You are not allowed to hit a workmate or your partner, you are not allowed to beat a stranger or force an elderly relative to his knees and whip him with a belt. We hear of elder abuse and one-punch assaults and we shudder in horror at domestic violence.
And yet we are allowed to hit the most fragile and vulnerable members of our society – our own children.
We are not only allowed to do so, we defend our right to do so.
Gosh it confuses me.
Smacking is back in the headlines after a Supreme Court judge in South Australia overturned a father’s conviction on an assault charge brought against him for smacking his 12-year-old son.
The judge said that for parents in disciplining their children “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 comments then lead to each and every major talk show and radio station discussing the divisive topic of smacking.
Radio 2GB host and Today Show commentator Ben Fordham weighed into the debate saying, while he never had, and hoped he didn’t ever have to, he wanted to have the “right” to smack his own child.
He said that sometimes a quick smack from mum or dad is the only way to bring a misbehaving kid into line.
“I don’t want to do it and I’ll hopefully will never need to do it,” he said “but my brother and I both, in times of reflection, both look back on our childhood and say ‘look, as much as we hated it at the time, we kind of needed it’.”
Lisa Wilkinson too entered the fray saying that from time to time her partner, Peter Fitzsimons smacked their kids.
I can see where they come from. I can understand where all the millions of people who agree with them come from.
(In fact studies show 69 per cent of Australian parents smack their children.)
I can see the overarching desire to keep the law out of family homes, and I can see the argument that parents want to be able to parent their own child their own way.
I just wish it were that easy.
What leaves me feeling confused is that as a society we overwhelmingly want to protect our children, we overwhelmingly want the best for our children and yet we refuse to consider laws to protect them.
How is this helpful?
How can one person’s “right” to inflict violence on their own child trump the rights of children as a whole?
Here are the usual arguments for smacking:
“I was smacked as a child and I was fine.”
“Kids these days need to learn boundaries and they need to learn it while young and from someone who loves them.”
“Its okay if you have rules – never around the face, never leave bruises but a spanking is okay.”
We defend our right to have a scale of acceptable violence, we use history as an excuse.
We all should know from our deeply disturbing domestic violence statistics that the normalisation of violence in Australian culture is something we need to change.
The “she’ll be right attitude”, the “I was smacked and I turned out okay” attitude, needs to change because they aren’t doing us any favours.
Just because you were spanked as a child and turned out okay doesn’t mean that the child next door did.
Just because you make sure you only smack your three-year-old across the bum and never slap them across the face doesn’t mean the family down the road do. What about the parents who don’t see the distinction between having the ‘right’ to smack and actually carrying out the action?
By protecting the rights of one set of parents to discipline as they please we undermine the rights of our children as a whole to be safe.
Would we be just as okay with a man telling us “My dad beat my mum and she survived so its okay if I do it to my wife?”
Smacking has been proven over and over again to have negative consequences for children. While it may scare them into stopping what they are doing (by the fear that their parent might hurt them) it doesn’t teach them to think rationally, to manage their emotions or co-operate.
If anything it shows them that their parent isn’t in control of their emotions either.
In New Zealand, along with 33 other countries across the world there are anti-smacking laws. In 2007 the New Zealand government repealed section 59 of the Crimes Act – the “anti-smacking law” – removing the defence of “reasonable force” for adults who smacked their children.
It was highly controversial at the time and is often critisised with statistics thrown about citing the low level of successful prosecutions under the law. What isn’t often cited is that New Zealand laws also make it clear that police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints if the offence is considered inconsequential and “there is no pubic interest in proceeding.”
The argument at the time was not that the laws should be to “ban smacking”, but to change “the social norm” that hitting a child is okay.
In a recent interview Sue Bradford, the MP who was one of the architects of the law, said the law change had provided children with legal protection against “the excesses of physical discipline” and had helped to shift the culture of violence towards children since it was passed.
“I’ve had so much feedback from people in various forums … in the past they almost felt obligated to physically discipline their children, but that’s no longer the case,” Bradford said.
My three kids aren’t angels.
My two rambunctious boys refuse to listen to me like the best of them. They can be just as naughty as they are loving and kind.
I know I could probably get my eight-year-old son to put his school shoes on quicker if he was terrified I was going to spank him with a belt.
I know I could probably stop my six-year-old kicking his soccer ball inside if I threatened him with a slap, and it would be a sure fire way to bring my four-year-old out of a tantrum over a much-wanted kinder surprise in the supermarket but I don’t hit them.
I don’t hit them because it’s wrong.
I won’t hit them because I don’t want them to think violence is the norm.
And I don’t hit them because there is never any excuse for violence against another human being.
No matter how well you turned out.
Do you smack your kids?