It seems that Australians have more or less made up their minds. Kids need nothing more than a good spanking from time to time to learn life’s lessons.
In fact, according to our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, sometimes it’s the only thing that will get through to them. They actually ‘need’ a slap from time to time according to the PM.
A Prime-Ministerial endorsement of physical punishment validates the 70-90% of Australian parents who already thought spanking their kids was ok. For Mr Abbott to say what he did was ill-considered and plain wrong. I believe that Australia’s children deserve better than that.
I have written extensively previously regarding the ugly truth about smacking our kids. But for the sake of the argument, let’s revisit the research to make it absolutely clear that this isn’t some ideological argument – it’s grounded in decades’ worth of hard data.
If you think smacking is ok once in a while, so long as it’s gentle, and when you have no other options, I hope that you’ll read the following with an open mind.
The Research is Clear
First, when we hit our kids, we teach them to be aggressive. Research shows a strong correlation between what we do, and what our kids do, when it comes to hitting and similar behaviour.
Second, children who are hit by their parents show significantly greater rates of ‘externalising’ behaviour – that is, acting out, being aggressive, and being oppositional. And the younger we start hitting them, the more profound the outcomes, as shown in this research study. (Ironically, those who promote smacking claim that it is to teach their kids respect. This research clearly indicates that hitting our kids undermines that respect.)
Third, smacking children impacts on their behaviour adjustment generally, as shown by this research. Kids who are smacked show more challenging behaviours than those who aren’t smacked.
Fourth, there are multiple studies that demonstrate that smacking our kids literally reduces their IQ. (This is just one of the many.) That’s right… physically punishing your kids can make them dumb. This finding is still controversial, and not all studies show this outcome.
Fifth, new research shows one of the most concerning aspects of spanking – mild smacking one year predicts harsher physical discipline the following year. In other words, compared with mums and dads who didn’t hit, those who did so were 50% more likely to be even more physical the following year. And Canadian researchers found that children who were smacked were at seven times the risk of physical assault (punching/kicking) from their parents compared with kids who were not smacked.
Sixth, smacking does not teach effectively. Kids don’t learn lessons. The values we are trying to instil don’t get internalised. In fact, moral internalisation is lower in kids who are smacked than in kids who aren’t.
Seventh, smacking children reduces wellbeing, psychologically, socially, emotionally, cognitively… you name it. It ruptures relationships and pushes our kids away from us when they need us most. This 2002 research synthesises decades of spanking studies and shows clearly that the only thing that is ‘good’ to come from smacking kids is immediate compliance – but as point six above shows, there is no internal moral code promoted because of smacking. Kids are obedient and compliant because we’re there and we’re threatening them. Remove our presence, and the challenging behaviour continues. And the outcomes are lousy – across the board.
What do we do instead?
There are myriad options for parents who want to ‘discipline’ their children without smacking. So what do we do?
First, remember that discipline is a two-part process that requires that we i) teach our children good ways to act, and ii) reinforce boundaries and limits.
Second, respond to our children’s challenging behaviour with patience and teaching.
To Legislate or Not to Legislate
This entire brou-haha began as a result of a report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child calling for Australia to abolish the right of parents to smack their children. The UN argues that legislation will make children safer.
I support the UN’s argument, and entirely reject the position of the Prime Minister. However, in order to legislate, we need good laws and enormous parental education. People think that it is unenforceable – that good parents will be punished and criminalised for doing what ‘good’ parents do.
I reject that entirely.
When seatbelt legislation was introduced into Australia we were warned of the ‘nanny-state’, and people were up in arms about it. These days, we wouldn’t think of driving without buckling up.
Our children have a basic human right to be raised in an environment free of violence. Legislation, carefully crafted, will bring us closer to that ideal.