Those leading the anti-smacking campaign are outside the real world of families

Those leading the anti-smacking campaign are outside the real world of families

by Stuart Waiton
article from Thursday 13, September, 2018

THE DISCUSSION around banning smacking is highly confused. John Finnie who is proposing the bill equates smacking children with domestic abuse. While severe smacking or punishment is already illegal, his bill will outlaw mild smacking like the tap on a young child's hand – making it the same as domestic violence! Others argue that smacking, no matter how light or even if it is done by a loving parent, emotionally damages children. It is proven, they tell us, 'the evidence says'.

Finnie himself admits that he smacked his own children. Using his own logic that makes him akin to a wife-beater. Does he think of himself in this way? Does he believe he abused his children? Apparently John's children turned out fine, which is odd given the emotional scars they must be carrying around with them (according to ‘the evidence’).

Much is said about there being better ways to teach right from wrong. In my opinion an important starting point that allows adults to teach children right from wrong is by having a society and a culture that recognises that there is a profound difference between adults and children. If we lose this, and we are losing it, we are in serious trouble.

I mention this point because those who use the argument about smacking being the same as assaulting an adult or domestic abuse are either profoundly unworldy, confused, or simply making it up. We do myriad things to children that if we did them to adults would be totally unacceptable, abusive and potentially criminal. Imagine taking away your adult partner's phone for a week, grounding them for month, telling them what they can and cannot wear, forcing them to eat their greens (through blackmail and guilting). It simply makes no sense to think of adults and children as being the same.

So what about all the 'evidence'? Ask Robert E. Larzelere, associate professor of paediatric psychology, who challenges all of the research that suggests mild smacking harms children and who in fact argues the evidence is the opposite. Essentially, the 'evidence' he questions is advocacy research that lacks any scientific validity and is carried out with the answer already at hand: The anti-smacking arguments are based on a set of beliefs, not facts.

So what are these beliefs? 

Firstly, the anti-smacking belief is predicated upon what I would call therapeutic extremism. It is based upon an understanding that children are profoundly fragile, in particular, that children are profoundly emotionally vulnerable. Within this frame of thought, almost anything a child experiences can have a lasting impact upon them, indeed, I would wager a large bet that if the 'evidence' used to prove the anti-smacking case was carried out with the same children except we replaced smacking with grounding or shouting or taking away a phone (something that no doubt can be upsetting) we would come up with exactly the same result. The NSPCC already associates shouting at your child with emotional abuse. Will shouting be next on the list of crimes created by the Scottish government?

The second dimension to therapeutic extremism is a profound distrust of ordinary parents, an anxiety about the family and privacy, predicated upon a belief that abuse is rife within adult-child relationships. Again, this is something I would dispute and see as a product of our disconnected times rather than a reality of the vast majority of family experiences today.

Finally, connected to these two factors, the third extremist belief is that ALL parents cannot cope alone without the support and supervision of 'experts' who understand all there is to know about the emotional fragility of children and the 'skills' needed to do, what they constantly call, 'the hardest job in the world' i.e. bringing up your kids.

Thankfully, being a parent is not rocket science, it's not even a skill, it is a relationship based on love and a sense of responsibility. The vast majority of parents don't need a Named Person or any other professional telling them how to be a parent, indeed the more they are told how impossible it all is, how damaged little Johnny could be, how abusing their actions are, the more we confuse and undermine parents, the more we degrade their loving relationships and undermine their sense of autonomy and the worse we make their and their children's lives.

The anti-smacking campaigners should be seen for what they are – distrusting extremists and zealots whose arguments make no sense in the real world. Once again we find a divide emerging between the weird world of experts, professionals and the political class – and the normal world of everyday life which is why, if Finnie's bill is passed it will, once again, be against the beliefs and interests of the vast majority of people in Scotland and is also why we have a chance to defeat this bill.

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