By Chaley Scott
Principal of The Progressive Parenting Institute
‘Smacking’ or ‘spanking’ are commonly accepted terms for the (light) hitting of children in the name of discipline. Many of us smack our children with the belief that it will deter them from bad behaviour and that we were smacked as children and we are no worse for wear, so where’s the harm? At the other end of the spectrum there are those who view smacking as a form of child abuse and refuse to engage in the practice. Today smacking remains a legal (in some cases) but highly controversial method of discipline that appears to be on the way out.
In 1979 Sweden was the first country on earth to make hitting children illegal in any shape, form, or intensity. Hitters were not criminalised but counselled and educated. The effect of this on Sweden was that it created a marked reduction on assaults and the death of children at the hands of their mothers has been eliminated – the child homicide rate was zero for 15 years running.
Fears that no smacking would lead to undisciplined children has been proved groundless and invalidated by Sweden’s experience. Since the outlaw of smacking, there has been a steady decline there in youth crime, youth alcohol and drug abuse, rape and youth suicide.
Around The World
Thirty years ago, the United Nations ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a document that spells out the basic human rights of children. It states that children need special protection and care. Only two countries in the world have not signed it; Somalia and the United States. Just 24 of the 193 signatories to the Convention have banned corporal punishment outright as such a ban isn't necessary to sign onto the law.
At an international meeting a in the 1990s, Desmond Runyan, a Paediatrician at University of North Carolina, proposed that countries work in parallel to measure the type and extent of child abuse occurring in each place. Researchers from Chile, Brazil, Egypt, the Philippines, India and the US agreed on common methods to measure child maltreatment in their respective countries.
Runyan says more than 10 years later, the data revealed interesting cultural differences about what was deemed acceptable when it comes to physically disciplining children. ‘Among the things we learned, for instance, was that in India, slapping a child in the face or head is more common than spanking them,’ he says. ‘And in Egypt, 25 per cent of the mothers said that they had beaten their child up, which was defined as hitting them over and over again with a closed fist. And then the other interesting things were like the Philippines, the rate of telling people that evil spirits or the bogey man was going to get them, the kind of emotional, kind of threatening to lock them out of the home, was very high.’
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child condemns the practice of smacking with its last report on international corporal punishment laws chastising Australia for refusing to outlaw smacking. In NSW smacking is legal but the law contained provisions that are intended to safeguard children from ''serious physical harm''. This means mothers can’t hit on any part of their child's head or neck or any other part of their body if the harm it causes lasts more than a short time.
In the UK, similar legislation keeps smacking legal as long as it does not ‘cause visible bruises, grazes, scratches, swelling or cuts’. So you can hit hard and often as long as you don’t leave a mark! Colette Marshall, UK director of Save the Children, put it mildly when she said; ‘hitting children – like hitting anyone else – is unacceptable. Save the Children welcomes the opportunity for the UK government to meet its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) by modernising this law. Children are vulnerable and are currently treated unequally. They must have the same protection from assault as adults.’
A growing number of countries are moving to follow the lead of Sweden in banning corporal punishment of children altogether. An outright ban has been enacted in 24 countries, a third of them in the past two years, according to advocacy group End All Corporal Punishment of Children. These include Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Germany, Italy, Israel, Iceland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary, Belgium, Greece and New Zealand.
According to three reports — a 1998 American Academy of Paediatrics study, a 1995 Harris Poll and a separate study in California — 80 to 90 per cent of American mothers say they resort to spanking their children. In terms of the law, the U.S. likes its parental rights.
Last year, the Oklahoma State Legislature amended their child abuse laws with a bill that explicitly granted mothers the right to use paddles and switches to spank their children. The bill was enacted reportedly in response to the Columbine High School killings in order to broaden the rights Oklahoma mothers already had to spank their children under current laws. Nevada passed a similar law.
In Virginia, the Board of Social Services adopted new regulations that would make sure foster mothers were not turned away because they believed in corporal punishment. Child advocates are campaigning to have the regulations repealed before they take effect.
Effectiveness and Damage
Those in favour of smacking argue that, in certain circumstances, a strike on the bum or the hand is acceptable and sometimes necessary and loving mothers shouldn’t be criminalised for disciplining their children. Imagine your child was your partner, would you think it acceptable for them to hit you ‘for your own good’ as long as they didn’t leave a mark and they loved you?
So what damage does it do? The American Academy for Paediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association all firmly oppose spanking. ‘Children need greater protection against assault and battery more than any other class of citizen,’ said Jordan Riak, founder of Project No Spank in Oakland, California. ‘They are the class of people who are most vulnerable to physical and psychological damage when battered and they are the ones we don't protect.’
Many paediatricians and child-care experts claim that smacking isn’t even effective. ‘The children that were hit were more likely to be misbehaving still after five years than the children who weren't hit, it teaches them to be more aggressive.’ Dr Runyan discovered from his research. Runyan's colleague at UNC, Adam Zolotor, agrees. He says the research shows that routinely smacking results in many negative behaviours as the children grow up.
Although it often isn’t effective, many of us still believe it is a necessary evil. Why is it that it’s deemed unacceptable to do to an adult, but not a child? You don’t need to be a psychologist to conclude that hitting hurts a child. It hurts a child physically. It hurts a child emotionally. It hurts a child psychologically. It hurts the mother-child relationship.
Many mothers claim they do it out of love but no adult would want their spouse to hit them because they loved them. Hitting doesn’t feel like love, it feels like control and power. It teaches our children that it is ok for a bigger person to hurt a smaller person to get them to do what they want. Is that really what you want to teach your child?
SOURCE: ProgressiveParenting.Org - Insights / Education / Support - www.progressiveparenting.org/