Garth George: When it comes to children, we've lost the plot

It was all a bit sad really, Monday's Herald. On page 3 we had the Governor-General stepping right out of line with her silly speech about disciplining children; in Your Health we had the touchy-feely lady burbling on about "the universal power of touch"; and on the Dialogue page a guest writer told us how toys have turned into development tools.

By the time I'd finished Section A, I was freshly convinced that our concept of and attitude to children and parenting are so far out of whack that it's time to wonder if we will ever get them back in perspective.

I cringed at the headline over Dame Silvia Cartwright's address, "Children's advocates take heart at anti-smacking speech". Are these people - and I include the Commissioner for Children - "children's advocates"? Or are they in fact politically correct busybodies who have the wrong end of the stick?

Just because the Governor-General is a former lawyer, District and High Court judge, and just because an ex-politician has taken on the job of Commissioner for Children, does not necessarily mean that they know what they're talking about when it comes to the nuts and bolts of parenting, family life and children.

Roger McClay spoke of Dame Silvia bringing "credibility" to the debate.

Why? Has the Governor-General any more credibility in this debate than Mother of Ten, of Mt Roskill? Rather less, I think.

(And talking about Mt Roskill, the only person to come out of this sad affair so far with any credibility is the MP for that area, Phil Goff, who as Minister of Justice has steadfastly refused to give in to the agitation of a small but vocal minority and repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act, which permits parents to physically discipline their children. Long may his good sense prevail.)

Setting aside the fact that she had, by virtue of her office, no right to pronounce on matters political, it was sad to see the Queen's representative reciting yet again the misguided mantra that tries to link parental discipline with child abuse and violence.

There is no connection. The fact is that in well-regulated families in which physical discipline is appropriately applied in the interests of establishing life-defining parameters, the children will more often than not do well at school, stay out of trouble, contribute to their communities, society and the economy and eventually themselves become good parents.

It was sadder still to see Dame Silvia single out Christians, reported as saying that Christians "who had a deliberate strategy of punishing their children physically had misinterpreted Christian teaching".

This is an insupportable generalisation. I've yet to meet a Christian family in which the parents have a deliberate strategy of punishing their children. Nor do many misinterpret Christian teaching.

That most (mis)quoted adage ("Spare the rod and spoil the child") in scripture actually reads (Proverbs 13:24): "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently."

This is a statement of principle. What it is saying is that parents who fail to discipline their children are acting hatefully, whereas those who gently, firmly and promptly apply discipline, be it physical or oral or by means of a temporary deprivation of some sort, are showing their children they love them.

And the funny thing is that that principle guided family life for generations in this country and it is only since it has been cast out - along with a lot of other traditional beliefs - that we have developed the vast problems with children and young people we have today, in particular youth suicide.

We will say no more of the touchy-feely lady, save that we all develop a speciality in order to make a dollar and we don't begrudge her hers.

Barbara Sumner Burstyn's Dialogue piece on toys points to another awful burden that our secular and materialistic society - infested as it is with blind guides determined on social engineering - has placed on children.

And that is that a lot of children are not allowed to be children any more. They are not permitted to grow up naturally, to retain that wonderful carefree innocence that childhood should confer, to arrive at physical and mental milestones at appropriate times when their bodies and minds are able to cope with them.

Instead, generally for the purposes of striving parents to whom the children seem to be just another possession which has to be better than the neighbours', they are forced into thinking and behaving like adults long before they should have that responsibility.

That is the worst form of child abuse.

Which brings me to Jan and Deborah Moorhead, the religious maniacs who for months tortured a poor little mite to death by depriving him of the necessities for life. The maximum penalty for manslaughter is life imprisonment. They were given five years. On the evidence that sentence is manifestly inadequate. The Crown should appeal it.

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