I loathe TV soaps. But despite this, I can’t ignore the fact that one scene in Coronation Street, of a man smacking a child, is enough to trigger debate about a worthwhile topic in an admirable variety of places.
But whether it’s right to smack your child or not isn’t worth taking much time to think about. Not least because there’s already a huge amount of informed and intelligent writing about it, and my feeling is that any further debate is repetitive, and basically redundant.
What’s more constructive is asking what ‘right’ actually means. The problem is that both sides are so polarised, as @RealDoctorStu neatly illustrates by putting the two arguments side by side, and both truly believe they are right and have evidence to back this up.
I was smacked as a child. For me there is a serious difference between smacking and child abuse. I was smacked, I wasn’t abused. Does that sound depressingly like the repeated, eerily similar phrases every smackee seems to use? The ‘it never did me any harm’, or ‘I deserved it’ or ‘I knew I had done something wrong’? Then let me clear this up.
I was smacked because my parents had finally lost their temper, or their patience, or I had pushed them so far in the arms race of parent-child relations that they had (to them) nowhere else to go but the nuclear option. I wasn’t smacked because they were drunk, bored, or motivated simply to cause me pain and suffering. That’s where I draw the line.
We know that the abuse of children isn’t right. But even in attempting to agree on abuse, not everyone is ready to come along quietly. I don’t know how anyone can see @KateKatharina‘s shocking example of a US judge subjecting his daughter to an experience of inexcusable, pre-meditated abuse of trust and parental responsibility and not recognise it as abuse, as being wrong. But, still, some maintain he was justified.
The line of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ has to be decided personally. Writer @Lizfraser1 shares her discomfort with the idea of parents hitting their kids, but contrasts smacking with hitting. In the Corrie clip she points out the character’s rage as a crucial marker that his actions are more worrisome than the light physical, irregular, discipline she gives her own children.
Parents will, with a slight raising of the hands, confess to smacking. But they’re keen to qualify this as ‘occasional taps’, used ‘once in a while’. Like Liz Fraser, they acknowledge there is a fine line, stressing that smacking has to be ‘used effectively’.
That’s totally at odds with my feelings. I see smacking as the momentary lapses, the times when the parent felt they were left with no other choice, and abuse as the controlled, conscious violence. But parents who do smack see the line into abuse crossed by those who lack the ability to control their level of violence, who lose control and then abuse.
I’m more worried about the parents who consciously smack their children without being angry, impatient or at the end of their tether. Smacking, for me, is the last resort. For these parents it seems to be a vital tool in their disciplinary armoury.
Again, the question of whether it’s right or not to smack your child is defunct, dead in the water. The interesting question to ask is why would you smack your child?
Smacking is seen as discipline, and both arguments question the efficiency of this. For my own part, I will say that I didn’t benefit from smacking, it certainly never taught me anything, it definitely didn’t bring me closer to my parents and I hope that I will never lose my cool enough to do it to my children.
Will my children suffer because of this? Am I buying into a ‘myth’ that smacking isn’t effective? Nothing from my own life fits with the idea that smacking is essential to enforce reason, or to set up a deterrant that otherwise can’t be explained. I am not the self-aware, self-critical and intellectual person I am because I was smacked.
Take the children out of the question for a moment and everything is much clearer. Those campaigning for a ban on smacking seek to define all physical discipline as abuse, while those against… are they seeking anything other than a protection of the parent, a protection of parents struggling to make the best decisions they can?
We all struggle when called to justify decisions we’ve made that skirt the line between acceptable and unacceptable – because in making these decisions we’ve had to define that line ourselves. And often enough we’ve had to make these decisions sooner than we might have liked, without really thinking, without really considering.
My instinct is that I will never smack my children, but my experience tells me that it’s only in knife-edge moments where the decision to smack is made – if it’s even a decision, more a kneejerk reaction to powerlessness. I know that if I have the time to think about smacking I’ll not do it, and I trust that I will always make the effort to make the time to think.
Because it’s not only the child who is smacked that can be affected. In @cherrymum1972‘s example, the act of smacking (a cuff around the ear) is enough to undermine the safety of a child’s classroom. If the argument for smacking is that children can’t understand reason, isn’t that a reason to protect them from violence that they, in turn, can’t understand?
Again – why smack your child? And again, if the answer is thoughtful, considered discipline, then what lies behind the reaction from so many ‘normal’ people (as normal as commenters writing such things can be assumed to be) who seem to be only a few steps away from yelling “stick the boot in!”, or the classic “I was offended – that he didn’t hit her harder!”.
I wish I was exaggerating, but it’s chilling that there are commenters that stand by smacking with theories like “The worst thing that ever happened to…the world in general is the single mother” or MPs who celebrate the “short sharp shock” and crow that “growing up undisciplined is much worse than being smacked as a child”.
I don’t believe that any of these unfortunate people honestly trust anyone else, least of all their own children or the children of others. There is a sense that children are born as untamed chaos that needs to be forcefully pressed into routine, that they are irrational beings without reason who need to ‘learn the rules’ or be moulded into a routine.
How can you trust something you believe to be so chaotic to develop sensibly, to grow up into a ‘normal’ person? Sadly the eventual rebellion against repression, the pushing back of the child which finally comes when they’re strong enough, when they’ve had enough, only proves to these people that they were right. Not that they might have been wrong.
Children are trustworthy, and I look forward to proving this belief. We will trust our children, trust them to be human. We won’t need to smack them because we won’t force a routine onto them that they will chaotically refuse, and so we won’t create a situation for ourselves where going nuclear is the only option. We will shape our world around them.
And what harm will it do? Can’t we teach them right from wrong without hammering it home? Can’t we allow them, in the years when we have no right to expect them to understand ‘rational’ routines, to have what they need, when they ask for it? Can’t we trust them not to be tarnished, damaged by this beyond further teaching?
It’s easy to be scared as a parent. It was one of my first reactions – scared that my child wouldn’t love me, that the fact I would be unable to do anything but love them without question would give them a power over me that they could abuse.
But that’s my shit to deal with, not my child’s. It’s up to me to overcome this, not to attempt to avoid the outcome that I fear by forcing my child into a shape I can deal with, a shape that my otherwise rational life can handle without too much stress.
I like to think of children as comets, not moons. Moons are locked into orbits around the gravity of larger bodies. Comets are influenced by gravity but preserve their own wider, unpredictable orbits. I trust my children to be comets, to streak away into amazing places but to eventually come back. I trust my children to love me.