Anti-smacking thoughts

First, some honesty. I've smacked my children. I probably will do it again. I believe it's an effective disciplinary tool for wilful and deliberate defiance at a young (pre-lots-of-good-reasoning-skills) age. I don't appreciate the recent amendment to section 59 of the Crimes Act in New Zealand that makes me a criminal for doing so. In all my parenting I endeavour, because of my absolute love and devotion to my children, to take what I believe are the most effective measures to raise them to become the best young people they can be. And I believe that a smack is one such measure where warranted.

So now that my bias on the subject is out on the table, I was quite intrigued by some comments posted to a forum on the anti-smacking law and the 2009 citizens initiated referendum on the matter. So I've jotted down my thoughts about some of them here. The bits in italics are the opinion postings of others. The bits in bold are mine.

Also, the vote NO Web site does a much better job at presenting the issues than I, and has helped with some interesting facts and opinion on the matter. And for all you voting New Zealanders, please vote in the referendum! Preferrably "No". OK - to the comments.

"People who lightly smack their children in their homes are not being criminalised."

Read the law - they very well are! A light smack as a corrective measure IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE. I have broken the law for doing so.

"It seems to me that the No voters are pushing forward the rights of parents to be violent towards their children over the rights of a child to be safe from fear."

While in many cases a child should not be exposed to fear, and never ever to the fear of violence or abuse, there are some fears that are both appropriate and healthy, and even fear that promotes safety. For example, a child should fear if they are in danger - it might save their lives to get off the road when the 18-foot truck is bearing down on them. Similarly a child should fear some negative consequences as they are weighing up whether or not to throw their dinner on the floor because they can't have an ice-cream. Equating a light smack with violence is like saying that the naughty mat is solitary confinement, and that going to bed without pudding is starvation.

"And BTW, nobody smacks in a 'dispassionate' manner as the 'NO' camp state they do."

So this poster knows every parent that has smacked a child, and is aware of the disposition of each one at the time of each smacking event? Didn't think so. This is quite the asinine generalisation. I have used a light smack for correcting the wilful defiance of my very young children without anger or any passion other than a passion to help them become awesome members of our society.

"Adults need to learn to guide / teach children appropriate ways of dealing with each situation they face. Loving explanations work far better and we will al so be setting good examples for our children to follow."

Loving explanations are not mutually exclusive with discipline. Every form of discipline can be coupled with a loving explanation of:

  1. the consequences of the disobedient behaviour
  2. a problem-solving session on how the child's behaviour could have been different and how that would have made things better in the situation and
  3. an encouragement or statement of belief in the child to get it right next time.
This is the real world - actions have consequences. A child should grow to learn that wilful defiance of their managers in the workplace will lead to more than just a loving explanation.

"Why are people desperate to be able to hit and hurt little children? There's no excuse !"

Part of parenting is hurting your children - get used to it. When you say "no you can't have that lolly" you hurt their immediate-term ambition, and most parents will know that in some cases, this hurt can produce some, erm, challenging behaviour from your child. When you send a child to time-out, you hurt their feelings. We parents need the right to manufacture short-term pain for our children to teach and train them that certain behaviours are unnacceptable and as a result carry some bad consequences. In some ideal family on some ideal planet young Derek might learn to be a model citizen without any corrective discipline to hurt him in any way. On this planet, Derek will be either an intolerable narcissist, be in jail by 18, or both.

"We've fallen into the trap of accepting this as a debate about smacking. It is not that and has never been. Section 59 is the law we use to try a person accused of serious child abuse."

The reason the debate exists is because the new Section 59 prevents "the use of force for the purpose of correction". Since a light smack is considered the use of force, it criminalizes every parent using a light smack as a disciplinary tool.

"Children should not be smacked by adults. What right do adults have to do this."

Parents should be afforded the rights to bring their children up to the best of their ability. A parent or guardian's relationship with a child affords them to use discipline that would be inappropriate for others, but very appropriate for the child.

"there's no such thing as "smacking", it's hitting."

Arguing semantics requires definitions. And perhaps that would help. If the law made provision a smack defined as "the movement of your hand to contact the hand or buttocks of a child for disciplinary purposes" it might provide for what 80% of the country seem to think is acceptable, and go some way to distinguish a corrective smack from violence or abuse. I'm not a lawyer, but at least the laws I've seen don't seem to get that specific for some reason - probably to make them more generally applicable.

"If I smack my child for touching the TV, is it ok when my 8 year old smacks my 4 year old for touching her toys?"

No. You're the parent - and usually parents hold something of a monopoly on discipline within the family. Think about it - if you send your child to time-out for touching the TV, is it OK when your 8 year old sends your 4 year old to time-out for touching her toys?

"Sometimes society drives legislative change, sometimes legislation drives attitude change. How do those who support the right to smack your child, for what ever reason know that their rationale is not based on outdated thinking?"

A very good and well-thought question - every society, including ours, holds to misconceptions that should change as knowledge of the truth comes to light. However, here, polls within New Zealand have consistently indicated that this way of thinking is not outdated, at least at this moment. It may become so some time in the future, so that society drives the legislative change at that point. What we have here is cleary the latter - legislation driving (well trying to drive) attitude change. It's just that in this case 80% of New Zealand don't really want their attitudes changed.

"the anti smacking law should go ahead so that the systemic abuse and deaths of children stops."

It would be absolutely awesome if this legislation stopped the systemic abuse and deaths of children. However, I'm not personally aware of even one good parent changing their behaviour, even though they may now breaking the amended law in their parenting methods (disclaimer - I don't have many friends). Do you really think that an adult who is given to violently assaulting and abusing will suddenly stop and think "I better not break the new law here." I'm a guy of great faith, but that one is even a stretch for me.

"How do you reconcile being able to smack your child with the 'It's Not OK' Family Violence campaign? Why should it be OK to smack your child when it's not OK to hit your spouse/partner?"

Acceptable treatment of humans is generally influenced by factors such as relational context and age-appropriateness (yuck - that was a bad phrase). It's probably Not OK to send your spouse/partner to the naughty stool either.

"There are two main issues which the panel seems to be missing is. Section 59 only came applicable if you were arrested, and infront of a judge saying you had used reasonable force. I ask any parents if they had ever been arrested for child abuse then those are the parents who should be worried."

The new Section 59 is quite short and I've read it several times. Now, I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see anything anywhere that remotely backs this assertion. In fact, subsection (4) talks about police discretion not to prosecute - which is clearly before your time in front of a judge. Disclaimer: I haven't read the whole Crimes Act, so maybe there's something in there I'm missing. If you're a lawyer or clued up in any way, you could let me know.

"Smacking should not be part of normal parenting and must not be condoned by society. I was smacked as a child and do not believe it was a postive way to get me to behave correctly."

I don't want to speak to your personal situation, because the smacking may have been abusive or administered unwisely. I'm certainly not proposing that all smacking is either positive or effectual in bringing about the desired results - it depends on how it is used. I guess you could similarly argue that time-out could be abusive if a dungeon was used. "Positive" ways to coerce correct behaviour may work for some children, but I am convinced (haven't looked for empirical studies, just done quite a bit of observation) that some displicine needs to unpleasant to bring to bear the issues of consequences for good and bad behaviour.

"i think that smacking is unnecessary and there are many other things that you can do."

I'm happy that you have an opinion here, as you're entitled to. I, in all honesty, think that drinking alcohol is unnecessary and there are many other things that you can do. When you talk about what is absolute "necessary", discipline is unnecessary altogether really - if you don't mind a self-centred and arrogant child turning into a self-centred and arrogant adult. Parents, and apparently a lot of them, think that a smack (in my opinion combined with preceding and subsequent dialogue with the child) is in some situations the most effective measure of discipline to lead a child towards the immaculate behaviour we all aspire to train our children towards. An axe is not necessary to chop down a tree if you have a bread-and-butter knife and a few months, but the axe may be a little more effective. You can choose the best tools you think will get the job done, but let me do the same.

"The [referendum] question makes no sense. The law is against BAD parental use of smacking."

Please read the law - subsections (2) and (3) or Section 59 criminalize the use of force for correction. You'll need the police to exercise some discretion to stop you from being prosecuted.

"Has anybody who complains about parents who smack being prosecuted actually read the legislation? Because anybody who has will find that smacking is NOT a criminal offence. Couple that with the statistics showing the number of people who have been prosecuted under the new law who would not have been prosecuted under the old law (none) and you will find that the appropriateness of smacking is more clearly defined, but not outlawed. When one looks at it that way, the referendum is a waste of time and money. Smacking has never been a criminal offence."

To clarify - Section 59 subsection (1) allows the use of reasonable force or preventing harm, crime, offense, disruption as well as "performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good parenting. Section 59 subsection (2) states "Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction", while subsection (3) clearly says that subsection (2) trumps subsection (1). Again, not a lawyer here, but common sense would dictate that "the use of force" covers things like smacking, carrying an unwilling struggler to time-out, etc. So in summary, reasonable force for certain preventative purposes is legal, reasonable force (including smacking) for corrective purposes IS NOW A CRIMINAL OFFENCE - and this only since the law change.

"Removing smacking as a mechanism for disciplining children, enables parents to apply a bit more creativity to the subject. i.e when I was a kid I would always choose a beating over being grounded or isolated etc etc etc.....smacking is infact a lazy way to discipline and actually ineffective too."

Parenting is probably the most difficult assignment I've undertaken - many parents would agree. If your only disciplinary method is smacking, then that does sound lazy to me, just as if your only method is using time-out. But calling me lazy because I use smacking carefully combined with time-out, reasoning, rewarding, and encouraging - is mildly offensive to a parent who loves his children and delights in crafting ways to teach, train, and inspire my children to be exceptionally kind, caring, considerate, helpful, resourceful, compassionate members of society. As for a smack being ineffective, I disagree based on my experience and observations, but am acutely aware that this is just the opinion I've formed. I'd like to see what the research says here, which, unfortunately, I haven't got to yet. If anyone cares to enlighten me, feel free.

"Presumably, the hitting of child is to modify their behaviour. What if you have a child who does not respond to such behaviour modifiers?"

Then don't use smacking. But what if you have a child who only responds (or responds far more effectively) to such behaviour modifiers? This law has just replaced my car with a tricycle when I'm trying to get from Auckland to Wellington. It's doable, but it'll be one dog of a ride.

"I see this law as an excellent safeguard against parental abuse. It is not designed to send middle class parents to jail because they have tapped little johnny on the leg - and I am almost certain that no one has gone to jail for this reason."

Making criminals of a good percentage of the population for a commonly accepted (over 80% of almost every New Zealand poll taken on the matter agree) parenting practice is insidious. Remember that word - "insidious". Sentiments such as "don't worry - you won't actually be prosecuted - the police will use their discretion - common sense will prevail" are being offered, but the fact remains that it is a criminal offence to smack your child for corrective purposes. Call a spade a spade people. If a corrective smack is a criminal, haul our well-meaning parenting posteriors into the courts and teach us a lesson. If it's not, then have the decency to let it be known in law, and known clearly. The thing that gets me about subsection (4) is "To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute...where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution." The Police have discretion - that brings total doubt as to whether I might get prosecuted for a smack today, tomorrow or ever. Doesn't "discretion" mean that the Police officer involved at the time can choose to prosecute or not? I'm not a lawyer, but to me, far from removing doubt, it introduces a whole new class of doubt to an already hazy law (preventative force is OK, corrective force isn't). Without going all conspiracy theory on you, watch out for laws - this one and any other - that criminalize a large percentage of the population. Who knows when someone might start wielding this sort of trash in anger for some ulterior motive.