To Smack or Not to Smack? What is the Answer?

I was recently asked to be a radio talk back guest on smacking children. The young female presenter gave the following scenario:

A young mother, on her way home from work and after picking up here 3-year-old daughter from day care, stopped to choose a DVD. While cruising around the isles attempting to choose her only entertainment for the week, her young daughter starts pulling videos off shelves and throwing them at her mother. The mother smacked the child, one hard swift smack on the bottom, paid for the DVD in her hand and left. The young video store attendant reported the incident to the Department of Child Safety and they investigated. No action was taken against the mother but the mother was FURIOUS.

The two radio presenters had different views about what had happened. The young female presenter – a friend of the young mother – flatly refused to see anything wrong with smacking. The early 30’s male presenter, a Dad of a 6 year boy, was opposed to smacking but wasn’t sure what else to do to discipline his son.

After explaining my polarized attitudinal growth of discipline (I smacked my first two children but not my second two children because my style of coping had changed), the interview progressed along the lines of me being a reformed smacker. Whereas I had the opportunity to state that I saw smacking as a form of violence and a parental tantrum, the important reasons behind why parents smack, and, possible alternatives to that behavior were time cut.

Why do parents smack? Smacking is a way for a parent to show that they are the boss. Smacking is also used as a teaching tool: when the child is about to stick a toy into a power point, a parent will smack the child on the hand and say “no.” Smacking is also a symptom of parental stress, not knowing what else to do, and is an adult’s way of throwing a tantrum. Interestingly, many parents smack because they were smacked as children. They argue that smacking never hurt them so therefore they will smack their child.

What is a smack? Parents will have different views whether smacking is acceptable or not, but, what constitutes a smack is something completely different. Some people may understand a smack as any type of physical punishment: a belting, flogging, wooden spoon or ruler, hand tap to the arm, leg or bottom, or even a punch to the head. Culture, socialization and individual levels of frustration or personal control will influence not only if we smack but also how we smack.

Where to smack? Some parents are comfortable with smacking on the bottom, leg or hand whereas others will smack wherever their instrument of discipline makes contact.

When does a smack become abuse? If you smack in anger, it is abuse. If you smack more than once in a row, it is abuse. If you smack and leave a mark, it is abuse.

Legislation: Most developed countries have outlawed corporal punishment in State schools. Smacking is not condoned as a method of teaching or disciplining children. They hold child protection as a value and view smacking as an unreasonable threat to that value. In Australia, each State has different child protection rules. There is a National agreement that smacking should be no more than reasonable force but reasonable force has never been qualified. New South Wales is the only state that has attempted to define reasonable force – Parents cannot: hit children above the shoulders, with an implement (such as a wooden spoon) and the smack can’t leave a mark.

A national survey of over 700 Australian adults has revealed that 45% of them viewed smacking children as acceptable. Interestingly enough, after an upper Primary School news program on smacking was aired, the ABC polled that of a similar sample of 700, 65% online voters thought that it is not okay for parents to smack children because there are safer ways to discipline.

Smacking another adult constitutes abuse. If children are as important as adults (if not more important) I can’t help but wonder why we’ve created cognitive dissonance and reframed smacking children as acceptable.

In the next article, we will look at alternatives to smacking. For now though you may like to decide whether you agree or disagree that smacking children is unacceptable. Here’s a few articles to help you make an informed decision:

How Children Learn the Cycle of Violence;

Authoritarian Parenting;

Spanking or Hitting?;

Corporal Punishment in Schools.

Until there are very clear rules outlawing smacking, parents will continue to smack. Please, if anyone leaves a comment that you disagree with, do not belittle or harass them. The jury is out on smacking so let’s not pretend that we can play jury in its absence. Everyone has the right to their own opinion.