'Reasonable chastisement' is really child abuse

If smacking worked, then life would be simple - people would just be beaten until they behaved

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I've never been a smacking fan. Oh, naturally, I've smacked in my time, but then just because I've occasionally broken the speed limit, that doesn't mean to say I'm against the driving laws. And on the two or three times I smacked my son, I felt ashamed and apologised.

I've never been a smacking fan. Oh, naturally, I've smacked in my time, but then just because I've occasionally broken the speed limit, that doesn't mean to say I'm against the driving laws. And on the two or three times I smacked my son, I felt ashamed and apologised.

Yesterday, two parliamentary committees called for an end to the defence of "reasonable chastisement". They're right. The arguments against "reasonable chastisement" (ie smacking) are surely too strong to be ignored. And the first is that violence breeds violence.

What children learn from smacking isn't good behaviour but bad behaviour. They learn that it's fine for big people to hit little people, and that the people they love and respect feel that using violence is a perfectly OK way of carrying on. It's well documented, too, that physical punishment tends to escalate; the little slap of a toddler's wrist can turn into a spanking at four and a beating at seven.

The second argument is that smacking doesn't work. If it did, life would be simple - people would just be beaten until they behaved. If your boss at work were to hit you, would this make you work better? If he criticised you violently or yelled at you, your first move would be to look for another job or sue for compensation for the stress, rather than try to improve.

Not only does smacking not work, but, worse, it's part of the problem of violence, not part of the solution. Research has shown that children from violent families tend to be violent themselves. Hitler's father believed that by endlessly hitting his son, he would teach him to be a good member of society.

The third argument is one of children's rights. Everyone in our society is protected by law from being hit. Husbands are no longer allowed to hit wives, and there are even laws against owners hitting dogs. When a big child hits a smaller child, we call him a bully; when a youth hits an old lady, we call him or her a mugger; when a man hits his wife, we call him a wife-batterer; but when a parent hits a child... no, it's not different. I have twice called the police after seeing a man hitting a woman in the street; when I see a woman hitting her baby across the face in a supermarket, I feel completely powerless.

It's argued that most parents don't "hit" or "abuse." They just give a "loving slap", whatever that might be. Nonsense. If it doesn't hurt a child, it isn't a punishment. And anything that hurts a child is a blow. Arguing that what other people do is abuse, but what we do is necessary discipline to teach our children right from wrong and prevent them becoming delinquent is like saying: "He's obstinate, I'm strong-minded; she's hard and unemotional, I'm cool and rational." It's rubbish.

And anyway, if you are someone who believes in the occasional smack, then provision will be made in this new law, if it comes to pass, that you won't be prosecuted. The law has only been devised to lessen the appalling statistic that more than 80 children a year in this country die of abuse. That's almost two a week.

In Sweden, where an anti-smacking ban has been imposed, over the past 10 years there have been no deaths at all at the hands of parents and carers, according to David Hinchcliffe, the chairman of the Commons Health Select committee, which has recommended that we adopt the same kind of law.

The way to teach a child is by example. If a parent is polite, co-operative, considerate and honest, then a child will be the same. And the argument that a smack is better for a child than a long explanation is simply not true. Children want desperately to understand what it is that will gain their parents' approval; they like the attention of being talked to and want to be treated the way adults treat each other. On the whole, a child will do as parents do, not as they say. It's true that animals teach their children with cuffs and blows - but we are not animals, we are human beings.

As for the argument that banning the smacking of children would be a gross intrusion into family life - surely no one would want to return to the days when a man could beat his wife to a pulp and there was nothing the police could do about it? Abusing children is seen as one of the worst possible crimes these days. Paedophiles who may have done nothing more than jiggle a child on a knee while putting his hand up her skirt and feeling her thigh are sent to prison for years - but a parent who persistently hits a child on the head, buttocks or legs is seen to be perfectly within his or her rights. It's madness.

But even if your smacking never gets beyond the odd cuff, what are you telling your child? I smack. Smacking is done by good people. In other words, physical violence - for that is what smacking is - is right.

Is this really what we want to teach the next generation?

virginia@virginiaironside.org

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