When is smacking abuse?

The very talented Bianca over at bigwords wrote an eloquent post today about how it takes a village to raise and care for a child.  Most of the post discussed how many kids do not get to experience love, freedom and a warm bed at night and how others are neglected or abused.

Then on Facebook I saw a comment from a teenager asking why our country spends money on supporting overseas causes yet does much less for our homeless, underprivileged and neglected children in Australia.

It got me thinking about all the kids at our playgroup today – all were healthy, active and loved.  How sad is it that those less fortunate children miss so much fun.

These thoughts filtered through my mind as I read stories and tucked my boys into bed tonight.  They have their every need met.  They are cherished, they feel important, they have opportunity; that is to say like most parents we are doing the best we can one day at a time.

Then I thought about SBS Insight’s program this week called ‘Tough Love’.  It was good to get a wide selection of views and the families featured were from African, Indigenous Australian and non-Indigenous backgrounds and there were traditional family units and single parents featured.

Generally, most people would say there is nothing wrong with an occasional smack.  Since corporal punishment is legal in Australia, the question was posed as to whether parents should be able to discipline their children as they ‘see fit’.

Often we hear that parent’s ‘lack of discipline’ is why ‘kids of today’ are such a problem.  We hear that parents’ rights to discipline have been taken from them as they are scared of being labelled a child abuser and so kids are getting away with too much and so do not know how to behave appropriately. There were some compelling arguments both for and against smacking.

However, there was an interesting debate around different cultural attitudes towards it.  Associate Professor Andre Renzaho said it’s acceptable for parents to smack their children in come cultures but not in an ‘individualistic’ culture like Australia and that Aussies should stop seeing their style of parenting as better than others.

Most people on the show were smacked as children and did not have an issue with it as a parenting disciplinary technique.  Most people could see there was a difference between a smack and abuse.

A single dad from a traditional Aboriginal family in Doomadgee in remote Queensland summed up his support of smacking well:

ALEC DOOMADGEE:  When we’re out bush, when we are in the country, where I’m from in the Gulf of Carpentaria, it is infested with crocodiles. If your kid is going to play beside the saltwater, where he shouldn’t be fishing, he either gets a smack from dad or he ends up in a croc’s mouth. What would you rather have?

As Master 20 months comes out of his bedroom for the umpteenth time refusing to be tired I admit I do think about giving him a smack.  But with his spirited personality it simply doesn’t work and only makes me feel bad about it.  A quick cuddle and a firm reinforcement that this is what we do every night sometimes will work better.

With Master 3 smacking is not effective either, removing of privileges or things he likes doing is.  When smacking does occur it is only after other options such as time out and repeated warnings (the boys get a ‘count’ from 1-3) have been used.

According to Professor Andre Renzaho when Australian parents smack “they are not smacking to discipline, but it’s to relieve their emotions, relieve their stress . . .”

Damn right it’s to relieve stress.  When you’ve been stuck at home all day with fighting, whining, trying children sometimes a smack comes without thinking.  Any parent who does not admit to ‘losing it’ on occasion is either a saint or a liar.

Psychologist Larissa Sampson (idealistic author Pinky McKay’s daughter) is a psychologist who specialises in working with children and adolescents and thinks abuse is abuse.

“They are all points on a continuum between what people consider disciplinary action and child abuse. Studies show that children who have been smacked in the last month are two and a half times more likely to be physically injured and need medical attention”.

This is a statistic hand-picked to support her argument; it does not take into account that a slap on the hand to stop a child sticking a fork into a power point is very different to a child being thrown against the wall.

Personally I think banning smacking is outrageously stupid.  It would make all parents criminals in about a second.  Most parents are doing the best that they can and if they do smack they do it judiciously.  But the fact remains that children are being physically and mentally abused in their own homes and what’s worrying is how often it goes unreported. But abuse isn’t always obvious so what should we be looking for? And at what point exactly does discipline become abuse?

Then again only a short time ago society thought it was acceptable for husbands to hit their wives with similar disciplinary justification.  Will we soon look back at our arguments for smacking children and be just as horrified?


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