Wales to ban parents from smacking their kids

Smacked: “Children must feel safe and be treated with dignity,” said Welsh minister Julie Morgan.

Is this a good idea? Corporal punishment of children — including smacking — is outlawed in 54 countries around the world. But some parents say it is a loving way of disciplining their kids.

It can happen for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps a child has just tried to dash out into the road or stick a fork into an electrical socket. Maybe they are willfully ignoring their parents’ instructions — or maybe their parents have just reached the end of their tether. So the child gets a smack.

Perhaps not for much longer — at least in Wales, which published a bill last week that would ban parents from smacking their children.

Currently, it is legal in Britain as long as parents do not use “excessive force”; usually this means leaving a mark. This is because the laws against hitting children have an exception for parents who use “reasonable punishment”, which dates back to the Victorian era. But the Scottish parliament has been attempting to close that loophole since 2017. Now Wales is doing the same.

They will be joining 54 countries which have outlawed corporal punishment for children, according to a report published last year. Technically, physical punishment violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN aims to end all forms of violence against children by 2030.

But not all parents are happy. In 2017, a YouGov poll found that only 22% of Britons thought smacking should be banned. Last week, a mother from Cardiff told Metro that a light smack can be the “kindest way” to discipline young children who are doing dangerous things. It shows that “mum’s in charge and I need to keep you safe.”

Yet studies have found that smacking can make children more aggressive or cause mental health problems later in life.

Smacking is legal in the US, but last year the American Academy of Pediatrics released a strongly worded statement telling parents that all forms of corporal punishment “are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term.” Instead, it recommended more “positive” forms of parenting, such as encouraging good behaviour.

Should it be banned?

Smack down

Absolutely not, say some. Discipline is an important part of raising children, but when they are young they may not respond to reasonable arguments or repeated requests to behave. If they are putting themselves in danger, a light smack is the quickest way to stop them. It is ridiculous to suggest that this is the same as abuse, or that parents should be locked up for it.

It should be banned, argue others. It is totally illegal to assault an adult, for any reason — so why should it be legal to hurt children? There are other forms of discipline that will be more effective and less harmful. What’s more, hitting children will teach them that violence is an acceptable response to fear or anger. Smacking is a relic of the past. It is time to leave it there.

You Decide

  1. Were you ever smacked for being naughty? If so, do you think it was unfair?
  2. Should governments tell parents how to raise their children?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have a three-year-old child who is about to run across a busy road. How would you stop them and teach them that it is dangerous? Is smacking acceptable in this situation? Discuss as a class.
  2. Write three reasons why you think smacking is acceptable, and three reasons why it is not.

Some People Say...

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

Bible, Proverbs 13:24

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
According to recent research, only one in 10 Welsh parents said they had recently smacked a child to teach good behaviour, down from one in five in 2015. The law would stop parents from using the “reasonable punishment” defence if accused of assaulting their children. It would be up to ordinary people to decide whether to report parents for hitting their children. A similar law has also been proposed in Scotland.
What do we not know?
Whether it will become a UK-wide ban; currently England has no plans to introduce it to the Parliament in Westminster. We also do not know whether other countries will outlaw smacking, although around 50 are considering it, according to the Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children.

Word Watch

Victorian era
Specifically, it dates back to the 1860 trial of Thomas Hopley, a teacher who beat a schoolboy to death. He was jailed for manslaughter, but the judge said that “reasonable” beating was allowed.
Report
The 2018 progress report by the Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children. You can see which countries have banned smacking by clicking on the link under Become An Expert.
YouGov
From a survey of 4,283 British adults on July 18, 2017.
Studies
A review of 75 studies over 50 years, involving 150,000 children, was published in the Journal of Family Psychology in April 2016. It found that spanking “does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do”.
Statement
The academy represents around 67,000 doctors in the US. It was updating its guidelines for parents. “One of the most important relationships we all have is the relationship between ourselves and our parents, and it makes sense to eliminate or limit fear and violence in that loving relationship,” Dr Robert D. Sege, one of the authors of the statement, told The New York Times.

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