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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

timidviper Tue 23-Apr-13 19:30:45

I also agree with Zombie. My children have had the odd smack and are now well-rounded normal adults who bear me no resentment.

There is a huge groundswell of the no smacking opinion at the moment. The proof of the pudding will be when those children are grown-up. We will have to see in 15 years if the trend is towards even more wonderfully respectful adults or spoilt brats with no respect for authority.

Pamperazzi Tue 23-Apr-13 20:37:09

Couldn't agree more, though I do say so from the lofty perspective of the parent of a 6 month old, who, despite being rather trying (quite often) has yet to reach the dizzy heights of toddlerdom, which I understand can be a tad trickier....

ForkInTheForeheid Tue 23-Apr-13 21:52:36

The poster who said she had to smack her two year old because of running into a road. No, you didn't. She is a small person, you are a big person, there are other solutions. Buggies, reins, lifting her (if physically able).

As for the line of argument which says, my children/me/my granny are fine and we were smacked, it is totally meaningless! People are resilient and can be well-rounded human beings despite a lot of adversity, that doesn't mean that what they went through is OK.

EleanorFarjeon Tue 23-Apr-13 22:05:14

I agree with Zoe Williams.

It is idiotic to hit children, but idiots aren't the best listeners.

KarlosKKrinkelbeim Tue 23-Apr-13 22:10:20

I don't agree with smacking at all, but for some reason I don;t feel the need to sneer smugly at those parents who don't always conform to my principles. we are all idiotic about some things. Except Zoe Williams of course. She's perfect, as are all Guardian journalists.

katykuns Tue 23-Apr-13 22:52:51

I don't agree with smacking and when I had DD1 I was adamant I wouldn't. I did however end up smacking her on a few occasions. Once because she pushed me so much that I lost it and felt terrible. Then, like another poster experienced, running into the road as a car was coming. That was not me saying 'I will punish you', it was me reacting in such a state of shock and anger, that I lashed out. She was prone to meltdowns due to her autistic traits.

I think that what I did was wrong, but not as wrong as doing it consistently with calculated violence. Thankfully I learnt ways to keep myself calm when incidents happened, but most importantly began to not give a shit about what other people thought when she had her meltdowns after that.

katykuns Tue 23-Apr-13 22:55:50

Should have said that the meltdowns meant that she would be oblivious to dangers around her so would put herself in harms way. Not just any old toddler tantrum.

TheHerringScreams Tue 23-Apr-13 23:10:29

I don't agree with smacking at all.

But I think that very rarely smacking is fine. If you smack once or twice overall then it doesn't make a difference. Even more than that even. Having been smacked and smacked often (and belted too and the like) I say the real danger if smacking is when it's used as a consistent discipline tool. Instead of as a last resort, used maybe five times in a childhood for instance, it's when it's used regularly that it becomes dangerous.

I can understand a parent smacking a child for running across the road. When it happened to me, I shouted and shouted. Neither are good options to be honest, but they leave no long term damage, not a good parenting decision? Yes. But not idiotic as described, desperate measures. Now, if you smack for a child not putting toys away, having a tantrum, not going to bed etc; so regularly, then yes, it is damaging and I do agree and not loving. But slapping a child once isn't idiotic, usually a sign of a parent at the end of their tether. At the worst, the child cries, the parent calms down and life continues. Not so with smacking used as discipline regularly though. I have never smacked ever, but my friend once did smack her child as she ran right across the road to chat with my DD. She ran over as soon as was safe and smacked her. Because she was terrified and desperate. Bad judgement- certainly. But once does no harml best to be avoided, obviously, but not damaging or evil or bad. Not that anyone here has said that!

Coffeeformeplease Tue 23-Apr-13 23:11:36

How can violence ever come from a "good place"?

jessjessjess Wed 24-Apr-13 06:31:52

Hitting children potentially creates an insecure attachment, where parents become a source of fear AND comfort. It actually affects your child's brain.

ZombiesAreClammyDodgers Wed 24-Apr-13 06:59:16

But children should be a tiny little bit afraid of their parents as a deterrent to doing something patently wrong. Yes, a smidgen of fear is a good thing.
Like it or not, much though we may all pretend otherwise, Homo sapiens is an animal and in the animal /primate world, extreme situations may call for a small physical response.
Otherwise you may have a situation like Outnumbered where the dad pleads with his son to put the drill bit down.
Children are not adults. Their brain is not fully grown. They are not always fully logical. Sometimes a more drastic reaction is called for for their own good.
I'm sure I won't win any popularity contests on MN for this. But that's just how I feel.
Certainly not advocating smacking as a regular disciplinary tool.

BumbleBee2011 Wed 24-Apr-13 08:58:02

We were smacked as children, especially by my mother, and definitely feared her - she never learned to deal with her frustration in a healthy way (and children can be frustrating) and it just degenerated over the years, once we were too big to smack it became verbal abuse.

Luckily I had some good role models later on and now I refuse to use smacking as a discipline tool - there are always other ways. Kids need to know their parents are in control, regular smacking sends the message parents are no longer in control - and that's a slippery slope.

HugoBear Wed 24-Apr-13 09:51:20

I never wanted to smack DD when she was too little to understand life, and luckily for me i never had to. even though once or twice it crossed my mind blush

My heart goes out to those who had to even when they didnt want to. But when I grew up my mum would shout at us constantly even though she didnt smack us and Ive not liked shouting and fighting ever since. So saying that no smacking = good parenting isnt always true - if youre not going to smack you need a good plan!

WilsonFrickett Wed 24-Apr-13 10:38:10

I was smacked regularly and often as a child. Actually I was hit. A lot. On occasion I have smacked my DS. Usually when I have completely lost control of the situation. Am I proud of this? No, of course not. Am I striving with every fibre of my being to not ever smack him again? Of course I am.

But that doesn't mean I am an idiot. Or a bad parent. I am simply someone who wasn't parented particularly well, who doesn't have a lot of tools in her parenting tool box and who is trying her best to parent well.

Demonising (or indeed insulting) the parent who has lashed out in fear or frustration will not help them do better next time.

BillStickersIsInnocent Wed 24-Apr-13 10:40:59

My dad regularly hit me as a child to discipline me. Of course smacking/tapping is the euphemism but it's still physical violence however however you dress it up.

I HATED him for it, and made a vow never to hit my children. I've come very close sometimes though. Children can be exasperating and when you're exhausted and anxious it's hard to make the right decisions.
But regular physical punishment has to be wrong.

ItsYonliMe Wed 24-Apr-13 11:44:45

Using terms "bashing" and "hitting" are completely incorrect. A smack is a smack. A short, sharp, shock. Small children don't understand what's right or wrong and often a little smack is the only thing they will understand.

ItsYonliMe Wed 24-Apr-13 11:46:32

and I would say that Zoe Williams' title "What a profoundly idiotic way to deal with someone you love" is an idiotic way to speak about smacking.

TiredFeet Wed 24-Apr-13 11:57:08

but I just can't see when you would need to smack. when they are non-verbal they are too young to understand it as a punishment, and if they are about to doing something dangerous you can pick them up. Now DS (2.5) is older all I have to do is tell him I will be very cross in a slightly raised voice and he normally stops. In fact he gets so upset at the idea of me being cross that he normally needs a reassuring cuddle. and again, anything dangerous I would just remove him or the object from the situation. maybe I am lucky though and child number two will not respond so well! just at the minute I can't imagine needing to ever smack in order to discipline.

small children running into the road don't need a smack, they should have been kept under control in the first place. DS knows he has to hold my hand otherwise he will be carried like a baby. older children need to be taught road safety and, again, kept under control.

I don't think parents are terrible if they smack. mine did, and I think with 4 children maybe they just were at the end of their tether sometimes. I'm still close to them. But I think often it isn't necessary

GruffaloAteMySocks Wed 24-Apr-13 12:00:18

ItsYonliMe Call it whatever helps you sleep at night.

edwinamerckx Wed 24-Apr-13 12:05:00

I was regularly smacked as a child and as a result would never smack DS.

I have however hit other adults on several occasions. Mainly because they've been bloody asking for it smile

ItsYonliMe Wed 24-Apr-13 13:01:11

Edwina, smacking and hitting are two different things.

ItsYonliMe Wed 24-Apr-13 13:01:38

Gruffalo - no problems with sleeping at all, thank you.

BillStickersIsInnocent Wed 24-Apr-13 13:17:05

Smacking and hitting are not two different things. Calling it a smack makes it seem less serious that's all. Like prefacing violence with domestic.

It's still violence.

ArtemisatBrauron Wed 24-Apr-13 13:50:15

I was smacked fairly often as a child, sometimes with a wooden spoon not just with parents' hands.
It didn't deter me from behaving badly, since I kept getting smacked! However, I don't resent my parents for it and have a great relationship with them both.
I would never smack my own children though.

EleanorFarjeon Wed 24-Apr-13 13:55:34

Smacking is just a euphemism, it's still hitting.

Bit like when people say 'a tap on the back of the hand..' yeah, right.

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