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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

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

reallyyummymummy talks a lot of sense!

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.

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.

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.

iismum Thu 25-Apr-13 16:47:21

I hate the straw-man argument that pro-smackers always fall back on that children need discipline and will grow up worse without it. Someone earlier said that children need to be a little bit afraid of their children or you will end up with a situation [from some tv show] of patiently reasoning with your child in a potentially dangerous situation as you have no authority over them.

This is total nonsense! The extreme position of not disciplining children is not advocated by the vast majority of anti-smackers. Of course you can have discipline and authority without resorting to violence. My children are responsive to me because they know there are consequences - e.g., sitting on my lap on the bus, holding my hand on the road, sitting quietly in the car. These sanctions are logical - the removal of privileges because they have shown themselves not responsible enough, and they are effective. Smacking is not logical and I'm not convinced it is effective.

Not smacking certainly doesn't make you a good parent, but then smacking doesn't make a great disciplinarian either.

ryanboy Thu 25-Apr-13 14:33:15

jjmacka- I am very sorry to hear about your childhood.It must have been horrific.But I would consider your treatment to be a abusive beatings , which is a far far cry from smacking which most people envisage as a couple of swats on the bum with an open hand as a last resort when repeated warnings have been given.

jjmacka Thu 25-Apr-13 12:54:44

I view the conclusions drawn by that journal with distain. My own experience of growing up with parents who smacked with a slipper, belt, or cane at the drop of a hat left me with a crippled parent / child relationship. Each punishment was always backed with a 'loving' hug and "it's for your own good", or "this hurts us more than it hurts you", etc. The words were completely at odds with their actions, and meaningless. I don't remember at what age I stopped believing my parents loved me, but by my early teens I avoided intimate encounters with them as much as possible.

The damage took decades to heal. Both parents and I had a lot of growing and learning to do before we could achieve that. What I'm left with now is a fond friendship with mum and dad, and I'm content with that. But it could have been so much more.

My 2 year old son is going to have a very different experience. My wife and I are determined to raise a happy and confident child with no smacking at all if we can possibly avoid it. So far love, distraction and a stern voice seem to be doing the trick. And I'm sure I'll be stalking mumsnet for lots of tips and tricks in the coming years :-)

ryanboy Thu 25-Apr-13 10:13:59

I don't smack my children but I have no problem with those that do.
There are lots of things a parent can do which hurt the child much more than a transient stinging on the backside.
cutting words, not listening, unfair criticism,Arguing with a partner in front of the kids, introducing new partners and step children to the household.
If all these thing were made illegal then I would look at a ban on spanking.

SingleMama Thu 25-Apr-13 08:44:32

*It's Yonlime

If someone sexually assaults you in a tube (or in a club, or anywhere for that matter), what would YOU do?

When men have sexually assaulted me in clubs (touching me inappropriately etc) I have given them a smack in face too. (I was in my teens at the time. Now I would handle it perhaps differently.)

The sexism women have to put up with on a daily basis is disgusting. Just sayin'.

K8Middleton Thu 25-Apr-13 01:42:21

I love Zoe Williams. I love her for being so endlessly reasonable and for having principles and trying to stick to them. I love her for trying to explain them to others for the greater good. But most of all I love her because no matter how reasoned her argument, how well thought out her points there are still those who repeat the same old belief they had before without taking on board anything she's actually said and making a counter argument... and yet she still keeps on doing it even in the face of what must be almost intolerable frustration. Amazing.

ItsYonliMe Thu 25-Apr-13 01:01:22

Edwinamerckz - your post shows that you and I are poles apart (thank goodness)

In your own words, you've belted a few drunk, aggressive blokes. That says an awful lot about you.

SconeRhymesWithGone Wed 24-Apr-13 22:34:06

Has anyone on this thread read this study? It is very limited. I think it is a big leap from its methodology and concusions to some sort of global notion that smacking is not harmful.

edwinamerckx Wed 24-Apr-13 21:01:27

ItsYonliMe - they are not two different things - as evidenced by the fact that in most languages they are the same word.

I've belted a few drunk, aggressive blokes (and one who thought it ok to try to hump me on a crowded tube) in my time, but hitting little children is frankly pathetic.

minipie Wed 24-Apr-13 20:38:36

I don't think smacking is great, and intend to try to avoid it whenever I can.

BUT I don't much like a lot of other discipline techniques either. for example the naughty step, time out etc all involve being excluded, which I know would have upset me greatly as a child (much more than being smacked). removal of privileges only works once a child is old enough to understand the connection, otherwise it will just seem bewildering and unfair. and so on.

so, those who are totally anti smacking, do you accept that other discipline techniques could be (for some children) more upsetting?

Kiriwawa Wed 24-Apr-13 18:39:13

Wilson - I agree. But I think you and Shagmund are the only self-confessed smackers who wish they weren't. As far as I can tell, other people think it's a pretty effective part of their parenting arsenal.

I can't ever see a good reason for smacking. It's something to be ashamed of, not something to be proud of

SingleMama Wed 24-Apr-13 18:24:05

I would never smack my children as I consider it on a par to hitting/ a physically violent act/ very bad example. However I have certainly mildly hurt my son grabbing his arm and putting him on naughty step when angry about his behaviour. And I've threatened a smack. And I've done some terrible shouting! I'm not proud of any of these things. Like one poster said- some of us had terrible parenting as children. (In my case smacking, sometimes with wooden spoons, bullying.) I'm generally a very good parent and always looking for improvement! ;-)

Any suggestions for alternative discipline techniques? I find it hard to be consistent! And it's so easy to lose your cool!

Anybody got some good tips? (Children 6&3)

OK then. So previously it was thought that smacking children was wrong because it was harmful.

Now there is evidence that it isn't, it's wrong because of beliefs.

I doubt that taking a 180 degree turn and taking up a position on more or less the same basis as religious zealots is really a great advertisement for anti-smacking. Nor are the echoes resonating down this thread of the true believers clamouring "Two legs good, four legs bad".

TooExtraImmatureCheddar Wed 24-Apr-13 17:08:27

Well, I was smacked as a child, by both parents, sometimes with a wooden spoon. My parents thought that smacking was just what you did when children had been particularly bad. Both sometimes smacked when they had completely lost control, which was terrifying. I love them both and we have great relationships now.

However, I used to hit my sister and vice versa; I used to get into the occasional fight at school; and I once bit a guy in a club who spilt his drink over me. Is this related to smacking? I don't know. I think there's a part of me that accepted casual violence - my parents told me off for fighting with my sister, but Dad in particular accepted it as the way things are.

I also cringe when DH and I fight, if he gets really angry. Part of me is waiting for him to raise his hand to me, because both my parents taught me that if you get really upset, you lose control and lash out. (For the record, DH has never hit me!)

DD is 1. I don't intend to smack her. I hope I never get so angry that the behaviour I learned at my mother's knee resurfaces.

WilsonFrickett Wed 24-Apr-13 16:45:15

Again, demonising parents who have chosen to smack, or who have smacked and regretted it, will not help them choose not to smack in the future.

But this is the one issue where MN makes me grit my teeth. Comments like 'if it helps you sleep at night' are completely unnecessary. And not smacking does not equal good parenting, as Zombies so rightly pointed out.

Bonsoir Wed 24-Apr-13 14:59:48

Children are at a different stage of emotional and intellectual development to adults and we therefore need to adapt our treatment of them in order to access their understanding. Analogies between treatment of adults and treatment of children are often inappropriate.

Exactly. And punishment in our UK justice system is removal of freedom or monetary sanctions, not physical pain. How does hitting/smacking/a gentle tap convey the right message?

SconeRhymesWithGone Wed 24-Apr-13 14:45:02

I think that the analogy to not hitting adults is valid. There are situations in which adults discipline other adults. If you are a manager in the workplace and one of your staff breaks a rule, you respond with a reprimand or a more serious sanction. But you do not smack.

ZombiesAreClammyDodgers Wed 24-Apr-13 14:36:08

bonsoir I have to agree.

ZombiesAreClammyDodgers Wed 24-Apr-13 14:34:59

pan I don't think bonsoir was necessarily linking the two. Though it has been pointed out on the thread that not smacking does not equal good parenting, especially when the parent has no other effective strategy they can use.

Bonsoir Wed 24-Apr-13 14:34:58

The issue with narcissistic teenagers is that they weren't given firm enough boundaries. They think they can get away with anything and that normal rules don't apply to them. Some DC need a physical sensation in some circumstances to understand they have gone beyond the limits of acceptable behavior.

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