'Smacking law' needs fixing

Richard Dawson argues that rather than encouraging good parenting the "smacking law" undermines self-confidence and is actually "a form of violence against ordinary parents".

In the Bible, God has a habit of giving rather large responsibilities to very ordinary people.

It begins in Genesis where, having created everything, He gives people the responsibility to keep it in good order.

It carries on with the Jews getting the basic instructions on how to live well and it continues with the church ending up with the job of carrying God's message of love and grace towards all humankind for the rest of time.

Seems like a strategy doomed to failure to me. What's going on here?

Put simply, it seems that God loves ordinary people. Indeed, it wouldn't be going too far to suggest that God actually believes in them. He believes ordinary people can do most things pretty well if they put their mind to it.

It seems He is even willing to trust them with some extraordinary things. The list of ordinary people called upon to do amazing jobs is little short of endless in the Bible. Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, Mary, Peter, Paul - all came from very ordinary, even lowly, backgrounds and yet they ended up doing some pretty amazing stuff.

I think we're very much in danger of losing this willingness to trust people and that's a pity, because it seems to me it was once very much a part of Kiwi culture - a good part.

G. K. Chesterton once wrote in his book What's Wrong With the World this line: "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly". Chesterton wasn't defending sloppiness. This wasn't an anti-excellence crusade.

Rather he was decrying the rise of the expert and what it was doing to the average person's view of themselves and, perhaps more to the point, how the average person was viewed.

Please don't get me wrong here. Experts have their place and there's nothing wrong with someone working to perfect their craft or knowledge in certain areas.

But if Chesterton is right, what's even more important is helping ordinary people get on with the jobs they need to do without giving them the idea that these tasks can only be done by experts.

What he had in mind was things like letting young people choose their life partners, letting parents parent and giving ordinary people a stake in making the laws of the land.

Implicit in this approach is the acceptance that mistakes will be made. Perfection is not assumed. What is assumed is that they and not the experts are still the right people for these sorts of tasks.

As the saying goes, "Give people responsibility and they will constantly amaze you".

Which is why I believe we've made a grave mistake with the so-called "Smacking Law".

It seems that so far it has not reduced high-end abuse but I suspect it will discourage ordinary parents from taking responsibility.

In doing so, it will encourage the very worst behaviour amongst today's parents, which is simply to absent themselves from the task.

The "Fathering Our City" report, written by Warwick Pudney and commissioned by Te Korowai Manaaki - Great Start Waitakere and Violence Free Waitakere, was released at the Waitakere City Fathering Hui on May 16.

The key finding of the report is that our major problem with parenting is absenteeism.

Among other things it concludes that: "For both boys and girls, love and dependency can become confused without a father; fatherless males are five times more likely to [commit] suicide; under-fathered girls are more likely to become pregnant; the under-fathered child is more likely to use drugs; fatherless boys are 20 times more likely to end up in prison and fatherless boys are nine times more likely to drop out of high school."

In short, the problem isn't how we've been parenting but whether or not we've been parenting at all.

Absenteeism is rife amongst parents - and fathers in particular - and the cure, surely, is not to penalise those who are staying in the game, even if they are doing the job badly.

Our current law around smacking, although it may have been introduced with the very best of intentions, surely will do this.

What it implies is that only parents who never lose their temper, never get frustrated with a rebellious child, never allow their own issues to cloud their judgement can do the job.

I'm afraid if parents were sorted out according to these standards, we'd be a nation of orphans.

We believe, or did once, in the worth of individual enterprise, in the value of having a go and in the idea that it is far better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.

The very fact that a person is trusted to give something a go not only does wonders for self-confidence but it tends to lift the ambitions of those in the vicinity. Which is why it seems so incongruous to me that we as a society have accepted so mutely a law which not only punishes parents for trying to do their job but which actually criminalises them in some cases.

Parenting is perhaps one of the most important tasks anyone can take on.

Our society provides virtually no training for it and very little material encouragement to parents.

Now we have a law which makes a criminal out of a parent who has tried to stay in the game even though they might be getting it a bit wrong.

I can't think of anything more discouraging to young parents who already lack confidence and knowledge.

The law has become a form of violence against ordinary parents who are trying to do the job, even if badly at times.

We need to fix this law and find a more positive approach to parents and parenting.

- Richard Dawson is Pastor of St Stephens/Leith Valley Presbyterian Church.


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