Parents must be free to chastise and smack

Frank Furedi – 31 January 2012
Tottenham MP David Lammy should be commended for stating that parents need to have the right to smack their children in order to restrain them from anti-social behaviour. Well done too Boris Johnson, who echoed Lammy’s plea and called for a change in the law to underline the right of parents to smack children. Campaigns against smacking have put many parents on the defensive about exercising any form of restraint. Politicians often complain that parents do not take enough responsibility for the behaviour of their children. But at the same time parents are told that they should not smack their children. This point is reinforced by an army of so-called experts who claim that discipline is repressive and results in dysfunctional children. The term “discipline” now implies an abuse of power. And a well-deserved smack on the wrist or backside is portrayed as a crime against humanity. For far too long British parents have faced criticism and been threatened with intervention by social services if they physically discipline their child. The real target of these agencies is not smacking but parental authority. Punishment has become a dirty word, smacking has become stigmatised and parents who raise their voice at children are denounced for “emotional abuse……..

So what do we actually know about the consequences of smacking? Opponents claim that research conclusively shows it has long-term negative effects on behaviour. There may be good arguments for opposing smacking but they are not to be found in the realm of scientific research. Despite dozens of studies on the subject, nobody has established a causal relationship between smacking and long-term negative consequences. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that in certain circumstances smacking can be an effective disciplinary tool. However, it is difficult to have a sensible discussion on smacking. Campaigners define smacking as violence against children. They assert that violence can only lead to more violence. Such an argument is superficially plausible. However the equation of smacking with violence is a trick designed to associate it with abuse. Parents who occasionally spank their children are not being violent. Violence is physical force intended to cause injury. Caring parents who administer a smack in response to a child’s act of wilful defiance or unacceptable behaviour are actually behaving responsibly. The erosion of parental authority is one of the greatest challenges facing our country. Experience shows that the diminishing of parental authority leads to a deterioration in relations between the generations. In such circumstances adult authority itself becomes negotiable. The reluctance to restrain children really means ducking the job of socialising younger generations.