Thursday, October 25, 2007

To smack or not to smack

I am appalled, but not surprised, at the decision by minister Kevin Brennan not to outlaw physical punishment of children in England and Wales. The Scottish Executive took the same view a few years ago. I think it's an absolute scandal that politicans view it as acceptable for a grown adult to hit a child.

If I were to hit Kevin Brennan, even with just a small tap on his backside, I'd be dragged off to prison, or worse. I'm probably fairly equal in size to him and he would have a fair chance of fighting me off or running away. A small child doesn't have that ability to protect themselves from a violent approach from an adult. It's all very well to say that a smack isn't really very hard. I'm sure a grizzly bear's light tap on my backside would hurt like hell. I was smacked regularly as a child and as I grew older was on occasion slapped across the face for no good reason. The physical pain dies down reasonably quickly, but the humiliation and feeling of worthlessness that comes with it is completely disproportionate to the original transgression.

Of course it doesn't always have to be that way - you have to look at the experience of childhood as a whole. A loved child who is occasionally smacked is probably not going to come to too much harm if they grow up in a happy home. Some of my friends, who are fabulous parents, have smacked their kids sometimes. That doesn't make it right, though. A law banning corporal punishment might just make people think twice about how they relate to their children.

To be fair, smacking is just the tip of the iceberg of cruelty towards children that we not only accept, but almost celebrate. The recent Channel 4 series "Bringing up Baby" showed scenes of newborns being left to cry in a room and parents being advised not to look them in the eye or show them any affection. It would be interesting to go back to these babies as adults and see how they compare with those whose parents placed importance on secure attachment from birth. It's shocking to think that this is all fairly mainstream parenting guidance.

We have way too much violence in our society and children are bombarded with images of hitting, shooting and all sorts from a very early age. All that smacking does is to teach a child that it's ok for a big person to hit a little one. When they take that lesson forward by bullying a smaller child in the playground, should we be surprised?

I despair at the lack of imagination and knowledge of those who consider corporal punishment an integral part of discipline. To me, discipline is about guidance, of modelling good behaviour and of teaching respect and consideration for others. I am far from being the perfect parent, but we decided right from the start that our daughter would never, ever be hit - and we have stuck to it. Anna knows that we never would hit her and, although she has her moments, the vast majority of the time she's a lovely, kind, considerate girl. I am clearly biased, but her teachers would agree with that assessment.

This debate has been portrayed as being about the rights of parents. What about the rights of children to grow up without fear of violence?

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