Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Is smacking a suitable tool for parents?

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So much information about so-called "anti-smacking" legislation; so many people entrenched in their own opinions on whether smacking is a suitable tool in the parenting arsenal or not.

For better or worse, here's my two cents.

1. A critical part of parenting is to guide children into becoming socially and emotionally aware - appropriately behaved in the circumstances the child will encounter throughout his or her life. For this to happen, consistent, fair and thoughtful discipline is necessary right from when children are very young.

2. "Discipline" in this sense simply means "the practise of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour [and] controlled behaviour resulting from such training." (Oxford Dictionary). I don't think there is any one absolutely right way of doing it, or wrong. Different children necessitate different forms of discipline, even within the same family. One may be a holy terror needing constant behaviour control; another may simply need the odd harsh word.

3. For years smacking has been seen as a right of parents, and indeed something that has been desirable for parents to do. Schools reinforced corporal punishment methods by strapping. Many believe the outlawing of corporal punishment in schools (and since 2007, effectively anywhere else) has helped lead to increasing lawlessness and incivility by today's young. They also believe that attempts to ban smacking do nothing to stop genuinely abusive parents.

4. Sweden was the first country to prohibit all corporal punishment of children in 1979. (This was followed in the 1980s by almost all Scandinavian countries). Despite the fact that modern Swedes believe violent crime is rising in youth, "government statistics show that the violent crime rate among teens has reached its lowest recorded level in more than 25 years; between l990 and 2000, the juvenile crime declined by 56 per cent." (Child Trends Research Brief, July 2003)

5. Sweden has the lowest rate of child mortality in the world and that figure has decreased in the decades since anti-smacking laws have been introduced. Between 1975 and 2000, the average annual number of homicides of children aged 0 - 4 in the country was four (Sweden's population is 9.3 million). In New Zealand, according to statistics presented at a recent Plunket conference I attended, the figures given were 6 deaths in an average "good" year, over 10 in a "bad" year. Some 443 preschool children were hospitalised with injuries from assaults in the years between 1995 - 2004.

6. So what the hell has this got to do with me, you say - I just give my kid a swift slap on the rear when he runs across the road! The issue, I think, is about trying to address a cultural attitude that tolerates violence. At one time, many men (and women) thought giving wives a bit of a smack to keep them in line was nothing major either. But gradually we've got to a place where many people - sadly not all - think domestic violence between spouses is plain wrong. There's no doubt in my mind that as children are raised without smacks, they will in turn be less and less inclined to smack their own kids. And while that may not stop horrific abuse completely, it will mean a greater awareness of acts of violence towards children that do, without question, cross the line.

7. You will NOT be prosecuted for giving your child a slap when she sticks a knife in the toaster. Our police force barely have enough time to follow up on serious crime without questioning you about your rubber jandal-wielding ways. There is no evidence that good parents are being punished under the current legislation (the Christchurch man who punched his four year old in the face is NOT a good example of the law being an ass.)

8. The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 (so called "anti-smacking") law makes it illegal to smack children for the purposes of correction (in the same way it is illegal to smack adults or animals). Amended section 59 STILL ALLOWS parents to use reasonable force to prevent certain behaviour, including preventing or minimising harm to the child (child runs across freeway), or preventing the child from offensive or disruptive behaviour (child kicks strangers in the shins).

9. Statistics can say anything you want them to, and while some studies suggest kids that have been smacked in moderation turn out more well balanced than those with untouched hides, others suggest levels of depression, anxiety and violence in those that have been physically disciplined. Either way, these days we have fewer excuses for not considering possible outcomes of our parenting behaviour - in the same way that these days we are aware of potential problems to our health of lighting up cigarettes - we can't plead ignorance any more. There are many different, non-smacking methods to try. Why not try them?

Even if we do give the odd smack, shouldn't we all aspire, at least, to raise our children without violence?

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: New Zealanders will get another say on smacking. Photo / Bay Of Plenty Times

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