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Zoe Williams' guest blog on smacking: "What a profoundly idiotic way to deal with someone you love"

(79 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 23-Apr-13 09:59:25

Research published last week seemed to suggest that children aren't adversely affected by smacking, as long as they felt loved by their parents. Here, Zoe Williams argues that this misses the point entirely.

'The journal Parenting: Science and Practice recently published some research whose conclusion was that 'the painful effects of harsh discipline - such as verbal threats or spanking - are offset by the child's feeling of being loved'. The author elaborated that children didn't seem adversely affected, so long as they believed that the punishment came from a 'good place'. This contradicts the established view that corporal punishment is actually bad for discipline, because it undermines the bonding between parent and child upon which any semblance of control is really based.

I think the two views could actually coexist; your respect and love for a parent would naturally be undermined if they started bashing you; and yet at the same time, children do forgive their parents an awful lot - first they worship you, then they see through you, then they forgive you, as the saying goes. So it's perfectly possible that, if they believe you love them deeply and just have a funny way of showing it, they'll continue to want to please you, whether you inflict pain upon them or not. It doesn't necessarily follow - by which, of course, I mean "it categorically does not follow" - that hitting children is a good idea.

Here's the thing - when I decided that I would never hit my children, it wasn't because I had a longitudinal cohort study on the effects of hitting children. Rather, it was based on a mixture of the moral and the practical. Pragmatically, I'm not religious; the moral universe in which my children will be raised is of my own devising. So I need to be pretty solid on it. I need to know what it is, I need to articulate it clearly, and I need to abide by it myself.

Which brings us to what the actual morals are, in this universe - there aren't a huge amount. You think of others, you do as you would be done by, you don't assert your will through force, you don't exploit weakness, you're polite. That's it. If I were to hit one of my children, I would be modelling the exact opposite of my belief structure. Hey, maybe that would work if they thought I was coming from a "good place". Maybe they would despise my hypocrisy but forgive me anyway, what with all the cupcakes and the hilarity. Or maybe they would simply read my values from my actions, rather than my words, and take my belief structure to be "I must be right because I'm older/ larger/ stronger/ angrier".

Hopefully they'd forgive me anyway; but for why? So I could indulge my beast within and give my rational mind a break. What a joke. What a profoundly idiotic way to deal with someone you love. I don't care what it does for discipline; still less do I care what kind of a "place" it comes from. Far more important is the question, what ethical framework are you conjuring, when you hit anybody at all? I don't think we need any fresh research for the answer to that.'

Zoe Williams writes for the Guardian and the Sunday Telegraph amongst others, and is the author of What Not To Expect When You're Expecting

k2togm1 Tue 23-Apr-13 10:30:03

Totally agree.

Gerrof Tue 23-Apr-13 11:24:21

I do like Zoe Williams. I totally agree. All of it can be summed up by "What a profoundly idiotic way to deal with someone you love"

SanityClause Tue 23-Apr-13 11:33:26

What Zoe said.

Lastofthepodpeople Tue 23-Apr-13 11:38:58

I agree 100%. I find it incredible that some people still think it is acceptable to hit a child who is smaller and more vulnerable, when the same person would never hit an adult.

TiredFeet Tue 23-Apr-13 11:52:47

Totally agree.

Before I had DS I sat on the fence on this topic, I thought maybe sometimes it was necessary in order to get a child to behave. Since having DS I just cannot imagine ever wanting to or, indeed, needing to smack him in order to discipline him. And how could I tell him not to hit if I was doing that myself?

BLOO3Z Tue 23-Apr-13 11:57:55

No its never accepatable to hit a child there is always other ways to show them that what they are doing is wrong.

OhGood Tue 23-Apr-13 12:02:40

We don't smack, totally agree, etc etc. And like with tiredfeet first time we had to properly discipline DD was to stop her hitting. Beyond ridiculous to hit her to get her to stop hitting.

But, after I had DD, I had a bit of a weird monkey-brain insight into how people might smack. It was the total physical closeness with her. When she was tiny I got quite strong urges to lick her clean (I know, and fyi I didn't.) But it is soooo mammalian, and I can imagine a monkey mother reaching out and cuffing a baby monkey. No idea if they do, going to google it now.

RubyrooUK Tue 23-Apr-13 12:15:23

Agree entirely with Zoe's points. I won't smack my boys because I tell them that hitting is wrong and the "bigger" person in any situation is the one who doesn't need to use force to make their point. I want them to grow up holding those values as men.

The only time my mum smacked me in my whole childhood (and I was a total monster sometimes!) I glorified in how I made her lose control. And I spent my teenage years taunting her about how she had once smacked me. I knew it really upset her as she hated violence - it was really out of character - so it genuinely did affect her more than me. She still regrets it terribly now and I am in my thirties. blushblushblush

With that in mind too, I think I will definitely avoid smacking in case my sons have similar guilt-inducing skills to me......

ClearlyDad Tue 23-Apr-13 12:27:41

There is one TINY exception. When I was a kid, my dad taught me to abseil (I'm now really good at it). We were at the top of a REALLY high cliff (i.e. fall = death/paralysis). I'd been asked to come away from the edge, then told, then told in a loud voice using my full name with graphic explanation of what falling would do to me. Finally I was physically dragged away from the edge and sat down... went to move again and "smack", just enough to sting. Only time I was ever struck as a kid and dad seemed really sad about it... but at the time I knew that it was done because of the idea of me falling to my death.

Years later, on a live firing exercise, I saw a big instructor kick a soldier hard enough to shock when an automatic weapon was involved and it took my back to that day.

The only time smacking can be justified is when the alternative IS worse. Can only really think of "falling off a cliff" example.

Shagmundfreud Tue 23-Apr-13 12:35:57

Then I am an idiot, a hypocrite and an all round cunt, as I have hit my children at odd times when I've been pushed beyond my ability to cope as a parent.

<returns to bed, pulls duvet over head, cries>

ClearlyDad Tue 23-Apr-13 12:52:39

Shagmund, it all depends on "what the alternative is". If the consequences of not hitting are worse (one child running with scissors towards another? Or just running with scissors) then it's a no-foul situation.

Don't beat yourself up. Listen to Tim Mitchin singing Lullaby if you don't believe me!

dummad Tue 23-Apr-13 12:54:04

Would never hit my children. And Shag: pls clean up your lingo. There's no need!

RubyrooUK Tue 23-Apr-13 13:04:05

That seems like a tough review of yourself Shagmund. I agree with Zoe that smacking is not a good idea but am unscarred by being smacked myself.

Perhaps my two have not yet accelerated to truly hideous behaviour yet either and I will have to eat my own words at some point. I hope not, but you never know. smile

I always think you wouldn't hit an adult to deal with your problems (or would you, perhaps I'm making sweeping statements?!) so why hit a child?

BoysRule Tue 23-Apr-13 13:20:24

It is totally hypocritical to smack your children and then expect them not to hit anyone - it just teaches them that it is OK for the parent to hit because you are bigger and older. I also think it shows a profound lack of respect or compassion. There is no way I could look into my little boys eyes and hit them.

That doesn't mean that they sometimes wind me up to the point of losing control - in which case I walk away. If they are in danger I would grab them and hold them - I don't see how smacking a child helps them if they are about to hurt themselves.

Gerrof Tue 23-Apr-13 14:15:51

I have just realised that the quote I highlighted in my post is the one on the thread title <dumbass>

ZombiesAreClammyDodgers Tue 23-Apr-13 15:11:50

I disagree.
I think the threat of a light smacking can be a good thing in some circumstances.
It's not about the degree of pain inflicted (which obviously should be minimal). It's about the fact that some actions might have an immediate startling consequence.
So I agree with the study. A tap here and a tap there will not go amiss if one's children fundamentally know they are loved and that is manifest to them in dozens of ways day in and day out.

Hitting is abuse whether it's an adult or a child. The only difference is that a child cannot defend!

TheFallenNinja Tue 23-Apr-13 16:15:53

So to support the anti smacking we label the pro smacking. It's not a terribly constructive way to deal with it.

MrsBombastic Tue 23-Apr-13 16:59:47

I am not an advocate for smacking... however...

Look at all the street gangs and the violence that goes with it, for me the denegration of society began with the breakdown of marriage and our failure as a nation to discipline our children properly.

Oh yeah and bring back conscription!

Meringue33 Tue 23-Apr-13 17:11:01

There were gangs before smacking was banned. Brighton Rock? Mods v rockers? The Mafia!!

Whatalotofpiffle Tue 23-Apr-13 17:47:19

I was smacked when mum lost the plot and we really pushed her too far, and I wouldn't say I am scarred but how do I know? I have never felt like it was the best way to deal with it and it glossed over the real problems.

purpleroses Tue 23-Apr-13 19:07:26

I agree with Zombies. I'd never advocate smacking as a punishment, and when I only had my easy-going DC1 I also thought it was entirely unnecessary.

But when my thrill-seeking 2 year old DC2 went through a phase of running out into roads and laughing at my reaction, I couldn't find any way of stopping her. Then tried a sharp smack to her ankles which finally stopped her laughing and made her cry. Did it on two occasions and she never ran out in the road again.

You do it to someone you love who is too young to understand the words you need to keep them safe.

BoysRule Tue 23-Apr-13 19:27:48

I just can't see that it is ever necessary or justified. If it's not about the need for pain being inflicted there are many other ways to show that some actions might have an immediate startling consequence. I am a teacher and on a daily basis had to deal with 30 very difficult 5 year old children. I couldn't smack them - but they did know that some behaviours were 100% not acceptable. If teachers can deal with terrible behaviour on a daily basis and not smack then I think parents can find other ways of managing behaviour. It only teaches them that violence is acceptable in certain circumstances - which it isn't.

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