Media Monday – To Smack Or Not To Smack?

Last week I watched a story on ‘the smack’. 60 minutes placed cameras into the home of a single mother with 3 children and filmed her smacking her children. She was a loving, functional parent with happy kids. She was using the smack as part of her discipline routine. I admit that although I’m on the fence, many of those scenes made me uncomfortable. There is something confronting or ‘not quite right’ about seeing a frustrated or angry parent physically hurting a child.

This isn’t a debate about whether we should discipline our children – of course we should. This is about which method is most appropriate and effective.

Did you know?

Smacking is illegal in 23 countries around the world

In Australia it is still lawful “to use corporal punishment to discipline children as long as the punishment is `reasonable’ in the circumstances”, according to the Federal Government’s legal definition.

But, when is smacking ‘reasonable’?

Is a smack reasonable when you’ve asked your child for the 12th time to stop bouncing the basketball in the house? When you are completely sleep deprived and exhausted and your child spills a drink? When your child talks back? Or hits his brother? Or goes to put her hand on the oven?

Surely what is reasonable to one person is different to another. Therefore, smacking in ‘reasonable circumstances’ is simply too vague.

In this Herald Sun article, Tim Costello says “We need to realize that all parents are human” meaning that we have probably all smacked in un-reasonable circumstances at some point.

Smacking is not always abusive

I have seen smacking work effectively in some families. They are the exception not the rule. It does work when it is done in a controlled manner.

The problem with smacking is that to be used ‘properly’ it requires a great deal of self-control. If a child’s mis-behavior requires correction then generally they have done something that has made us mad. It’s very hard to exercise self-control when you’re angry. A quick smack in frustration is not only damaging to a child it’s also completely ineffective as a correction technique.

I’ll admit when we used to smack my husband was much more controlled than I was. In the end, I realized I’m way too fiery to use it appropriately – so I just don’t go there.

Does smacking help more children than it harms?

I say no – because it is only a small minority of parents who handle it appropriately. For the most part, smacking is lazy. Time-outs, naughty corners, reward charts etc..all require time, effort, patience and consistency. These are all things the modern parent struggles with when we’re stressed out, busy and time poor. Smacking feels like a quick fix to bad behavior. It makes us feel like we’ve done something to correct our children when we just don’t have the energy to do anything else.

Effective discipline is hard work. It requires vigilance and consistency no matter how we feel or what other demands are pressing. I think it’s fair to say that most parents struggle with discipline. I know I do.

So, should smacking be illegal?

I say yes. This isn’t because I think parents who smack are abusive or because I’m against it but because most parents who practice smacking don’t do so in a controlled way. I also think there are plenty of smacking parents who ARE abusive.

Smacking should be illegal to protect the most vulnerable. It would be unfortunate for families who use it appropriately but we need to look at the bigger picture. Smacking does more harm than good.

Professor Frank Oberklaid, director of RCH’s Centre for Community Child Health, said there should be a law against smacking. He said it was not effective and there were better ways to discipline children. I agree. There are plenty of other ways to discipline a child without controversy.

We just don’t need ‘the smack’.

What do you think? Do you smack?

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