Thursday, 8 July 2010

Thoughts on hitting children

The Children's Society has published a survey (PDF) on parents' attitudes to child care and child discipline. In particular, it has found that a third of respondents find it acceptable to smack children in order to chastise them.

According to the press release;
The survey shows that people weigh up the risks associated with slapping children very differently from other threats to their safety. Thirty-two per cent think slapping has little impact on children and young people, while another third remain divided on the issue. Unusually, teenagers are thought to be at more risk of physical punishment than younger children (36% rated secondary school age children at high risk compared to 29% of primary age children).

Far more older people (over 65) - 46% - think slapping presents a low level of physical and emotional risk for children. This finding may point to a generational shift in opinions about acceptable parenting.
Responding to the findings, the Society says that "physical violence is something children definitely need to be protected from. The survey revealed a worrying lack of concern by one third of people surveyed about parents slapping children. Children are the only group of people in this country who can be legally hit on a regular basis by others, with little protection in law."

True to reactionary form, the Daily Mail found author Patricia Morgan to respond that "Children are the only people who can be legally sent to bed by others. Does that make it wrong?"

The problem with this retort is that most adults, told to go to bed, would either say "fuck off" and stay up or comply because, you know what, they were tired and did have to get up early the next day. When smacked, however, only Quakers and the Amish are morally bound not to respond with a sharp right hook.

Children, especially small children, lack such means to defend themselves. Morgan - whose ultra-conservative credentials include arguing against women in the labour market - isn't fazed by such petty quibbles.

She tells us that "all the existing research shows that children brought up by permissive parents do worse than those who set boundaries and enforce the rules, and that those who are smacked as a punishment for breaking rules in such families do better."

The main problem with this is that it assumes that the only choices are being "permissive" and "enforcing the rules." The third alternative, as I have extolled numerous times before, is libertarian child-rearing, where the adult's duty of protection is not mistaken for absolute dominion over the child and freedom is not confused with licence.

In the words of A.S Neill, founder of Summerhill School, "in the disciplined home, the children have no rights. In the spoiled home, they have all the rights. The proper home is one in which children and adults have equal rights."

Returning to the narrow question of smacking, it is not clear that "there is a major gap between what parents think and what the campaigners tell them," as Morgan insists. The survey finds parental opinion on the risk levels of physical punishment roughly divided into thirds - 32% deeming it "low risk," 33% "high risk," and 36% in the middle with "medium risk."

Moreover, the Children's Society cite various sources which show up Morgan's insistence that kids "who are smacked as a punishment for breaking rules in such families do better;"
  • Children are the only group of people in UK society who can be legally hit and hurt by others. (Removing the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' from the Children Act 2004 would simply mean children would have the same protection in criminal law as adults.)
  • Children are still being hit, Research commissioned by the DCSF (IPSOS MORI 2008, Sherbert Research 2007) shows this.
  • A ban is becoming 'inevitable' as study after study points to the likely damaging effects of slapping on children. (Sir Roger Singleton's 2010 report recommendations to ban physical punishment in schools was accepted by the previous Government).
  • Research evidence suggests children smacked for disobedience could become more aggressive as they get older. (A recent University of Tulane study in New Orleans found that three year olds smacked for disobedience were more likely to be aggressive by the age of five).
  • Children themselves are against it and fear parents who slap because they think they are 'out of control'. (The Government’s Central Office of Information’s own Children and Young People survey of 64 four to 16 year olds – 2007 – revealed two thirds had been smacked.) (Save the Children and the National Children’s Bureau polled 76 children in in 1999 and found 19 had been smacked on the head, face or cheek.)
  • Slapping contravenes Article 19 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (the UK has been criticised 3 times for its failure to protect children. (In 2006, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reminded all signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the UK, that equal protection for children is ‘an immediate and unqualified obligation’.)
Against which the common thread that "I was smacked as a kid and it never did me any harm" holds little to no weight. I can say that I was never hit as a child, and I never ended up a criminal, thug, or hoodlum, but in itself this proves nothing. It is the analytical evidence that matters.

If we really want to doright by our children, then we need to educate them and be honest with them, not beat them when they do something we don't like. As I've said previously, this "allows them to develop not just their own individuality, but also a sense of morality and justice not based on coercion."
Aside from anything else, we should question what those who use physical punishments are raising their children to be. Doing right only because of fear of punishment isn't morality, it's cowardice.