’t ‘make it any more difficult for them’. Why – because hitting a child is easier for parents than other forms of punishment and discipline that doesn’t include physical force???

I’m old enough to remember when there was corporal punishment in schools. The thought of teachers hitting our children with canes across their hands or bottoms in 2013 is inconceiveable.

And before you say, “What goes on inside my family and how I choose to parent my children is nobody else’s business” can I just point out that people used to say that exact same thing about marriage.

Domestic violence – an adult man hitting an adult woman (or vice versa) was once considered not an issue of law but a private issue between two people. Similarly rape within marriage. It wasn’t until 1981 that states around Australia recognised rape within marriage as a crime. Some states didn’t adopt these laws until as late as 1992. But they all got there in the end.

And yet even though if you hit your husband – or he hit you – that would be considered a criminal act, you are legally able to hit a child. There is no age restriction on this. They can be a toddler or even a baby and you can hit them. It all relies on the “appropriateness” of the physical punishment. But that’s a highly subjective term, isn’t it?
Do you really think everyone who hits is getting it right?

It shocks me that there are people so determined to fight for their right to hit their children that they will rail against the advice of doctors, health authorities and law makers who are all hugely concerned about the level of physical harm being done to children.

Are there really no other ways to teach children discipline, manners, respect, boundaries and self-control other than hitting them?
Try harder. And pick on someone your own size.

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