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Thursday, 30 October 2014

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Hitting out over the issue of smacking our children

Some otherwise lovely volunteers in a Christian bookshop caused outcry in my old town once when they dedicated their whole window display to smacking children.

As I said, these were usually lovely, moderate and extremely kind people. But their window portrayed them as, frankly, scary!

There were heavy looking straps in the window along with Bible verses exhorting parents to hit their kids.

When the church pastor and his wife, owners of the bookshop, saw the display they soon had it removed and replaced with a more loving Christian message.

I was as horrified as anyone else by the display and wrote an article about the appalled local reaction.

Not too long after that a friend and I decided to attend a parenting course run by a well-known psychologist in our area.

After two sessions we discovered that all anyone was talking about was how to punish kids – as if the sole reason for having them was to beat them into submission.

We didn’t go back and felt some satisfaction when, a number of years later, this particular psychologist was struck off for some rather unsavoury behaviour.

My husband never smacked our kids. He was definitely the softest parent and the ones the children would go to when they wanted to be sure the answer to any request was yes.

One day, though, when our son was just a baby, we were having afternoon tea with some elderly relations. Andrew kept reaching out for a hot teapot which nobody seemed prepared to move out of harm’s way.

After being told “no” several times, he was tapped on the hand by my husband with a firmer demand not to touch.

I was furious! He had beaten our baby!

The fact that Andrew did not even cry and the teapot eventually had to get moved meant nothing. A hand had been raised.

Anyway, now that I have set out my stall I am sure you are all certain you know where I stand on the issue of smacking.

If you do know, though, I wish you would tell me – because I am frankly confused.

The thought of a great big hulking adult hitting a child seems so awful and, when you focus on it, it is barbaric.

But I am really uncomfortable at the thought of smacking being made illegal. It concerns me that a loving parent could be criminalised for doing what he or she thinks is right.

I am not talking about abuse here. Anyone who seriously hurts a child should be tossed in jail for life, as far as I am concerned.

I am also totally opposed to the institutionalised abuse of years gone by. There were people in authority, especially teachers, who appeared to glory in hurting and humiliating pupils.

But, again, is there a difference between abuse and corporal punishment?

There is part of me that thinks we need to get back to some sort of discipline before our country descends into chaos. I’ve always been a champion of children but it is true that many seem no longer to have any boundaries. It worries me because they are ruining their own lives.

Would they benefit from corporal punishment? Maybe it would be a deterrent. But, on the other hand, how many times do you hear adults talking about how many canings they got at school? And if they got as many as they are boasting about, did it ever do them any good?

If you are going to write a column with any sort of credibility whatsoever, you should either know what you are talking about or at least have a strong opinion – whether right or wrong.

I am so divided on the issue of smacking that I am starting to wish I hadn’t tackled the subject at all.

I think that where I probably stand is with the belief that children need boundaries. They are not adults and are not capable of making decisions for themselves. If a child is going to harm itself, and if reason doesn’t work, then better a smacked child than an injured one.

But don’t go near your child if you don’t know the difference between a smack and abuse.

Smacking should be the very last resort rather than the first reaction. Depriving a child of a favourite game or activity is probably a better way to get their attention.

Finally, the advice is, never smack in anger.

I know what they mean, but really?

“Hello, darling child. I’m in a wonderful mood but you were naughty yesterday.” Slap.

I don’t think so!

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