Letter: When it is all right to smack a child

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The Independent Online
Sir: To many of us who believe passionately in children's rights it is distressing to hear the repetition of myths and shibboleths, by anti-corporal punishment groups, over the recent child-minder case.

Myth one is that a smack, given in a context of loving discipline for consistent wilful disobedience or cruelty, is equivalent to child beating and abuse - when actually the context and import are entirely dffferent. To accept this myth would be like accepting that because sticking knives in unconscious people is wrong generally, doctors shouldn't do it either.

Myth two is that 'hitting' a child is an admission of failure - when actually smacking can be part of a deliberate loving discipline policy.

Myth three is that if it is wrong to 'hit' adults, then it must be wrong to 'hit' children - when no one would argue the other side of the coin: that young children should be made criminally responsible like adults or should be tried and imprisoned for anti-social or violent behaviour to others.

Myth four is that smacking children gives them violence to copy and makes them more violent - a myth for which there is not the slightest empirical evidence and which is belied by countless numbers of well-adjusted, non-violent teenagers and adults who as children were smacked in a context of loving discipline.

Unfortunately, focus on the myths distracts from the reality. Many children are indeed sexually, physically or emotionally abused, and need rights and protection. Certain actions, such as shaking a child, are physically dangerous and should be outlawed. Physical punishment in itself is useless and pointless if not part of a loving, secure environment. Smacking should be in a context of secure, loving discipline, given for the benefit of the child, not merely an expression of parental (or a child minder's) frustration. For older children, punishments of loss of privilege become more appropriate, for they understand better 'long-term' effects.

Let us, then, abandon myths, see sensible guidelines adopted and get back to what needs to be done to protect children from cruelty and abuse in any civilised society.

Yours faithfully,

V. PAUL MARSTON

Chairperson, Social and Moral Issues Committee

Free Methodist Church UK

Preston, Lancashire

17 March

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