Can smacking children ever come from a “loving place”?
New research out of the US, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, has concluded that spanking a child is okay as long as it came from “a good place”, that the effects of harsh discipline are mitigated by having a loving mother.
The study, published in Parenting: Science and Practice, said: “The use of harsh discipline of unwanted behaviour in children has long been controversial. Whether verbal (insults, disparaging remarks, threats) or physical (slapping/spanking), harsh discipline at all stages of childhood carries a large risk of manifesting antisocial ‘externalising behaviours’ in the child, including aggression, delinquency or hyperactivity.”
Curiously, the study only looked at Mexican-American children, based on the idea that “Latino cultural norms” such as respeto (respect) and bien educacion (social responsibility) – support the use of harsh and restrictive discipline against children.
The study also only looked at the effect of maternal involvement and love, and the findings suggested that “as long as the child knows they’re loved, and feels that it is coming from a good place, their experiences of being strictly disciplined is unlikely to result in antisocial behaviour further down the line.”
In the UK’s The Spectator, Alexander Chancellor wrote that the findings were “creepy.”
“The research carried out at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York concluded that spanking a child was all right provided it came from ‘a good place’, meaning that it was done in a loving way against a background of solid parental affection.
“But what a creepy idea. How is it possible to smack a child in a loving way? In a decent world, a child only gets smacked when it has temporarily forfeited a parent’s love.
“For smacking to be acceptable, there has to be anger involved. The child must have driven its mother or father to a point of exasperation at which no other response seems possible. Spanking is a parental cry for help. It is a message to the child saying, ‘Please stop winding me up; I just can’t take it any more.’ And sometimes that works as a means of making the child change its ways.”
Does smacking change a child’s ways? In 2011 an Australian poll found that 85 per cent of parents smack their children, and some experts said they were surprised the figure wasn’t higher.
While it might be obvious to make the distinction between the occasional smack in a loving home and routine corporal punishment in the home, for some it’s a slippery slope.
Last year, Dr Gervase Chaney, the head of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ Paediatric & Child Health Division, said the argument that “it never did us any harm” was no longer sustainable.
According to news.com.au, Dr Chaney wrote in a letter published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Chaney that: “We cannot keep going on with the argument that it was OK for our generation as children (or that of our parents) and ‘it never did us any harm’. It is up to us as paediatricians to make the issue about children and their rights and advocate for their now and their future.”
Dr Chaney said he believed the college’s position, opposing the use of physical discipline as an “ineffective and unhelpful” method of punishing children, did not go far enough: “There has been good evidence that in countries where it has been banned there is a reduction in child abuse.
“Although many people have used physical discipline and it is still regarded in most of our society as an acceptable form of parenting, there is no delineation between what was acceptable as a smack and what is child abuse.”
Were you smacked as a child – did you fear the wooden spoon, the belt, or the back of a Mason Pearson hairbrush? Have you smacked your children? Do you think it works?
And should it, as Dr Chaney maintained, be illegal?