Why do people think it’s ok to hit children?

David Laws is about as far away as you can get from me in economic terms in this party, and for a long time I was very wary of him. Then, way back in 2008, he did something that made me actually squeal with joy when I read it. He was education spokesman at the time and he and Annette Brooke came out in favour of a ban on smacking children. Since then, I’ve had a much more rounded view of him. On the economy, we’re still a million miles apart, but I do respect him as a liberal and I am much happier to see him in charge of the manifesto than I would be some others I could mention.

Smacking is nothing other than a euphemism to justify violence against children that would not be permitted either towards an animal or an adult. It also caused huge controversy amongst liberals. At Scottish Conference this year, an attempt to give children the same protection in law as an adult, supported by Edinburgh West MP Mike Crockart, was lost by 9 votes.

I was glad to see England’s Children’s Tsar come out in today’s Independent in favour of a total ban on smacking. Maggie Atkinson said:

Because in law you are forbidden from striking another adult, and from physically chastising your pets, but somehow there is a loophole around the fact that you can physically chastise your child. It’s counter-evidential.

It’s a moral  issue. The morals are that, taken to its extreme, physical chastisement is actually physical abuse and I have never understood where you can draw the line between one and the other. Better that it were not permitted.

For me, it’s quite simple. I don’t think it is ever, ever justified to hit a child. What does that teach them other than it’s fine for someone bigger to impose their will on another by using violence? And for those who think that an occasional smack does no harm, well, I guess it depends on the child. If a child is vulnerable to low self esteem anyway, doing something to them that you wouldn’t do to each other or the dog powerfully reinforces those feelings.

There will, of course, be those who say that violence is an essential part of discipline. Well, maybe if you’re lazy, but if you are looking for something effective that will give the child the skills to judge what is right and wrong and always make the right choices, violence is not an effective solution. If it were, surely we’d have no problems with employers using it in the workplace. After all, the principle is the same, the powerful beating the less powerful or powerless to get what they want.

It annoys me when liberals, usually so keen to defend the vulnerable, plump more for the rights of parents to hit than for the rights of children to be spared violence. Nick Clegg was asked about this the other week and said that he didn’t smack his own children criticise those who did. I can see why he might not want to give the Daily Mail yet another reason to hate him, but I take a different view, purely because there is so much sympathy given to the parent with very little given to the children who are hit.

Corporal punishment was still allowed in schools up until I was 15. I had a teacher who, although actually lovely if slightly scary for most of my primary education, went through a phase of belting us if we copied a word down wrongly from the blackboard. These days, when we are so much more aware of Dyslexia and associated difficulties, such a thing would be absolutely unthinkable.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen children being hit, all with the protection of the law in favour of the person doing the  hitting, for things like falling over (an ill-advised attempt to get a clumsy child to stop coming home with scraped knees), for wetting themselves, for being scared, for not finishing  their meal or simply because a parent could not control their own anger and frustration. Does anyone want to try to justify any of that? A ban would send out an unequivocal message that this kind of stuff is just wrong.

I hope that the growing momentum against corporal punishment eventually leads to a change in the law. In my view, liberals should be at the forefront of pressing for that change.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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80 Comments

  • Never smacked my daughter. Have no sympathy for anyone who resorts to violence to enforce their will. Possibly this is an artefact of having been in an abusive relationship…

    Great article, Caron.

  • The state needs to stay out of the family.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Dec '13 - 1:49pm

    Chris, does that mean that you think that we should back to the old days when the Police wouldn’t intervene in a domestic violence situation?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Dec '13 - 1:54pm

    But the law is very different if you are a child. They don’t have the same protection. That, surely, is wrong and unfair.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Dec '13 - 1:54pm

    I’m against smacking. I have my reasons for it.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Dec '13 - 1:58pm

    Eddie, you and I agree on something:-). That must be worth a small celebration of some kind:-). I will drink a toast to you later:-).

  • Alisdair McGregor 28th Dec '13 - 1:59pm

    Saying “the state should stay out of the family” in circumstances of physical violence is to abandon vulnerable individuals to bad situations, and thereby put the “Group Rights” of the family unit above the genuine rights of the individual.

    That isn’t Liberalism, it’s an abdication of the Liberal responsibility to ensure individual freedom.

    I agree with Caron & Jennie. The right of a child to freedom from physical abuse means more that the right of a family to injure them.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Dec '13 - 2:04pm

    This is a topic that is going to rouse passions, but I want to emphasise that if a child grows up in an environment where violence is acceptable then they are more likely to be a violent teenager. I would also emphasise the fact that children keep secrets and the resentment from being smacked as a child can linger for several years afterwards and sometimes not manifest until the child is an adult, at which point revenge might be sought. Although that revenge is wrong, it does happen. Especially once the child starts drinking when they are older.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Dec '13 - 2:06pm

    Thanks Caron! 🙂 Yes we don’t disagree all the time!

  • Oh god I’m agreeing with Eddie too. Have we slipped into a parallel universe? 😉

    Alisdair, yes, thank you, excellent elucidation of the liberal principles behind the position we take on this.

  • Russel McPhate 28th Dec '13 - 2:24pm

    If your toddler is about to do.setting dangerous – e.g. poke a fork into an electric socket you can reason wiith them (pointless as they will not understand) or smack – gently but firmly. I love my children and want to protect them from real harm. I did the latter. Now they are older I would do the former. It is wrong to characterise smacking as always being enforcing will by violence.

  • Elizabeth Jewkes 28th Dec '13 - 2:30pm

    Smacking teaches children that it’s fine to use violence to enforce your wishes on another person. It’s a shortcut for those who can’t be bothered to discipline their children properly. If you don’t agree with Caron, then talk to someone who was smacked a lot as a child. Ask them if they still have a relationship with their parents. I’ve visited my mother twice in the last 18 years and never saw my father again. Is this what we want for parents and children? It’s more difficult to discipline children without smacking but it’s so worthwhile.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Dec '13 - 2:32pm

    I need to emphasise the difference between child smacking and baby or toddler smacking. I was smacked as a child when I could easily have been talked to instead and I think that damaged my development. I’ve had discussions with people in this in the past and they have compared it to smacking a dog, because they can’t understand what you are saying, but this reason doesn’t apply once the child is around school age.

    My position on children who are unable to understand communications properly is different. I’m sorry to disappoint, I’m still uneasy with it, but I’m generally not a fan of absolute morals or ignoring large number of people who disagree.

  • Morgan Inwood 28th Dec '13 - 2:35pm

    Smacking children can cause all sorts of harm to the child, psychological and physical. I was a victim of smacking when I was younger and it is not nice. All violence against children is wrong, including smacking.

    I welcome this call that smacking should be banned but Parliament has to decide and this issue has come up before where smacking was not banned

  • @Russel: I see the old canard about forks and plug sockets got trotted out already. In fact sockets are safe-by-design, not child can electrocute themselves with them (this, incidentally, is why you should avoid dangerous and unneeded socket covers – see http://www.fatallyflawed.org.uk/).

    It also ignores the wider fact that there are plenty of countries where smacking is banned and parents who choose to never smack in this country and these parents manage to not have their children fatally maimed as a result. So any argument based on the necessity of smacking is patently false based on the empirical evidence.

    If you read the extensive literature covering the efficacy of smacking you will find three things (a) there isn’t any really good evidence of harm for the kind of occasional smack that smacking advocates put forth, (b) there is NO evidence that smacking is a particularly effective form of punishment and (c) children that are smacked regularly are more likely to grow to be abused by their partner if they are female, and to abuse their partner if they are male (this isn’t exactly surprising more than anything else smacking teaches children that its okay to hit people you love for their benefit).

    Unfortunately this leaves us without a strong evidential case against smacking on which to base a law and leaves it as a rather more vague moral standpoint.

  • Caron. I say that because, as far as I can see, this debate has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with protecting children and a lot to do with the state usurping the parental role. We’re not talking about anything that’s particularly going to hurt anyone (that’s long been illegal). We’re talking about threatening little Johnny in an emergency or when the naughty step hasn’t worked. Talk of a ban is about representatives of the local council demanding that parents justify their actions in everyday situations.

    The state’s attempts at parenting have been an utter disaster (I’ll just mention the childrens’ homes of north Wales). If the state were a human it’d have been banned from going within miles of a child.. Yet there are still people who insist that the state knows better. You have to wonder how much evidence some people need.

  • I’m always stunned by the vehemence with which people seek to assert their right to inflict pain on those smaller than them 🙁

  • Like jedibeeftrix above, I was occasionally smacked by my parents when young. My parents are amongst the best you could possibly hope for, and to this day (I’m 25 now) I have a very strong, positive relationship with them. I don’t ever use physical violence against anyone, so haven’t responded to that childhood experience by becoming a violent adult. Now, I acknowledge immediately that the fact that this was my experience does not mean it’s everyone’s (clearly, many people have had the opposite experience), or that there’s therefore no problem at all with the concept. What I would say, however, is that I’d be uncomfortable with a blanket outlawing that could end up getting perfectly good, caring parents who use smacking in a sensible manner in legal trouble. (In general, I’m sceptical of blanket bans, whilst accepting they are sometimes necessary.) Better guidance and education on the issue for parents? Sure. Clear legal guidance on what constitutes an unacceptable level of violence (clearer than now if necessary)? Definitely. A blanket ban, however, would likely cause unforeseen problems, not to mention giving ammo to critics who view liberals as ‘nanny state’ enthusiasts.

  • Chris Manners 28th Dec '13 - 5:05pm

    So never mind if you’re more rightwing than the Tories on the economy, you’re a proper liberal if you oppose smacking?

    I bet the smacking ban goes nowhere near the manifesto. Nor anything else remotely progressive.

  • I was smacked as a child, very rarely, but I was never confused about the fact that it was a form of discipline and not random violence. It was a means of telling me very clearly, when other means had failed, that I should not do something. And it worked.

    Now we have a generation of children who refuse to accept discipline and instructions and are in many cases impossible to educate, much to the detriment of society and totheir own future wellbeing. Whose fault is that?

    I fail to see how people can equate token, symbolic acts clearly related to chastisement for doing something wrong to , uncontrolled violence against children. The two are totally different.

  • @ Chris Manners

    “So never mind if you’re more rightwing than the Tories on the economy”

    Well we aren’t. So a “rightwing” party increases capital gains tax on the rich and cuts taxes for the poor does it? Just give it a break, why don’t you?

  • How about an idea for another article: “Why do people think it is OK not to discipline their children properly?”

    How many children are damaged by not being clearly disciplined as a child and therefore grow up unable to be educated and unemployable as a result? Quite a few, judging by the UK’s poor and deteriorating educational performance. Teachers constantly remark on how increasing numbers of children are out of control and unsocialised when they arrive at school.

    The direction of travel with this article and the thinking behind it is totally wrong.

  • Peter Hayes 28th Dec '13 - 6:16pm

    The view of abuse changes over the years. My Mum was horrified when as a small child in the 1950s I apparently said ‘let Daddy hit me’ as a light smack was better than being shouted at.

  • “So a “rightwing” party increases capital gains tax on the rich and cuts taxes for the poor does it?”

    It might very well cut taxes for all basic rate income tax payers, including those on well above average earnings, while cutting benefits in real terms. This government has failed the acid test on fairness to the poor, in that its tax and benefit changes have reduced low incomes by more (in percentage terms) than average incomes.

  • @RC: it’s “cute” the way you equate not smacking children with not disciplining them as if parents who don’t use physical methods of punishment are unable to discipline their children at all. In fact, of course, there’s exactly no evidence that smacking children is, at all, associated with better discipline and, in fact, the segments of society that use most physical chastisement with their children are also the segment with most behavioural problems (this correlation is unlikely to be causal but I point it out as it neatly bursts any notion that more smacking implies better behaviour).

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Dec '13 - 8:00pm

    This is another situation where my liberal instincts are conflicting with my desire to not make people angry.

    I’m struggling to think of a situation where it would be justifiable to smack a child. If a child is playing with a dangerous socket then hypothetically the person who deserves to be smacked is the parent for leaving the child next to a dangerous socket.

    People should not do things because they know they will cause harm to themselves or others, not because they live in fear.

  • @RC 28th Dec ’13 – 5:49pm
    >How about an idea for another article: “Why do people think it is OK not to discipline their children properly?”

    Agree

  • Just as a note of caution against believing this is an easy and straightforward issue for liberals, people may want to think through their response to an anti-abortion argument along the same lines, entitled “Why do people think it’s OK to kill babies?”

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Dec '13 - 11:40pm

    Roland and RC: my daughter has grown up disciplined. I never felt the need to hit her, though. The idea that you can only properly discipline your child through violence is just wrong in my opinion.

  • “The idea that you can only properly discipline your child through violence is just wrong in my opinion.”

    That’s fine Caron, but obviously other people have different opinions. What do you think the liberal approach to that situation is?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Dec '13 - 10:06am

    Chris, interesting curve ball you threw in there on abortion. Of course it’s nothing like the same thing. A woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy is a completely different subject.

    At the moment children don’t have the same protection in the law from assault as adults to. That is unfair and wrong and it needs to be changed.

  • @Chris: “That’s fine Caron, but obviously other people have different opinions. What do you think the liberal approach to that situation is?”

    Well, in this case, since there is PLENTY of empirical evidence that anyone who claims that smacking is required is flat-out wrong I don’t see why there opinion is relevant. Liberalism doesn’t require us to be blind to the evidence*. This is why legislation to control carbon emissions is liberal despite the ignorant hoards who imagine that climate change isn’t a real problem.

    * – in this case, evidence that smacking is not required to effectively discipline children NOT evidence that smacking is harmful.

  • @Caron: “At the moment children don’t have the same protection in the law from assault as adults to. That is unfair and wrong and it needs to be changed.”

    I think your argument is missing a step there. Children don’t have the same protection in the law from all sorts of things that adults do – including those punishments that are used instead of smacking. Just because something is permitted against children but not against adults does not mean it is wrong. The law must recognise that children do not have adult rights.

  • Caron

    Sorry, but what I was trying to impress on you is that for a liberal this not a simple issue with an easy, obvious answer. So your two-line “that’s completely different” response is disappointing.

    And much as you’d like it to be completely different, there are some very obvious parallels. Your line here is that despite some people believing that physical ‘chastisement’ can be necessary and even beneficial, and asserting that they should have the right to choose to use it, you believe the state should deny them that option, because the protection of the child should be paramount. Can you not see how similar that is to the arguments of the anti-abortionists?

  • Stuart Mitchell 29th Dec '13 - 10:41am

    @Jack
    “In fact sockets are safe-by-design, no child can electrocute themselves with them”

    And the website you link to claims that this has been so for 65 years. So how come when I was a kid and shoved a screwdriver in a plug socket, I got a macking big shock up my arm? The socket in question would have dated from around the late ’70s so ought to have been safe.

    @Caron @Jennie
    You seem to think everybody else’s personal experience is going to be the same as yours. Because YOU have managed to raise kids well without ever resorting to smacking, you conclude that everybody else should be able to do this too. It is a weak argument because all children are so different.

    I think the law as it stands strikes the right balance; it protects children, without criminalising every single parent who has ever dished out a light smack in a moment of extreme frustration.

    I abhor smacking, and on the rare occasions when I have seen parents do it in public I have been angry and felt like calling the police. Usually because, as Eddie points out, parents who smack are often more deserving of the smack than the child (for instance I once saw a two year old get smacked after its inattentive father let it wander too near a road).

    However, I’m sure there are plenty of decent parents who, in a moment of extreme difficulty, resorted to a mild smack and did their child no harm whatsoever (and possibly some good). I don’t want to see every one of those parents criminalised.

  • Stuart Mitchell 29th Dec '13 - 10:51am

    @Jack, you refer to “evidence that smacking is not required to effectively discipline children”.

    What, in all cases? I wish somebody would impart this secret knowledge to teachers, many of whom will tell you that they have had to struggle unsuccessfully with out-of-control kids.

  • “Well, in this case, since there is PLENTY of empirical evidence that anyone who claims that smacking is required is flat-out wrong I don’t see why there [sic] opinion is relevant.”

    To a liberal, their opinion is relevant for reasons that should be too obvious to need spelling out.

    Liberals don’t force people to behave in the way they want them to, however much ’empirical evidence’ may indicate that it will be best for them.

  • @Stuart: “What, in all cases? I wish somebody would impart this secret knowledge to teachers, many of whom will tell you that they have had to struggle unsuccessfully with out-of-control kids.”

    In all cases? Well, that’s difficult to tell because once you’ve moved from statistically meaningful populations down to individuals you are essentially dealing with anecdote and it’s difficult to garner scientifically meaningful conclusions. There is, however, NO published evidence that suggests that it is not true and if it were true it would suggest that smacking is actively harmful to an equal measure (since smacking is not a more effective form of punishment viewed en masse) and how do you propose to determine which is which?

    The second part of your point simply has nothing to do with smacking at all. There is no evidence that kids who are not smacked are more poorly behaved; in fact, if there is anything in the evidence at all it points in the opposite direction (although not to any conclusive extent).

  • “Well, that’s difficult to tell because once you’ve moved from statistically meaningful populations down to individuals …”

    Sorry to be a bore, but isn’t the essence of liberalism that we don’t dictate to individuals how they should behave on the basis of what’s best for “statistically meaningful populations”?

  • Have never smacked my child and never will. Generally think it is a bad disciplining technique. However I am 100% again outlawing smacking. Lots of perfectly good parents I know very occasionally smack their child. I find it disgusting that they should be considered criminals.

    Far few parents smack their children as they did a generation ago. The trend is going in the right direction, we don’t need to now criminalise people who still occasionally smack their children.

  • Eddie Sammonp 29th Dec '13 - 12:43pm

    If we don’t want children to live in fear of their parents then perhaps we shouldn’t want parents to live in fear of the state. Arguably the liberal solution is to this is to spend the money on education instead and the state only use force against the adult (through detention) as a last resort.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Dec '13 - 1:30pm

    Hannah, I think a law would be an asset in that it would mean fewer children were hit. Those good parents who love their children and who occasionally hit them would think twice about doing something that was actually illegal. On this one, I think the right of the child to be protected from assault, given the same protection as adults have, is paramount.

  • “On this one, I think the right of the child to be protected from assault, given the same protection as adults have, is paramount.”

    What you mean is that you think the legal definition of assault to be extended to include corporal punishment of children by their parents, which obviously it doesn’t include at present.

    I’m afraid you’re still not addressing the counter-argument based on individual freedom, though. And I still find the contrast with your position on abortion quite remarkable: the slightest of slaps administered to a child by a parent is to be made illegal because the protection of the child is paramount, but before the child is born you think the mother should have absolute freedom to choose to terminate its life.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Dec '13 - 2:10pm

    I think it’s fairly clear, unless you want to get into the horrendous situation in the US where mothers who have miscarriages can be arrested for manslaughter, that there is no comparison with the termination of a pregnancy. Once born, the child should have the same human rights as everyone else and that includes protection from assault.

  • Caron

    Sorry, but a glib reference to mothers who have miscarriages being arrested for manslaughter in the USA doesn’t turn either of these complex and difficult problems into the kind of simplistic, black-and-white issues you’re presenting them as.

    As for “Once born, the child should have the same human rights as everyone else and that includes protection from assault”, I’ve only just pointed out to you that assault is a legal concept which at present specifically excludes corporal punishment administered by parents to their children.

    But in a wider sense I’m afraid your statement shows that you really haven’t thought this out at all. There are many rights enjoyed by adults which children don’t and cannot share – half a dozen spring immediately to mind. No doubt there are arguments to be put on both sides of this question, but as earlier commenters have indicated, the ones you’ve put forward don’t make much sense.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Dec '13 - 2:52pm

    Chris, on personal liberty, how far would you go? Is it acceptable or legal for me to hit my husband? If not, why should it be acceptable or legal for me to hit my daughter?

  • Chris Manners 29th Dec '13 - 3:24pm

    RC- I was quite clearly referring to David Laws.

    He ought to be kicked out of your party, not in the government.

    I respect lots of people in your party, and will probably vote for my local Lib Dem councillor (Stephanie Eaton) if she stands again, currently the only Lib Dem in my borough, as one of my three votes. But Laws and all have let you down seriously.

  • Chris Manners 29th Dec '13 - 3:27pm

    I agree with Caron Lindsay and David Laws (for once). So will the ban on smacking make it into the manifesto, does anyone think?

  • My son (aged one and a bit?) was about to bite another. I lunged forward, yanked him back.
    A friend considered it right to deliver corporal punishment “when the dad got home”.
    I saw a woman punch her (primary age) child in the face because he was pissing her off.
    I’ve seen some tellings off which might perhaps damage some children.
    Is a “naughty step” harmless?

    “Reasonable chastisement” is an uncomfortable idea, and any kind of physical punishment divorced from the event or behaviour makes it into an unacceptable ritual. But a quick slap, a pull, a sharp word to prevent immediate harm to the child or to another?

  • “Chris, on personal liberty, how far would you go? Is it acceptable or legal for me to hit my husband? If not, why should it be acceptable or legal for me to hit my daughter?”

    Obviously in both cases it would depend on the circumstances. But I’m afraid simplistic one-liners like these are not likely to advance the discussion very much. Again, an anti-abortionist could play precisely the same game, and it would be meaningless. These issues are just not simple or easy.

  • Stuart Mitchell 29th Dec '13 - 7:24pm

    “Is it acceptable or legal for me to hit my husband?”

    There may be circumstances in which it would be both.

  • @Caron Lindsay 28th Dec ’13 – 11:40pm
    “Roland and RC: my daughter has grown up disciplined. I never felt the need to hit her, though. The idea that you can only properly discipline your child through violence is just wrong in my opinion.”

    Caron, I think you have jumped to an incorrect conclusion. I was agreeing with RC’s observation that a major issue we have as a society is the failure of parents to effectively discipline their children. Perhaps because you’ve yet to have to deal with parents who either think their child is perfect or are unable to control the behaviour of their child and hence are blind to the effects their (non)action is having on other children.

    And just for record, I agree that both physical and verbal violence/abuse/assault are not good general disciplinary techniques. However, the threat of physical punishment can often be sufficient for a child (or dog) to moderate their behaviour.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Dec '13 - 1:24am

    The problem with smacking is that I think it just teaches children to smack other children. When an adult is prosecuted for assault or murder we don’t deem it necessary to assault or murder the offender.

    So what should the Liberal Democrats do about it? Well, we should get some polling done on it (which don’t look good from what I’ve seen) and if not a total ban then I think either an awareness campaign or a partial ban.

    Both options cost money in the short run, but I think there could be long-term economic benefits.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Dec '13 - 1:31am

    We could treat child smacking like speeding. There’s no huge social stigma with speeding, so people needn’t worry about hordes of parents being criminalised.

  • Robert Wootton 30th Dec '13 - 8:04am

    Smacking a child was an acceptable way of disciplining children. Given that it is wrong to smack a child, what support has been provided in teaching parenting skills to parents who do not know of any other way disciplining children?

  • jedibeeftrix 30th Dec '13 - 8:36am

    No Robert, you [believe] that it is wrong to smack a child, a view that does not appear to command wide support.

  • @ Eddie Sammon

    “The problem with smacking is that I think it just teaches children to smack other children.”

    Is there any evidence that children who have been subjected to symbolic, limited physical chastisement in the event of failure of other forms of discipline are more violent to their peers? Or is this just your own supposition? I very much doubt there is any evidence behind your claim. In fact, I would expect the opposite. Children who are well disciplined are not going to be doing something that is clearly not going to go unpunished, are they?

    This blurring of boundaries between discipline-related smacking and physical abuse is misguided and is totally out of touch with general opinion.

  • Stuart Mitchell 30th Dec '13 - 11:38am

    @Eddie
    “We could treat child smacking like speeding. There’s no huge social stigma with speeding, so people needn’t worry about hordes of parents being criminalised.”

    I’d certainly worry about hordes of parents being criminalised. For one thing, it would make it difficult to tell the difference between parents who give a very mild smack once in their lives, and others who are genuine abusers, with the latter disappearing into the herd: “Oh, he’s only been done for hitting his kid, it’s no big deal, everybody’s getting done for it these days.”

    You’re also missing the point that a lack of social stigma would make smacking more prevalent.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Dec '13 - 12:32pm

    RC, I’m not taking a hard line on this because it looks unpopular, but I still think it is an area where “something should be done”, even if it is just a study and a campaign, kind of like Jo Swinson’s body confidence work. I don’t know about any evidence to back up my opinion, but I think a study should be done and people aren’t calling for the Lib Dems to bring back smacking in schools, so I think discipline without smacking would be fine.

    Stuart, I know my second point about criminalisation and stigma wasn’t the clearest or the most relevant, I just wanted to calm people down who were worried about disproportionate punishment for the parents.

  • @Eddie
    I’m not sure what kind of study you are thinking about, other than to get some statistical numbers to put smacking into context – I suspect it is of a similar order of magnitude as parents smoking in car’s with children on-board, namely a very minor issue in the grand scheme of things.

    The real challenge is to determine what discipline really means and hence what attitudes and behaviours we should be instilling in our children, and which they in turn will use to guide their parenting.

  • @RC 30th Dec ’13 – 9:38am
    Re: This blurring of boundaries between discipline-related smacking and physical abuse is misguided and is totally out of touch with general opinion.

    I suspect that many will blur the boundaries because they know parents who are quick to use what we regard is a disproportionate level of punishment for seemingly minor things, so jump to conclusions about the extent to which children are smacked. Like you, I fail to see how outlawing smacking will in anyway improve the disciplining skills of those parents who routinely use smacking, when other (lesser) forms of punishment could be more appropriate, or will assist those who use the threat of smacking as a disciplining tool.

  • Graeme Cowie 30th Dec '13 - 7:19pm

    Smacking to punish is assault. It’s that simple really.

  • Caron
    I agree that smacking children is not the solution, but I do have concerns about the enforcement of any ban. Physical reprimands are not a productive solution. I agree with someone who years ago said to me that often when a parent smacks a child it is not that they have lost control of the child but of themselves. Often when smacking is involved, the parent is probably struggling to cope so an over zealously applied ban could make things worse.

    Chris Manners:
    “So never mind if you’re more rightwing than the Tories on the economy, you’re a proper liberal if you oppose smacking?
    I bet the smacking ban goes nowhere near the manifesto. Nor anything else remotely progressive.”
    Yawn, so someone isn’t liberal unless they agree with you on everything? Grow up.
    There are liberals who are economic liberals and those that are social democrats. Any you seem very attached to the “progressive” label, well Eugenics was a popular “progressive” idea in the early 2oth century. Perhaps you ca engage with arguments or keep your irrelevant points to yourself.

    RC
    “How many children are damaged by not being clearly disciplined as a child and therefore grow up unable to be educated and unemployable as a result? Quite a few, judging by the UK’s poor and deteriorating educational performance. Teachers constantly remark on how increasing numbers of children are out of control and unsocialised when they arrive at school.”
    Well you have just argued against yourself there we currently allow smacking and the deterioration has occurred. The causes is other factors as a result the solution is not more violence.
    Discipline takes more forms than smacking. Ask any dog trainer if they hit their dogs you will get a horrified look. It is a matter of setting a frame work, clearly communicating your expectations and consistently enforcing the discipline. But you wouldn’t want to start hitting a large powerful dog. If a dog can learn without violence why not a human?

    Roland
    “Perhaps because you’ve yet to have to deal with parents who either think their child is perfect or are unable to control the behaviour of their child and hence are blind to the effects their (non)action is having on other children.”
    I think you have hit the nail on the head here that RC missed. The discipline problem is more that parents misidentifying what needs to be corrected and how to do so rather than a lack of violence.

  • Lisa Hoshino 31st Dec '13 - 1:27am

    I’ve read most of the comments here, and as a mum of two young boys I would like to add an example… First let me say that my parents smacked me, rarely, as a child. And I love both of my parents and have a great relationship with them. I do, however, remember threatening to call childline once when I was about 8 after my mum left a hand print on my leg. They never hit my again. I do not blame them for hitting me though, I was a devil. And I knew they only did it because after many times of being told no, I continued to do whatever it was I wasn’t supposed to be doing.
    In my own house I don’t hit my kids when I’m angry, but as an example, my three year old was about to hit my 1 year old with a wooden ball tower toy. I can tell you that this is behaviour he has only started to display since starting nursery. In that moment I hit his hand away to stop him from hitting his brother. Should I be arrested? Should I be punished for defending my younger child? In a moment like that, I think parents need leeway. If my son had run into the road and nearly got hit by a car, I would most certainly have yanked him back and grabbed him. Maybe even in a moment of intense fear smacked his bum to make the point that if he does something that dangerous he will get hurt. I hate even saying that, but in that situation, as a mother, I cannot be sure that I wouldn’t use a smack to emphasize the point.

  • Child is playing near dangerous implement. Hasn’t listened to requests and demands to stop doing so. Child is eventually smacked as a last resort in order to drive home the lesson that their activity is dangerous.

    Smacking can be the humane option. As a last resort.

  • Oh, and I couldn’t care less what views David Laws holds. He should be nowhere near any position of influence in government or party. (Which is not to say he can’t be forgiven and rehabilitated… eventually.)

  • Stewart

    “Oh, and I couldn’t care less what views David Laws holds. He should be nowhere near any position of influence in government or party. (Which is not to say he can’t be forgiven and rehabilitated… eventually.)”

    And how does your view on David Laws as a person relate to smacking children? Is it that hard for you to stay on topic?

  • Stuart Mitchell 31st Dec '13 - 11:21am

    Lisa Hoshino is right. It chills the blood to think of parents in those kinds of circumstances being automatically criminalised.

  • Jedi

    I was referring to the fact that Stewart stated he wasn’t interested what DL’s views were on smacking which is kind of the point of the thread.

    If Stewart wants just to bitch about people unrelated to the topic under discussion, I am sure there are plenty of other places that can be done where it would be on topic.

  • Lisa Hoshino

    I share some of your concerns but I think you misunderstand some of the points people are making.

    Caron’s suggestion is that Children be given the same protection as adults. Adults are not protected from being prevented from harming others.

    The best comparison I can think of is a drunk adult (who also do stupid things). If a drunk adult tried to hit someone and you prevented them, you would not be punished for that. Equally if a drunk person stumbled in to a road and you yanked them out of the path of a car you would not be arrested for that.

    I share your concern that some one could use a smack at times of immense fear which is why I have reservations. But I don’t think that change the fundamentals that hitting a child is never the best but I also understand that it can happen and acting against parents for that often won’t result in a better outcome.

  • Sue Doughty 1st Jan '14 - 3:42pm

    It was really good news that David Laws supported the ban as it was clear that he had moved his position after listening to the argument. He also is really influential in this policy area so never discount him.

    It is worrying how many people smack or hit babies and children who are below the age of understanding the consequences of their actions. What we have fought for over the years is for a change in thinking by people and alongside this support for them in finding other ways of managing behaviour which are more positive.

  • Because they are monsters. And I know something about corporal punishment from experience. (“Smacking” is a grotesque euphemism.) The deliberate infliction of pain on the helpless, whether for sadism, revenge or as a mechanism of control, is never acceptable.

  • jedibeeftrix 3rd Jan '14 - 6:03pm

    “If Stewart wants just to bitch about people unrelated to the topic under discussion, I am sure there are plenty of other places that can be done where it would be on topic.”

    Psi, fair enough and quite agreed.

    Yours,

    A Monster

  • Why do people think it’s okay to send children to their rooms, or to ground them?

    If I were to force an adult to stay in a room until I said they could come out, or to stop them from freely leaving the house whenever they wished, then I could be tried for false imprisonment.

    Surely children should be afforded the same rights as adults in these situations, and so any parents who discipline their children by restricting their freedom of movement should be dealt with in the same way as an adult who restricted another adult’s freedom of movement, ie, put on trial with a possible sentence of 18 months or more?

    That would certainly make those who might be tempted to use such barbaric methods of discipline as depriving children of their freedom of movement to think twice.

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