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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

reallyyummymummy Thu 25-Apr-13 18:50:33

The general view of all anti-smacking hypotheses is that if I am smacking my child I am "bashing" them.

If we then use this hypothesis logically, when I give my child a time out am I imprisoning them? Or any other form of discipline I can think of can be taken to an extreme to mean abuse. Just because I take one toy off my child does not mean I am depriving him of all toys or abusing him emotionally.

We talk about "modelling" behaviour. When I give my child a time-out he knows the deal. He is in time-out because he has done something socially unacceptable. He knows that he can't give time-outs to other children because it is not in his job description. Is smacking actually any different from this? My children know it is unacceptable to smack other children because they know it is something that happens when they are naughty and for a good reason, the same way as a time out is used.

I have smacked in the past. It is not done with loaded aggression as most people assume it is done, nor is it done with calculated cold blooded malice. It is done with the same amount of thought that I use when I give him a time-out. To me there is no difference between time-out and a smack.

I am not going to claim I am a perfect parent - I look at myself sometimes and think I don't always handle myself well but I have never regretted the way I discipline them because they are both really happy, vivacious, interesting and respectful children. But then I challenge anyone to actually look into themselves and say "I am perfect and I never make a mistake".

I am not asking anti-smackers to change their view (the way anyone chooses to discipline their child is their affair), I am just asking them to try not to see anything from such a one-dimensional view point.

K8Middleton Thu 25-Apr-13 18:57:21

Do you know I am still chuckling at the idea that if you don't smack your child they'll end up in a gang. Where do you idiots people live?! Are your gangs populated by the children of parents who got down to their level and explained things and used non-violent punishments? Because where I live the people imprisoned for gang related offences come from the sort of home where slaps and clips were common place.

bialystockandbloom Thu 25-Apr-13 19:12:02

Agree with karlos upthread who said I don;t feel the need to sneer smugly at those parents who don't always conform to my principles

Me neither. Hate the self-satisfied "well I don't need to smack my dc.. " attitudes too. I haven't smacked either of my dc and hope I never would, but they have seriously wound me up and I have had to leave the room to calm myself down several times. Some people just do have dc who are harder work, and some have easier dc, and often it's nothing to do with bad or fantastic parenting.

ZombiesAreClammyDodgers Fri 26-Apr-13 09:06:44

reallyyummymummy talks a lot of sense!

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