Time to grow up over hitting children

Yvonne Roberts says that adults ought to
realise that children are not the only ones damaged by

The war drums of Middle England are belting
out again. This time it is in outrage that a parent’s right to
whack a child will soon be outlawed by the Scottish parliament,
followed shortly by Westminster.

“A Crime to Smack Your Own Child” read the
Titanic-sized front page headlines of the Daily Mail last week on a
report that the use of physical punishment is to be banned on
children under three years of age, as will hitting a child of any
age on the head or with an implement.

An adult who transgresses, in theory, could
find him or herself in prison.

The decision of the Scottish executive had
been prompted by a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the
UK courts left children vulnerable to “inhuman or degrading
treatment” by the way in which they interpret “reasonable

Once again the airwaves and newspaper columns
are filled with the usual tired arguments – the most daft of which
is the notion that a smack is the only language a young child

Anyone who believes that physical abuse is the
most effective way of communicating with a baby or infant should
look at the dozens of photographs in The Social Baby,
written by Lynne Murray, a professor of development psychology, and
Liz Andrews, a health visitor and counsellor. The book should be
given to every new parent, trainee social worker and all
politicians. In comic- strip form it shows how even a tiny baby
“converses” and eloquently trades responses in reaction to an
adult’s interest, affection, distress and approval.

Traditionally, anti-smackers have focused
their arguments on the negative effects that corporal punishment
has on the child. Perhaps it’s time we began to ask what kind of
impact spanking, or any kind of violent invasion of a child’s
world, has on the adult.

What does it say about his or her degree of
emotional intelligence? The question is asked a lot in case
conferences involving working-class parents, but rarely put to the
middle classes.

Emotional illiteracy is evident, for instance,
in the proposition that parents who smack do so only mildly and
“appropriately”. The truth, of course, is that once the taboo of
thumping an infant is broken, it becomes branded on the child’s
life as an arbitrary, inconsistent and unjust act.

Reparation and apologies for the sins of the
slave trade have also been in the news. A similar level of
ignorance was evident among the enthusiasts of slavery as is
witnessed in the words of many of today’s advocates of smacking. At
the heart of both issues are the core values that are required of a
decent society and an inclusive definition of freedom.

In 1978 Richard Farson, one of the
controversial pioneers of the children’s rights movement, wrote:
“We will grant children rights for the same reason we grant rights
to adults – not because we are sure that children will then become
better people, but more for ideological reasons, because we believe
that expanding freedom as a way of life is worthwhile in

Ideology has become a dirty word, but it
doesn’t have to mean dogma. It can also mean belief in a basic set
of principles. It is time adults grew up enough to realise that
smacking does nobody any good, least of all themselves. 

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