Children & Discipline

The Spanking Debate: Changing Minds Takes a Generation

Published: 29 Jul 2013
The Spanking Debate: Changing Minds Takes a Generation

Smacking is in the headlines. The Royal Australian College of Physicians has released a statement calling on the government to legislate against smacking children. Associate Professor Susan Maloney, who heads the RACP Paediatrics and Child Health Division stated

“Research is increasingly showing that physical punishment may be harmful and children who receive physical punishment are at increased risk for a range of adverse outcomes both in childhood and as adults.”

Last time I wrote about smacking here at kidspot I got considerable hate mail calling me lots of names, and providing justifications for smacking along these lines.

"I was smacked and I turned out alright."
"You can't reason with kids. They only understand a smack."
"Parents need to discipline and control their kids."

Let’s take a reality check.

First, smacking (hitting – it’s the same thing) is an undeniable, inarguable abuse of power. Period.

If you push in front of me at the supermarket and I try to reason with you but you become abusive, I still can’t hit you. It’s illegal. It’s called physical abuse.

So why is it that I’m not allowed to hit another adult – even one being unreasonable, and who needs to be disciplines – without being charged, yet I can whack my kids? I weigh at least three times what they weigh. I’m far bigger and stronger. But the law doesn’t call it abuse?

Second, in two recent articles for kidspot I argued (and gave evidence to show) that hitting children is ineffective as a discipline strategy – and why. I also pointed out a range of alternative (and more effective) discipline strategies.

As I suggested in my recent articles, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of studies that show a direct relationship between hitting our kids and kids becoming violent. (The American Psychological Association offers a compelling summary of this research here.) Smacking kids is related to unwanted outcomes including our children being violent, depressed, anxious, stressed, more likely to be delinquent, or to use and abuse drugs and alcohol. And the harsher the smacking, the greater the unwanted results.

According to the research the only “positive” to come out of smacking is that it achieves short-term compliance. But the toll is significant.

A new perspective

A new report from the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony in Hanover, Germany, sheds a fascinating new perspective on why we need to ‘spare the rod’ and turn to more effective discipline strategies.

Christian Pfeiffer, the author of the report, has been investigating why violent crime rates in some parts of the world are dropping, and has linked the reduction in crime to the corresponding decrease in rates of smacking in those places.

Pfeiffer points out that in European countries, smacking children has been illegal since the late 1970’s, with more countries legislating against corporal punishment each year. He points to a corresponding decrease in crime in those countries – specifically violent crime. The Economist states,

“People who as children experienced the “powerlessness” of frequent spankings report a disproportionately… prone to violence themselves. In a study of 45,000 ninth-graders Mr Pfeiffer conducted in 2007-08, those kids who had been beaten by their parents were five times as likely to commit repeated crimes or to use cannabis, and missed school four times more frequently for ten days a year or more.”

We should be clear that the correlations pointed to in this article don’t prove ‘causation’. This data cannot confirm that smacking kids will make them more violent, or increase crime and drug use. But it does show that as one goes up, so does the other. And the weight of evidence from countless other sources (described earlier) provides a compelling argument that there may actually be a causal relationship between smacking and these negative outcomes for our children and our society.

A generational change

When I was young, the law was changed around seatbelts. All of a sudden we had to be restrained when we were in the car. Those long trips where we lay across the back seats were now to be spent sitting upright. Even a quick trip to the shops required us to click our seatbelts in place. And people were livid!

A generation later and we buckle up without thought.

The same can be said for a number of legislative changes.

The fact is that most Aussie parents still defend their ‘right’ to hit their children. But if laws were to change people would start to think twice. And the data are in from other countries, showing that smacking would be reduced, bit by bit. Parents would find other strategies. And children being hit would become a rare occurrence.

Parental guilt and justification

Many parents hold the belief that if we don’t discipline our children, they’ll grow up to be out of control. This is true… but remember, discipline means teaching good ways to act.

Smacking is not discipline. The evidence clearly shows that smacking doesn’t keep the kids under control. It doesn’t teach effectively. Rather, it seems to send them out of control (over the long term).

Nobody likes to be told that they are a bad parent, and that’s not the point of this article either. Every parent says and does things to their kids that they wish they hadn’t. And we feel guilt over it. Then some ‘expert’ comes along with a new study that re-opens the wound and we feel a need to justify our behaviour.

There’s no other way to say it though – smacking is wrong.

Smacking kids breeds violence. Smacking kids breeds dysfunction. Smacking kids undermines self-worth and wellbeing. Smacking kids ruptures relationships.

Don’t justify it. Truth be told – we can’t justify it, and we shouldn’t try to.

So instead of making excuses and justifying the times you have smacked, just stop it. There’s no need for it. Emerson said “anger is seldom without a reason, but rarely a good one.”


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