Wherever you lay your hand…

April 7, 2011

I am currently studying Childhood Studies at degree level and am aware this may sound like a bit of a flakey subject but it has turned out to be a lot more academic and a lot more challenging than I expected and I am glad of this.

It covers everything from development to sociology to psychology to physiology to policy. In a rights and entitlements module we briefly covered the issue of smacking children.

I was surprised at how many of our group, considering how many are only 18/19 years old, said they had been smacked as children AND agreed with it still. I am 4/5 years older than the majority of students on this course and was of the mindset that my generation and below are made up of children whose parents were just not allowed to smack their children.

I was never smacked as a child that I can remember and probably more importantly I was barely EVER shouted at. That might sound hard to believe but all it took was a stern look from my mother or father and a bit of a telling off and I’d run weeping into the hills.

I am proud that this is the way I was brought up and would like to think I will bring my own children up in the same way. I am probably being naive in stating that, having yet to have children of my own. It’s not to say this upbringing is without fault, now in my adult life I consider myself to be a strong person, however a raised voice over the slightest thing fills me with fear and I can cry at the click of a finger. Whether the two things are linked, I can’t be sure, but I really can’t stand the sound of shouting. Just last night I got all wobbly lipped when a customer at work confronted me over something very minor.

I wonder if my upbringing has made me slightly weaker than those who endured shouting and the odd smack? I know many people who have smacked their children and felt hideously guilty for years afterward but should they really beat themselves up about it (excuse the pun)?

Children can be extremely trying at the best of times, even my lecturer told the story of her son crossing the road and almost being hit by a car. Her immediate reaction was to hit him around the back of the legs. She then went on to explain that he was at the time, on a pedestrian crossing and holding her hand. The driver was 100% in the wrong and she was in as much danger as being hit as he was. He had done nothing wrong, she was just so overcome with emotion that she lashed out at him, leaving him horribly confused and frightened. She says she has treated him with a velvet glove EVER since. He is now in his teens and she says, much less independent than his brothers.

Section 58 of the Children’s Act 2004 attempts to limit the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ in child cruelty cases. The fault here I feel is that by even creating the ‘reasonable punishment’ defence we took two steps backward and gave parents an excuse for their behaviour.

I would be interested to hear peoples views on this, I anticipate a lot of ‘it never did me any harm’ comments but I think there is a lot more to it than that. Having no children of my own, means I sometimes feel hypocritical in saying I don’t think it is necessary or even trying to form an opinion on this matter.

What I would say is that it is becoming more and more difficult to say where the law of the parent ends and where state law should begin.

EDIT: Things to consider, if an adult hits another adult, they are charged with assault, what are we teaching children if we hit them? This is a key point that increases my belief that smacking is wrong. Also is there a huge difference in children nowadays? The school children I see now seem nothing like the child I was at school, they seem terrifyingly grown up, does this have a place in the argument?

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9 Responses to “Wherever you lay your hand…”

  1. Kate Says:

    i’m totally for it, i think there’s a massive difference between discipline and abuse when it comes to children. i’m not talking about beating your child black and blue for not eating all his dinner, but more a small smack to teach them a lesson. A lot of children that have not been disciplined (in early life at least) aren’t “afraid” of their parents, which means the parents have no control over what they do.
    i think it’s required in some children to teach them who has the power, otherwise we’ll end up with children (and so, adults) who have never had any authority over them.

    I was definitely a badly behaved child at times, and I don’t blame my parents at all for teaching me a lesson!


    • What “lesson” does a smack teach them though? That violence is an appropriate means of control? How then are they supposed to understand why it’s not okay to hit other children when they’ve done something that bothers them? I think teaching good communication skills and using nonviolent consequences is the best way to teach your children lasting lessons about how to interact in society, which ultimately is the paren’
      s job– to train your children to be able to get along in the world without you.


  2. Thanks for your thoughtful post. I was routinely spanked as a child and also screamed at. For the longest time I really thought that it was okay. ” I turned out just fine”, I would say. Or, ” My parents were just parenting, doing the best that they could.” At some point though, I came to a very different conclusion.
    I am the oldest of 3 and when I was left in charge of my younger siblings I was EVIL! I ruled with an iron fist, screaming at my sister and brother and beating the crap out of them. My mother tells a story of coming home to find me bashing my sister’s head into the side of the bathtub. I really think that, because of my parent’s discipline style, I was taught that violence and anger were appropriate ways to exercise authority. If you are in charge, the way to control things is to scream and yell and brutalize people into submission. I also was a very dishonest child. I told my mother ANYTHING that I thought she wanted to hear because I was afraid of corporal punishment. Our relationship was based on fear rather than respect, and as I grew older and was no longer afraid of her, there wasn’t much to base our relationship on at all. I am a mother of two now, and I have vowed not to hit them. I yell at them when they misbehave, but I make a sincere effort to NEVER use hurtful or abusive language and to use increased volume to make clear what they have done wrong, not to frighten them or make them feel guilty or ashamed. I have no idea whether it will serve them well down the road, but I think that I am providing them with a decent example of how to handle anger and power. I guess that’s the best I can do.
    As for the sophistication of children these days– I think that is even more of a reason to provide them with a responsible example of how people in authority ought to act. With reality tv/media/etc. kids are inundated with images of people behaving badly, treating each other with repugnant disrespect, and being celebrated for obnoxiousness and crudity and violence. Parenting is more important than ever.

  3. Tanya Says:

    I was smacked as a child and think it was of benefit to be honest. I love and respect both of my parents and I always knew where the line was with them. My parents brought me up to respect other people and to have good manners and be well behaved and polite and always tell the truth. I don’t think those are bad values to have and I only got a smack if I did something that was outside of these things. I was only smacked up to a certain age too because then my parents could communicate to me in other ways. My mum has the most amazing death stare and tone of voice combo that would also do the job nicely thanks. I agree that there is a big difference between smacking your child and beating them and think that most parents have the common sense to know the difference. I think it should be up to a parent to discipline their child as they see fit and I don’t think these things should be dictated by the law. I think it is a difficult area and if someone does not want to smack their child then it is up to them how they decide to disicipline but I get fed up when people say it is “wrong” to smack and that people should not do it. My son is 6 months old and I am not sure how I will discipline him yet. I am intending to use smacking but I am not sure if I will actually be able to do it if it comes down to it because he is so cute but it should be my choice. I also think it is funny that people talk about communicating with children and trying to explain what they have done wrong. If you have a toddler who can’t speak properly and can’t really understand what is going on how can you rationally explain that they are doing something wrong and should stop it. A light tap on the nappy or back of the hand is likely more effective. To be honest I don’t think anyone is right or wrong but I don’t think either camp should tell the other what to do. It should be down to the parent to do what they want and not worry about what other people are doing.


    • My younger son is two. His speech and understanding of what I say is limited, but his views of the way the world works are just being formed, and he is just beginning to express anger by hitting people, biting, etc. If I firmly pick him up and place him in “time out” and say sternly “NO HITTING!”, he gets the message. I want to communicate to him that expressing anger through physical violence is not okay, and I don’t think I can do that effectively if I hit him as a punishment.

  4. Ruby Says:

    I was smacked as a child; only a handful of times and I think that I remember these incidents as they were so few and far between. Now I’m a mother, I’ve discussed this with my own mum at some length and she admitted that although she doesn’t regret smacking me, she did feel guilty and wouldn’t do it if she had a small child now as it’s less acceptable. Being smacked on the odd occasion has in no way had a negative effect on my relationship with my parents. I was never afraid of them and feel that I’m a strong and rounded person. I don’t think smacking was any more effective than any other punishment and therefore that the smacking was probably completely unnecessary. I don’t however, resent my parents for smacking me.

    My boy’s only 2 and a half and I’ve never smacked him but have been very close sometimes. He’s hit me, bit me and kicked out when he’s been frustrated but I feel that if I hit him back or smack him at other times when he’s misbehaving all I’m doing is showing him that it’s ok to hit, kick or bite either in retaliation or as an outlet of my frustration with him. I’d rather set positive examples for him and I don’t think I could live with myself if I ever hit him.

  5. Katie Andrew Says:

    As a child my sister was smacked weekly…and I’m not just talking about a smack on the back of the legs, I’m talking about thumping kicking etc. I was also hit, but not to the extent that she was. I feel that this did benefit our childhood – but only because me and my sister are now so close after what we have been through that I wouldn’t change anything for the world. Social Services became involved and to be honest were useless – but what’s new? You only have to read the papers! All it took was for my mum to tell us we had to tell the social worker we were making it up for them to close their file and disappear. My sister hasn’t spoken to my mum for the past two years and I only go home once a year to see them…even that is a struggle. I suffer terribly from nightmares every week – even at the age of 26, and constantly re-live what I saw as a child. I think I have been worst affected as I felt helpless as a child watching it happen and now all I feel is guilt that I didn’t do more to stop it, whereas my sister says it doesn’t bother her anymore! At the age of 19 I took on 2 step children, 2 boys aged 5 and 7. The eldest being extremely naughty and disturbed about his parents divorce. He used to wind me up and wind me up but I never once hit him…get cross yes! I am no longer with their father but the eldest is 14, he is smart, well mannered and I feel I had a huge part to play in this. Hitting a child only teaches them that to get a point across, physical violence must be used. My mum had a terrible temper and so do both me and my sister. My sister has even said in the past she won’t have children as she is scared she will do to them what was done to her. I fail to see how anyone can think that violence is acceptable and it makes me physically sick. Anyone who thinks that hitting a child will teach them right from wrong clearly does not have the intellect or patience to deal with a child and shouldn’t be a mother.

  6. fuzzygloves Says:

    I think having heard other peoples views it has cemented my own as being against smacking and given me more confidence to say so. Discipline can be dished out in other ways and by hitting children we are teaching children from a young age something that in a few years time we will be telling them off for doing. I feel in the case of my lecturer where she lashed out, that that was an act of emotion and it concerns me that IF smacking were 100% illegal, what would have happened to her had there been a witness that had taken offence to her unnecessary smack and reported it? The family could have been dragged through an investigation which in turn causes more upset than the initial incident. It is a very tricky subject that everyone will always view differently but worth talking about, glad I spoke to people about it today. Unfortunately there are plenty of loving people who are/will be great parents that may from time to time smack their children and it do them no real harm. The problem lies with the parents who cross the line from an occasional smack to what amounts to abuse. Where does that line lie and who draws it?


    • I taught for a time in an elementary school in inner-city Brooklyn that had a large West Indian population. Among the families that I worked with, very harsh corporal punishment was a standard and accepted part of their culture. This was difficult for me as a teacher because I knew that if I threatened to call a student’s home when they were misbehaving, I was basically threatening them with a beating. I knew that if I called home I was basically giving them a beating. Mothers would sometimes come to school at lunchtime and deliver beatings to their children in front of the entire school. It was culturally accepted by them as a way to demonstrate that they were caring, involved parents. Too me, it was horrifying and I had a really hard time figuring out what my responsibility towards the children, as an educator, was and how much respect I owed to a culture that was so different from my own. The assistant principal of the school became a mentor of mine and she told me that most studies show that lasting mental effects from abuse begin when someone is being physically or emotionally punished at a level beyond that of what is seen as culturally acceptable. So in a culture where there is no spanking at all, even mild physical punishment would seem to the child as abnormal and could be emotionally traumatic. In cultures where children are routinely beaten, it is only the children who receive punishment above and beyond the norm that will be adversely effected. She had worked with the population we were teaching for quite some time and she told me that the lines were clear among the people– parents who left lasting marks on their children were not approved of. This makes the line difficult to pin down, but, to me anyway, it made emotional sense.


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