Let’s set the scene: you are the boss, and have several employees. One of those employees is repeatedly late. It irritates the life out of you, but despite several warnings, it doesn’t stop. One day, you just snap. Sick and tired of telling them that they need to get to work on time, but it is falling on deaf ears, you lose it. You hit them. Instead of feeling remorse, you are proud of your actions, telling yourself (and anyone that will listen) that hitting your employees is the only way to instil, and achieve, respect.
Sound ridiculous? Yes, of course it does. It is not acceptable to behave in this manner, and what’s more; it’s illegal. However, in many households, this is exactly the scene being played out. For whatever reason, many parents believe that it is perfectly rational to smack their children; to exert their force, power and strength in a bid to get them to toe the line. Whichever way it’s dressed up, the bottom line is that parents who smack are hurting, both physically and mentally, the people they are entrusted to protect. How is inflicting pain on someone smaller, one that has absolutely no means to defend themselves, ever right or acceptable? And, in the playground, isn’t that referred to as bullying?
Many parents justify this unacceptable behaviour by proudly proclaiming that they were smacked, and it never did them any harm. Although it is true that parents who smack are more likely to have been smacked themselves, they are not repeating the actions of their own parents because they feel it is effective; instead, they are acting out repressed feelings, born from physical and psychological pain, repeating a pattern that was, in some cases, nothing short of traumatic. Although some shrug off their own experiences of physical punishment as nothing, there are many more accounts of how horrific it felt to be smacked as a child. Many parents reading this now will not consider their own discipline as being brutal; here’s an idea: sit down with your child and ask them how they feel about it, and you may be surprised by what you hear. Some parents even go so far as to say that their child is well-behaved because they are smacked. Here’s a newsflash: smacked children are not respectful; they are fearful. Hardly the same thing.
These days, many child-psychology experts believe that smacking should be made illegal. Yet, many parents vehemently defend their right to discipline their child any way they see fit. But when this right allows them to hurt a defenceless child, surely we, as a society, need to step in? It’s a very, very grey area: one person’s discipline, is another person’s unnecessary force. How can it be regulated and controlled if everyone’s opinion of what appropriate discipline is, differs so much? The simple answer is that you can’t. Parents often smack when they are angry; unleashing their own frustrations on a child through physical discipline. If you are enraged, how can you safely and effectively punish your child? What’s to stop you from going that little bit too far one day, and seriously hurting your child? The scary answer is: nothing.
Many countries have outlawed smacking; Sweden, for example, banned corporal punishment in 1979. Its inhabitants (including children) are generally well-behaved, respectful and polite individuals. They certainly haven’t suffered any obvious ill-effects of getting rid of ineffective, antiquated punishments. The UK and US are a long way behind: some parents in these countries wrongly consider that the child is their property; that they can do whatever they like with them. In the US, in particular, religious beliefs weigh heavily upon their decision to smack, with people acting upon ancient biblical sentiments, which proclaim that you must rule your child with an iron rod to achieve respect and good behaviour. Sadly, such deep-set conditioning is hard to eradicate.
Child behavioural experts categorically state that smacking is not a successful form of discipline, in fact, quite the contrary: smacking your child causes them to lose trust in you, and reduces effective communication. So many parents are totally misguided, believing that smacking instills respect, keeping children on the straight and narrow. However, research points to the opposite being true: children who are routinely smacked have serious issues with people in authority, both in childhood and as an adult. Medical professionals have also noted that children that are smacked are much more likely to be aggressive, which, when you think about it, is perfectly logical. Like breeds like. Additionally, children under two are totally unable to correlate the punishment with the crime, so they will be confused and scared if smacked.
On the surface, a smacked child may appear respectful and obedient; however, underneath, resentment bubbles. Repressed emotions caused by smacking can reap untold psychological harm, such as low self-esteem, depression and anti-social behaviour; and in the long run, damages the relationship you have with your child. Even more worrying, corporal punishment can prove detrimental to physiological health: extensive research shows that continued smacking irreversibly alters the brains of children, which can result in impaired speech and memory, and muscle control.
As a parent, it is our job to guide our children, not force them into submission. As a parent, don’t we cringe when our children fall over and injure themselves; or flinch at the thought of the playground bully hurting them? Of course we do. Yet, many still think it is perfectly acceptable to be the one inflicting pain, shame and embarrassment on their children.
So, I have a question for parents who smack: do you ever tell your children that it is wrong to hurt someone else (a sibling, for example)? If you do, then think of the message you are sending. It’s warped and damaging. It’s also hypocritical. Step up to the mark. Do your job properly and guide your child along their way, giving them the opportunity to develop into the well-adjusted, grounded adult you’d like them to be. Be forgiving of their mistakes, but gently show them where they could have done things differently. Be a role model, not an aggressor. And remember, your child is not you; they are their own person, with individual thoughts and beliefs.
For those parents who are in denial, unwilling to acknowledge the negative effects of physical punishment, you may be right; perhaps your child will come out unscathed and undamaged. But, seriously. Do you really want to take that risk?