Time to move past 'smacking' debate

Christopher Horan can see both sides of the "smacking" debate but suggests that it's time to move on - as the country did after the corporal punishment in schools furore.

Most people are sick of the debate about hitting children, which clings on as a referendum issue.

But after reading and listening to some of the less than helpful statements on the subject, I cannot resist a final word before moving on.

A shallow interpretation of the current debate suggests those who think the referendum a waste of time and money want to deprive parents of their lawful and moral authority to manage their children.

While the referendum proponents want to continue to hit their children.

The way I see it, both sides are equally concerned with the welfare of children.

Parents who want to retain the right to smack their children are concerned about losing the ability to manage them responsibly.

Some parents fear losing control of their children and therefore, in a way, neglecting them.

Equally valid though less personal, the anti-referendum view seeks to reduce family violence in New Zealand.

Both sides know it is wrong to neglect a child's discipline and wrong to abuse a child.

What we tend to forget is that this is part two.

Remember part one, the debate about corporal punishment in schools? Society was divided between those who wanted to allow teachers to continue beating children with straps and canes and those who wanted the practice stopped.

It was stopped by law eventually and we moved on.

When I first worked with difficult boys in a residential institution, disciplinary measures included the strap, administered by senior staff.

It made me uncomfortable, but I could not at first see a reasonable alternative.

The strap was what we knew, our nuclear deterrent.

Although the behaviour of the most disruptive boys was not modified by the strap, we reasoned that it was fear of the strap that kept most boys within reasonable bounds.

Yet corporal punishment was a brutal, demeaning experience for everyone.

Most of the staff who administered the strap hated doing so.

But by the time the law prohibiting corporal punishment came out, the debate had already reduced the practice.

And to the surprise of many, World War 3 did not break out after all.

We moved on.

It is fair to point out that parents, particularly single parents, do not have the resources of institutions.

I should also add that while we staff were all guilty of lapses from time to time, as most parents and children are, respect between adults and children was highly valued at that institution.

The boys generally thought the staff cared about them.

This is a crucial factor.

Respect and caring are inextricable and there is no effective substitute for managing the behaviour of children It was not so many years ago that the police moved on in their attitude to family violence.

Women subjected to assault by strangers were worthy of protection.

Women beaten by their spouses were often ignored as "just another domestic".

I'm confident that most parents who oppose Sue Bradford's child-discipline Act are caring and responsible parents.

That's why I'm also sure they will be uneasy in the knowledge that their view is shared by most wife beaters, sex offenders, child abusers and child killers.

These are the people who cling to a distorted sense of entitlement to control the lives of others.

Moving on would leave them behind.

Christopher Horan is a former probation officer. He lives at Lake Hawea.


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