I’ve read a huge amount on the subject of smacking over the past couple of weeks. Thus far I’ve kept my thoughts to myself but I can do it no longer.
As seems to be the way in post-devolution Britain, the Scottish Parliament is leading the way in progressive social policy. Yes people, if you haven’t heard the news, the Scots are planning to outlaw the smacking of children. A bill proposed by Green MSP John Finnie proposing such a measure looks certain to become law.
With no such change planned in England and Wales, we’ll be left playing catch-up. As this point in time, the UK is one of only four European nations that still permit smacking and that’s embarrassing in my opinion.
Under current law, smacking is considered “justifiable assault” in Scotland (aside from anything else, that’s a horrible phrase). In England and Wales, it’s considered “reasonable chastisement” to smack a child, so long as you don’t leave any marks on the child’s body.
I’ve never felt comfortable with smacking. We seem to have an inconsistent approach to the issue. Is it not, after all, a form of domestic abuse?
Those are harsh words and it’s an uncompromising stance, but let’s put this into perspective. A husband and wife cannot hit each other without risking the wrath both of the law and wider society.
While a married or cohabiting couple can’t smack each other, they can hit their own children. To me, that’s simply inconsistent.
A couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of being asked on James Whales’ show on Talk Radio to discuss this very issue. James likes to be controversial and he certainly didn’t hold back during the interview.
He asked me what I thought of individuals who, through lack of education, could think of no better way to discipline a child than through smacking. Surely, he argued, it was wrong to criminalise individuals with this kind of background?
I had some sympathy with his argument, but I still feel it’s wrong. The law at the moment is woolly and unclear. When does a mark on a child’s body become a mark? If a red mark passes after an hour, has the parent broken the law? Can a parent dodge prosecution by claiming a nail caught their child and scratched them by accident?
If smacking of children is made illegal, then everyone knows where they stand regardless of their background. Everyone knows what the benchmark is and what is expected of them.
I was once asked if I was smacked as a child and whether it had done me any harm. The truth is, I was occasionally smacked and no, I can’t tell you it did me any harm. The thing is, I don’t really feel it did me any good either.
Of course, I understand that after a bad day, some parents can just snap when their kids push them too far. They may lash out at the time and regret doing so afterwards. Maybe, just maybe, if it were illegal to lash out, a parent in this situation would stop and think before doing so.
The example I’ve heard more than once is the child who runs towards a busy road. Surely you give them a sharp slap across the back of the hand to teach them a lesson?
Yes, I’m sure that does teach the child a lesson and makes them think twice before running towards a road. It also shows them that it’s okay for big people to hit little people, even though children are constantly taught not to hit others. It’s another example of how smacking sends out a confusing message to children.
I’ll be watching what happens in Scotland with interest. I’m also hoping the rest of the UK introduces similar legislation in the very near future.
So where do you sit in the smacking debate? Do you think it’s acceptable, or is it something you avoid doing? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.