Tuesday, 6 March 2007

28 November 2006 - The liberal establishment wants to ban smacking, but it's the parents we should

28 November 2006 - The liberal establishment wants to ban smacking, but it's the parents we should

From: http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/anne_atkins/2006/11/post_716.html . .

The liberal establishment wants to ban smacking, but it's the parents we should trust on how to discipline children.
The trouble with the debate on smacking is there has been excess of knee-jerk, emotional reaction and a paucity of logical, objective thought. In fact, there hasn't really been a debate at all. Mostly contributions on the level of, "My mother walloped all of us and it never did us any harm," or alternatively, "My father used to beat me really unfairly, and I've hated him ever since."
The voice I've heard most often from those campaigning on the subject runs something like this: "If you'd seen the distressing abuse I've seen, you wouldn't hesitate to make hitting children a criminal offence." It's a powerful appeal. But it isn't rational. Abusing children is already a criminal offence. If the law can't stop it now, it won't stop it if we make smacking illegal. But that's not to say it won't have any effect. It certainly will.
But first we should decide on various principles of child rearing, one being whether or not we think incentives and disincentives are legitimate tools in the bringing up of children at all. There are some who think they are not. I have a very close friend who genuinely set out, when she started a family, with the view that any encouragement after a good deed was a form of bribery, and therefore somehow tacky. She would not cuddle, praise or enthuse about her children if they did something that pleased her, because she said they should be encouraged all the time. She certainly didn't believe in "punishment". You simply explain to children, that's all. Just try it.
I'm sorry to say that she was so ragged and exhausted after several children and several years of this ideology that she was yelling at her children all the time. She certainly punished them - but not with any method or system that enabled them to know when they were doing the right thing and would be rewarded, or how to avoid doing the wrong thing so they wouldn't reap its unpleasant circumstances.
The trouble with this beautiful theory is that it simply doesn't work. None of us responds only to explanation. Would you really never break the speed limit or park on a double yellow if it was simply explained to you why you shouldn't, but you knew there wouldn't ever be adverse consequences for you? Why do we bother to get out of bed and go to work in the morning? Aren't we all motivated by the incentive of the pay cheque and the disincentive of the sack? Would you go on buying Christmas presents for your loved one if he never even smiled at you to show you he was pleased, let alone thanked you and said how much he liked it?
Reasoning is fine ("he likes it; he just isn't very demonstrative") but the encouragement is what makes it worth it. Similarly, explanations are good ("Tommy doesn't like you spitting at him"), but it's the discouragement that actually stops us.
If we can't agree on this point, actually there is no further debate. If you honestly believe calm reasoning is enough to bring children up to do good and avoid wrong, good luck to you. Don't know how you're going to train your dog, but never mind. You go your way and the rest of us will go ours, because most sane people recognise that saying, "Well done!" to a child to encourage the right behaviour, and, "I'm really not pleased with you!" to discourage the wrong, is necessary to reinforce the result we want. Information is not enough.
Once this is established, the next question is what incentives and disincentives - or, to give them their politically incorrect names, what bribes and punishments - are most appropriate. And frankly, as long as they are both harmless and effective, I don't think it matters. I potty-trained each of our children with a jar of olives (one for a wee, two for a poo). I would never have used sweets because they're bad for them, but I wouldn't criticise other parents for doing so if they want to. I think shouting is distressing and best avoided, and would always prefer something calm like the "naughty stair".
In this context, given that a punishment has to have a certain unpleasantness about it if it's going to work, I can't for the life of me see why we get in such a lather about a smack. I would sometimes give our children a choice. Once, when two of ours, aged four and five, had done something really naughty - they had broken up a door with a claw hammer - and yes, when quizzed, they knew perfectly well it was wrong - I knew they needed a pretty severe punishment. So I gave them the option of going to their room for an hour, or having a smack that would be over immediately - but I warned them it would be a pretty hard one. They briefly conferred and opted for the smack. Do we really want this to be illegal?
And this raises a crucial distinction. Campaigners against smacking deliberately confuse the issue by calling it "hitting". But hitting is very different. Hitting happens in the heat of the moment after a loss of control - indeed, some, like Penelope Leach, even say losing one's rag is preferably to smacking "in cold blood". This is a very wrong, even dangerous, idea to propound.
Lashing out at a child in a temper, whether physically or verbally, is abuse. It is done for the benefit of the adult not the child, to relieve feelings rather than to discipline, and is far more likely to escalate into violence. It tends to be much more frightening, and is also likely to be humiliating. Smacking, properly used, is a controlled way of persuading your child that undesirable behaviour is not worth repeating. But if you prefer a "time out", the loss of a treat, or ten minutes on the bottom step, that's fine.
The issue is not whether smacking is necessary to raise children. (Of course it isn't.) The question is who is best qualified to decide. I believe it is parents, not politicians, who should rear their children - which is why the proposed change in the law is such a dreadful mistake. Not because we need to smack our children, but because we want them raised by the family, not the state.
Some years ago, a father

1 comment:

FamilyIntegrity said...

Press Release continues.......
smacked his child several times in a dentist's waiting room because she was getting hysterical about having her teeth attended to. He probably overstepped the mark (haven't we all?) but at least, as a result, the dentist was able to fix the problem that had been keeping her awake every night with the pain. But alas, the father's mistake was not hitting her too hard or too often (she'd recovered from that by the time she'd left the dentist's chair), but doing it in public, where a social worker saw him and reported him. He was removed from the family for the next fortnight so the poor child had to spend Christmas without her daddy.

I happened to speak to the mother a year or so later. Her husband had lost his teaching job; they'd had to sell their house, and they could no longer afford all the luxuries her daughter had loved - her piano lessons, her ballet classes. Her father upset her for a few minutes. The state has traumatised her, perhaps for life.