Kiwi Polemicist

July 18, 2009

• Why do people object to smacking?

The comments button is at the bottom right of this post.

• “Smacking” here primarily means a swat on the rump steak or similar given for the purposes of correction/training. In some circumstances greater force is reasonable, e.g. when a thirteen year old is smashing up your lounge. Proportionality is the key.

The upcoming referendum has seen the anti-smacking brigade in full voice again, and their strong desire to control how parents respond when children misbehave provokes a question…

Why do people object to smacking? The full answer to that would take thousands of words because there are many reasons why people object to smacking, so today I’m going to concentrate on two of those reasons.

*****Reason 1-> I believe that many people object to smacking because they have been smacked by inconsistent parents. Inconsistent parents will punish the same offence in different ways at different times, so the child does not know that a smack will be the consequence of the offence before he commits the offence. Indeed, he may have breached the parental rules without even knowing that what he was doing was “illegal”. Children need clear boundaries and routine in order to feel safe and secure, so naturally inconsistent parenting will make the child feel anxious: think about what it’s like walking on thin ice or an ice-covered footpath and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. A child raised by inconsistent parents who smack is likely to grow up and have negative associations with smacking.

*****Reason 2-> I believe that many people object to smacking because they have been smacked by angry parents, therefore they understandably associate smacking with a scary – even terrifying – event.

Now, let’s have a very brief look at how things should be done:

*****A-> As I said, children need clear boundaries and routine in order to feel safe and secure, so parents need to tell children what the rules are and the reasoning behind those rules (just explain the rules, you should not attempt to justify them unless you want your children to rule over you. There’s no problem with respectful questions from children who are seeking clarification).

The parents also need to tell the children what the consequences will be for various types of offences. That way a child knows that “If I set fire to the cat I will get a smack” and there’s no surprises, so the kid can feel safe and secure when smacked by a calm parent. Yes, he’ll be distressed, but that’s something different: effective correction/training requires distress (e.g. a fine causes distress, as does “time out”), which is different to the fear caused by an angry parent and the anxiety caused by an inconsistent parent.

*****B-> Smacking should not been done by an angry parent under any circumstances. The parent should be calm and smack with the intention of delivering the consequences of the child’s actions, usually minor and transitory pain (this is consistent with the laws of nature: if a child touches a hot stove he feels pain and learns that touching a hot stove is the wrong thing to do). The smack should be followed by a quick hug or something that signals to the child that his relationship with the parent is intact (not a pity party or a bag of lollies as an apology for the smack).

That is a very simplistic explanation of a very complex topic and I haven’t attempted to look at how things work at the different stages of child development, but I’m sure that you get the general idea.

Although some people have understandable negative associations when it comes to smacking, that does not excuse them when they attempt to control how other people raise their children.

What do you think about the points I have raised here?

How would you answer the question “why do people object to smacking?

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Related posts:

The anti-smacking law lets citizens be agents of state terrorism

Update: The anti-smacking law lets citizens be agents of state terrorism

Arrant arrogance (summary of the issues)

John Key shows his arrogance (he is the paternalistic enemy now)

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2 Comments »

  1. Why do people object to smacking?

    This is an interesting way of framing the issue.

    I believe many people object to smacking as they are aware that we have one of the highest levels of child abuse and domestic violence in the developed world, and believe that condoning physical punishment as an effective form of “good parenting” only contributes to a culture that promotes violence as a means of enforcing discipline.

    This being said, however, I agree that the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 does have a major pitfall. The ammendment in effect removes the defense of “reasonable force” for an assualt charge, where such charge involves assault on a minor. Now, technically speaking this does criminalise parents who discipline their children by way of minor physical violence, and while this may be a reasonable result in itself, it is not in fact the result that the legislature intended to achieve. As a result, we are now told that the discretion will be vested in the police to determine what application of physical force constitutes an assault. The difference is that, whereas under the former law a court would determine what constitutes “reasonable force”, this decision is now effectively left up to the Police in determining whether to lay a charge. This is the real issue.

    Comment by Ian — July 19, 2009 @ 11:38 pm

    • Ian:

      Why do people object to smacking?
      This is an interesting way of framing the issue.

      I’m only trying to figure out why some interfering individuals want to control how parents respond when their children misbehave. The real issue is described below.

      I believe many people object to smacking as they are aware that we have one of the highest levels of child abuse and domestic violence in the developed world, and believe that condoning physical punishment as an effective form of “good parenting” only contributes to a culture that promotes violence as a means of enforcing discipline.

      If they think that outlawing smacking will reduce child abuse and domestic violence they are deluded. Sweden outlawed smacking about 30 years ago and the children are much more violent; they are far more likely to grow up and be violent adults.

      promotes violence as a means of enforcing discipline

      I do get tired of hearing this language used, which misrepresents the truth of smacking. Furthermore, Sweden has shown that outlawing smacking leads to more (real) violence.

      it is not in fact the result that the legislature intended to achieve

      I find that very hard to believe.

      The difference is that, whereas under the former law a court would determine what constitutes “reasonable force”, this decision is now effectively left up to the Police in determining whether to lay a charge. This is the real issue.

      That is not the real issue. The real issue is that no state or person has the right to tell another person how to raise their children.

      Comment by Kiwi Polemicist — July 21, 2009 @ 11:23 pm


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