Should smacking be banned?

February 22, 2012, 11:50 AM GMT+0

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, recently made a statement about the current smacking legislation, enforced under Labour’s Children Act of 2004, which states that parents are only allowed to smack their offspring without causing a ‘reddening of the skin’.

Mr Johnson suggested that the legislation should be lifted as the system left families feeling anxious that they would face prosecution if they attempted to impose authority over their children. The argument was essentially that lifting the ban smacking would help to put an end to rioting, gangs and knife violence.

This week, we queried our panellists on why smacking should or should not be allowed when reprimanding a naughty child and, if not, what sort of alternatives they could suggest for parents who are at their wits' end.

Many of you said that the act of smacking counts as child abuse and lazy parenting. Others however felt there is a clear distinction between ‘smacking’ which is an effective disciplinary tactic, and ‘abuse’ which can be carried out in a variety of ways that are harmful to the child, and would be done so whether there are laws against smacking or not. So what do you think?

Reasonable chastisement or a form of child abuse? Is the end of smacking a crackdown on misused corporal punishment or simply an overreaction?

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Here’s what our poll participants had to say: 

1. Smacking *should* be allowed

Argument 1 - Smacking is not abuse

There is an obvious difference between discipline and abuse that the majority of parents appreciate. It is more harmful for children to grow up with no control or discipline in their lives and has led to many of the stigma faced by young people today”

“There is a difference in tapping or smacking to rectify a behavioural problem and hitting a child and losing control. If a child is chastised by smacking in a loving environment where the majority of the time the child is shown that they are valued and loved then the occasional smack will not harm their development”

“Firstly, because a 'reasonable' smack is a short term pain that tells the child in no uncertain terms that he/she must follow the rules. Secondly, because shouting at the child, I think, is more traumatic. Either the child turns out to be a bully or else becomes introverted and fearful of others”

“They say that hitting an adult is never acceptable, so nor should hitting a child be...If I shut an adult in his or her bedroom and refused to let them leave the house, I would be guilty of false imprisonment. If I confiscated an adult's property, I would be guilty of theft. Will the anti-smacking lobby make it impossible for parents to do this to a child too? Should adults only be able to punish a child after the case has been brought before a court or another legally constituted tribunal? For that matter, why shouldn't children have the vote?”

“Smacking is down to the individual. There will always be parents who misuse smacking, but that is because they are not good parents, and does not mean that smacking in itself is not an acceptable form of disciplining children”

Argument 2 - It prevents worse outcomes

A smack is much less serious than an accident - such as running into the road. Memory of a smack reminds a child not to repeat the behaviour that earned the smack in the first place”

“I stopped smacking my son when he was young and he has turned out to be an arrogant, ignorant, abusive teenage thug. If I had known then what I know now I would have continued as he would have learnt what it is like to receive what he dishes out”

“My eldest was obsessed with playing with fire. Finally, for fear of him burning down the house, having tried all other methods, I smacked him. As a last resort and shock tactic it seemed to suddenly reinforce the message of fire being dangerous and he at last registered that I really meant what I said. I believe that this one slap probably saved lives if not huge damage to property”

“I have seen how children who were smacked for misbehaving have realised they will not be allowed to misbehave in that way again; they have learnt what is and what is not acceptable. I have also seen how children who are not smacked when necessary treat their parents and subsequently all authority figures with utter contempt

“There are instances when a smack is for their own safety. When they persist in running towards the road, climbing where it is dangerous and a firm corrective 'no' has been repeatedly ignored. They are so small that they cannot understand the concept of being seriously injured or dead. The situation requires a lightning response from a parent or carer - there is not time to discuss it!

Argument 3 - It's a natural act

“It is natural; all young mammalian creatures in the wild get smacked when out of line. Children learn to behave and not overstep their limits and grow up polite and caring”

It’s worked for thousands of years, why would we be so arrogant to think we can do better?”

“A small tap on the hand of very young children with the word NO enforces just what is wrong and right. They must learn who is boss. If you observe animals, they do the same

“Smacking is a natural reaction to punish bad behaviour. Children, themselves, from a very young age, tend to smack anyone who wrongs them, even if it's their parents who they're upset with. Therefore, smacking is really the language that children understand”

“In the animal world you can often see an animal smack its offspring to bring it under control”

Argument 4 - It's effective

I tried everything with my own son, stopping pocket money and treats, sending him to bed - removing all electrical items from his room first (including the light bulb!), ignoring him, amongst many other things. Only smacking worked in the end

“I have seen first-hand children whose parents have tried to ‘reason’ with them, children who are not stopped from behaving in anti-social ways, and I can never like these children. I have also seen children that were given a smack for bad behaviour; they have grown into much better, well-adjusted adults

“Obviously you can try and discuss the reasons why behaviour is wrong with a child but please let me know how you accomplish that with a child who is so young they have not yet learnt to speak

“The naughty step or time out method can be used but in my experience, this is often not constructive and a child quite simply forgets why they have been banished there. Certain children will persist in the act for which they are being punished”

“My brother used to put his toy racing car aerial in a socket and it would spark. My mum declared him old enough to be explained to and not smacked. After repeated explanations and warnings of other punishments, he still did it. One time it blew him across the room, this still didn’t stop him trying. My dad gave him a smack on the bum, he never did it again”

“They say to reason with a child instead. If a child is capable of reason in every instance, perhaps we should make all children criminally responsible? Sometimes, a child will simply try to assert his or her will, not matter what the cost to others, or to themselves”

Argument 5 - All punishment is unpleasant

It is difficult to see how any type of discipline may not be seen as harmful. The object is to challenge unacceptable behaviour. Whether it is physical, verbal, or emotional, we are 'harming them'. Is it more harmful to call your child hateful disparaging names or smack them? Both are harmful yet there is only law for one”

“Not all smacking is done in anger. I was smacked and when it happened I felt my parents were NOT lashing out at me or simply hitting me but punishing me in sadness. I disliked all my parents’ disciplinary methods, naturally! But it felt just

“Failing to smack a child when that is what is needed shows a lack of love for the child

“Of course parents should be allowed to discipline their children by administering an appropriate smack to the legs or hand, if the child is ignoring all verbal attempts at discipline. Allowing a child to come to their own conclusion as to when they do as they are told is simply sloppy parenting and is basically saying ‘I am unable to control my child because I do not have the moral fibre to do so’“

Any punishment is unpleasant, that is why it is punishment. An occasional smack is not too painful, is over and done with in an instant and is far less harmful to the child than several other forms of punishment I have heard being suggested as an alternative. As I have already said, being ALLOWED to smack doesn't mean you will ever have to do it anyway”

“Just about all methods of discipline work, but none work with all children. A smack is quick and immediate. A bit of discomfort helps the learning process

Argument 6 - It should only be used properly

“The child must be immediately told WHY they were smacked otherwise they will not learn from it”

I don't believe they should be smacked in the face. They are just children. You cannot enforce discipline that way”

“I smacked my kids when needed and played with them and read to them; as it must also be shown to them that you are not just someone who dishes out punishment but also loves them

“Smacking must be administered in an unemotional way and must follow immediately after the offence. It must not be used as a routine punishment but is effective if used properly”

“Preferably smacking would not be done in public or in front of peers, which might make the child the subject of teasing”

“Whether the child behaves or not, they should never be ridiculed, tormented or devalued in any way. It’s important to know that you're loved for who you are, but you're not always liked if you misbehave

“A smack can be administered there and then - so the child associates this punishment with what they've done JUST THEN - it's potentially less powerful when you have to wait to get them home to send to their rooms, withdraw treats etc.”

“A parent should not strike a child when they are not in control of themselves - it should be an act of discipline, not an attack

2. Smacking *should not* be allowed

Argument 1 - It teaches the wrong lessons 

“Smacking is an expression of the parent’s anger rather than a discipline method that will benefit the child. Through anger a child learns anger. A child needs to be shown what expected behaviour is through positive parenting and role modelling”

“It is counter-intuitive to hit a child because he hit his sister. 'Hitting is wrong. To show you this, I am going to hit you.' That will make no sense to a child; or rather, it will just further teach the child that hitting is an appropriate way to deal with problems

Violence and potential injury and humiliation are not just causes for teaching children how to behave. Children learn from example”

“It teaches children that being stronger gives you the right to have power over others. I was smacked very frequently as a child, and it never stopped me behaving badly. It was my mother who did the smacking, and I do not feel any great love for her”

It teaches that violence is the way to get your way. It does more for the parent's ego than helps the child and demonstrates a loss of control”


Argument 2 - There are alternatives

It’s not acceptable to say ‘if used at all it would be a last resort’ in which case one is saying that when all else fails it's OK to hit the kids! Hardly a strong intellectual basis for causing pain to someone you love

“I was smacked as a child and it made me vow never to do that to my own when I grew up, which I didn't. All it took was a stern look and "the voice" to make them stop in their tracks and think about what they were doing

“There are few situations that I can think of where a child deserves a smack, and if you raise your child in a loving environment where you talk through issues rather than raising a hand, that child will grow up with the same values”

Striking a child who can understand a voice command or rational statement is not good. An adult dog or cat will understands a sharp voice command, but not a puppy or a kitten”

It is illegal to smack a child in Sweden and it works for them!”

“There is a popular view among some parents that 'no smacking means no discipline', which it doesn't

Argument 3 - You can't smack an adult

There are really no situations where smacking another adult is acceptable. So the same should be for children. When you think about it in that way, we do not need to ban smacking we need to look inwards into ourselves and ask what is right!”

Adults don't smack other adults when they consider them to misbehave - as they surely do - so why should adults be allowed to attack the most vulnerable people in society?”

You shouldn't smack a child in the same way that you shouldn't smack an adult, perhaps even more so considering their comparative vulnerability”

We frown upon men 'smacking' their partners or even women 'smacking' their partners so why is it acceptable to smack a child?”

Argument 4 - It can be used excessively

“Some people do not know their own strength and a child can be easily injured. If smacking is used once it will be used frequently and I do not think that a child should have to put up with that”

“If smacking becomes part a 'normal' response, it may have a tendency to increase in both frequency and severity as it is hard to see where else to go with it if it hasn't achieved the desired result”

“Parents need to show self-control; if you need to intervene physically then you have lost control of the situation

People differ in their definition of ‘reddened skin’ and therefore a child's experience of smacking with some parents is likely to be a beating by the standards of another parent. We should be more civilized and able to respond in a more intelligent way

When smacking is clearly designed to alleviate the parents own angry/frustration and not really to try to teach the child that what they are doing that is potentially dangerous etc. that to me is abuse”

3. Alternatives to Smacking

Positive reinforcement

“Children misbehave to get attention; if you give them attention when they are well behaved they don't have to act up to get your attention”

“The constant battle is to positively reinforce good behaviour and warn and punish against bad behaviour

“Bringing up children is hard and time-consuming. I see so many parents with such demanding jobs and long hours that they just did not have the time or energy to play with, praise or discipline their children and so many children who were demanding, rude and attention-seeking (often with good reason)”

“We learn more from the carrot than we ever learn from the stick- this does not mean lots of sticky treats! But hugs kisses and praise- these are emotional rewards that have amazing results

“Parenting is something that needs to be taught, preferably before conception and should continue well after birth. Consistency, Concern and Comfort are three words that should guide the parent and the teacher”

Remove from social circle

“If the child is misbehaving, remove them from the situation, to a secluded area, like a 'naughty step' or equivalent, and have them stay there for a set amount of time. If the child leaves that area, just put them back there every time, until they have remained in the spot for the entire period of time"

“My parents used to send me to my room, but then if they took away my library books, there was nothing for me to do except think about what I'd done wrong

“If a child does need discipline, and they often do, then they will learn that by behaving antisocially, you will be excluded from the social circle

The naughty step or the naughty corner has become a very popular method of disciplining recently. You are forced to sit and not interact with anyone, forcing the child to think about why they are there, and allow the parent to talk to the child about why what they were doing was wrong”

Ignore them

Don't give them attention for it. Don't shout, don't argue back, and don’t get angry. For lots of children - especially children whose parents don't reward them for good actions, and parents who don't pay attention to their children - negative reactions from parents serve as POSITIVE reinforcements, because even if your mum is shouting at you, at least she is paying you SOME kind of attention. And that is what children want - attention”

Give them good attention for good behaviour, and NO attention for bad behaviour. A child will quickly learn to stop certain behaviour if every time they do it they just get put in a boring place where they are completely ignored”

“Generally ignoring bad behaviour (provided it is not dangerous) and praising good behaviour works best”

“The 'I can't hear you when you're whinging/screaming' approach is effective”

“Ignore the child when misbehaving or place them in 'time out' at the bottom of the staircase or in their bedroom until they can apologise and behave”

Remove privileges

A money chart is a good way

. You start the week by saying on Saturday you will have x amount of pocket money. Every time you are naughty (be specific) you will lose a % of x”

Taking away something they want e.g. a favourite toy, a trip to the cinema/football or being sent to their room whilst everyone else is having fun together”

I lost toys to Barnado's if I wouldn't tidy them away - "for children who would appreciate them". You only lose a couple of things before you learn!”

Deprive them of something they value or ban them from watching television etc. I have never had to smack my child and have adapted the discipline method as she's grown older. The trick is knowing your child well enough to know what would have the maximum impact should they be deprived of it

“Taking away treats or preventing them from doing something enjoyable works in a far better way. Children are, by nature, very selfish minded and thus do not like having something taken away from them. If the alternative is sitting quietly, then they will certainly take that if it means they get to watch their TV programme later or have some chocolate in the afternoon

Lock up their gadgets for 2 weeks minimum, and if they throw a tantrum, extend it to three weeks, and so on. They'll either get the message… or phone Childline"

Reason with them

“People should say 'that's naughty' when an action has been so. Most children's actions are not wilfully naughty, they just don't understand the rules and boundaries yet, and it is a parents place to teach them, not be violent with them”

“Talk to them, and levy punishment. Also, understand why they are misbehaving - toddlers get bored when shopping or listening to adults talking - make sure they are entertained. Young children become over-tired and misbehave; reduce their stimulation. Just listen to your children and spend time with them - it's easy enough to understand why they're playing up if you pay attention

“It is possible to explain most situations to even very young children if they are done in a contextual way at their level of understanding

Do not enter into an argument with them but sternly, without shouting, remind them who feeds them and clothes them and who's house it is, and say no more”

Keep consistency

'One has to be consistent and fair, if you have said no then the other parent should say no also. If you have threatened a child by saying ' you do that again and we won't go to the park' then you must be prepared to carry out that threat

“Well simply DOING what you threaten gives the child some idea of boundaries and what is and isn't acceptable - so whether that's withdrawing privileges, sending to bed early, taking them home, just to do what you're threatening may have some impact - but not following through just makes parents look out of control and weak&rdquo"

Withdrawal of privileges only works as long as the threat is carried out and that the penalties are proportionate. Idle threats only make matters worse, excessive penalties result in resentment. It is a difficult balance”

“Unless you stick absolutely rigidly to your discipline, NEVER threaten but not follow through, you're going to finish up being tramped all over”

4. Is legislating smacking a good idea?

“Parents are expected to have responsibility for the care and upkeep of their children. Why should the State interfere with the discipline side of this? If more parents had maintained tight discipline, we would not see so many thugs around whom seem insensible to pain they inflict on others”

“All children are different and it's not always the place for psychiatrists and politicians to second guess everything that parents do. Some children require more discipline than others and it's important to find out what works for each individual child

“Most parents who smack their children do it maybe once or twice in their child's lifetime. Those parents who beat their children senseless and abuse their children will do this whether 'smacking' is prohibited or not. And as beating up children is already illegal, this will do nothing to stop that kind of behaviour”

“I think that as long as they are not hurting, endangering or humiliating a child, parents should be allowed to discipline in their own way

I do not think parents should be punished when they are at their wits' end trying to get their children to behave: it is much better for society than those who do not even try to discipline their children”

“Discipline can be very hard in real-life situations, especially at the extremes, and I think it's unreasonable to implicitly expect every parent to be an expert in child psychology and to keep their cool at all times in all situations

Can I also raise the issue of children who are screamed at and belittled in the home and in public by the 'grown ups' around them - bullying without the physical contact. How would a ban on smacking protect them?”

I was smacked and I turned out fine... *gibber...twitch*”

Reasonable chastisement or a form of child abuse? Is the end of smacking a crackdown on misused corporal punishment or simply an overreaction?

Join the debate by using Disqus below!