September 21, 2005

The Debate on the Smacking Ban which is a law on the books in several countries. Sweden, which has had the law since 1979, has been held as a model by advocates who wish to employ the ban elsewhere- recently in the UK and New Zealand- however, critics feel that Sweden goes too far.

For instance, in Sweden, it's illegal to send a child to their room (room arrest). The ban is held to be necessary by advocates who see in corporal punishment the roots of violence in society. It's hard to disagree with the basic sentiment however in practice, the ban may have caused more harm than it prevented. Data from Sweden seems to show that families are often broken apart in the wake of charges against parents, For instance, data shows that after the implementation of the ban, around 22,000 children in Sweden were removed from their homes in 1981, compared with 1,900 in Germany, 710 in Denmark, 552 in Finland, and 163 in Norway. As a parent, how do you stand on this troubling issue?

  • There's no one way to treat kids. Being full-fledged humans with reasoning, emotion, and motivations, discipline can never be as simple as what is being expounded nowadays: never inflict pain and appeal to their better judgment, or "innate goodness." Like adults, some kids are primarily motivated out of desire for approval, some out of genuine philanthropy. But others don't have as much empathy or as much dependence, so approval, rewards, and appeals to their "better nature" are not effective. It is these kids who need to be motivated by fear of punishment, fear of loss of privileges, and, occasionally, the fear of discomfort of a swat on the behind or a tweak on the nose. I'm a believer in corporal punishment, when appropriate, and when effective. If you have to hit hard enough to leave a bruise, obviously corporal punishment is as ineffective for that kid as a promise of a big reward is for one who is completely unmotivated by a small one. And if the punishment is disproportionate to the transgression, whether it's physical or otherwise, it's abusive. But of course, people (and especially politicians) seem not merely fixated, but downright obsessed with a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem. /has one motivated by approval /has another who doesn't much care about approval-disapproval, but by retention-loss of privileges /neither seem able to motivate themselves (except for a very, very short-term) for rewards
  • As parents of two small children, we have made a decision to eschew all forms of corporal punishment. As a adoptive parents, we are enjoined from doing so, but we had decided independently to forego this aspect of childrearing anyway. OTOH, I was raised by parents who believed in the liberal application of CP. By the standards of the day in postwar Britain, quite normal, I suppose. By the standards of today it would undoubtedly be considered child abuse. Personally speaking, I can't really say that I was psychologically damaged by their approach (that I'm aware of, anyway), but at the same time, I don't think it was at all necessary either. I certainly don't think I would have been better off with my parents in jail and me in a foster home, which is what seems to occur in a lot of these cases. What's troubling is that in the case of Sweden, for instance, when government gets into the act, they can cause a great deal of harm as documented in the cases cited above in the "too far" link .
  • To weigh in specifically on the Sweden issue, I think it has gone too far. "Room Arrest?" People see corporal punishment as the roots of violence in society? Violence is innate to all living creatures. Children who kick and hit and bite each other are (usually) not acting out a play they have seen or experienced, they are expressing their anger in simplistic, inappropriate, and, yes, animal-like ways. How do children discover this? They learn that biting hurts when they accidentally bite their tongue or finger while eating. They learn that hitting someone hurts when they're playing with a toy and accidentally hit themselves. People underestimate the capability of children to learn that what hurts them in an accidental context can be easily adapted to the purpose of willfully inflicting pain on others. Adults also have a serious problem underestimating children's capacity for doing both good AND evil. If corporal punishment is how children learn violence, why is it that when children are angry they do not act out spanking other children? And what parents bite their children, or pull their hair as a form of corporal punishment? Kids figure these things out themselves. I'm only speaking from personal anecdotal experience when I was a child, but the most violent and the cruelest children I ever encountered were the ones who were never punished for their behavior. They were the ones who would get little more than a brief lecture along the lines of "that wasn't nice, Mikey. You shouldn't bite people," and no further action taken. Again, I'm not saying that corporal punishment is right for each child or each situation. Kids are different, and different disciplinary techniques are called for in different circumstances.
  • To me, the really terrible thing about this is the suggestion that corporal punishment is okay if the child is older than 3. In fact, the ONLY time corporal punishment is at all effective is when a child is too young to understand reasoning and language -- and even then it should be accompanied by a talk for those who choose to use it. Corporal punishment is not something I would use on a child of mine, but it is highly effective for things like "don't touch the stove" and "don't run in front of cars" -- sometimes little kids truly don't understand dangers at that age, and a swat on the behind (not a whipping or beating, obviously) is considerably better than serious injury or trauma. Past age 3 or 4, though, there is ZERO reason to spank. None. It's ineffective in stopping behaviors but very effective at creating traumatized children. This law has it all backward. I agree children should never be spanked with an "implement" (particularly because some pretty innocent-looking implements can be the most excruciatingly painful), but a swat on the rear to reinforce the notion of a greater danger is not always bad, or even always avoidable. What would you suggest doing if your 2 year old had a habit of running out into the street (as I actually had at that age)? I scared my parents nearly to death by escaping "kid leashes" and their hand-holding multiple times. None of the talks they gave worked, and I was otherwise a bright toddler. One spanking later, though, and I didn't ever do it again.
  • Oh, also, I have seen a good friend (otherwise not at ALL into corporal punishment for her child) whose kid was biting people. A lot of people. Talking didn't work. Nothing did. So she bit her. Problem solved. I thought initially that this was terrible, but upon reflection, it worked -- kids at that age have very little, if any, empathy. Until the mom bit the kid, the idea of "holy crap, that's not very nice" just couldn't cement in her very young brain.
  • Allow me also to add that, as kids get older, corporal punishment becomes less and less effective in comparison to reward/approval/privilege motivations. And it's worth mentioning that, especially for young children, a punishment delayed is practically useless. The discomfort of the punishment needs to come right on the heels of the transgression, or they won't understand that the two are connected, and the learning is lost.
  • spanking should stay where it belongs- between two consenting adults in the bedroom.
  • I say whup their butts...(at least the little fuckers that deserve it!) (and yeah i was whupped - and i turned out ok...)
  • If corporal punishment is how children learn violence, That seems a bit far-fetched and simplistic. I would say, thought, that it teaches children that violence is the best way to solve your problems with others, and that picking on those smaller than you is OK.
  • I got spanked a lot as a kid, and as a result resolved never to treat my own sprog that way. One time, though, when said sprog was two or three and being an absolute horror at someone else's house during a vacation, I administered a single angry whack to the butt. The sprog was *shocked*, and I was filled with sickened guilt, and never did it again. I still feel guilt. Lucky for me, the sprog is now almost 16 and a very nice person indeed, due to genetics rather than the whack, no doubt. Heh.
  • I very rarely got spanked as a kid, and we very rarely have spanked with children. I think I can count on one hand how many times either of the kids have been spanked. That being said, the question between me and Mrs. C. has always been whether we were spanking them (or tweaking their nose, which is very effective to get their attention when they're doing something wrong but minimally painful) in order to reinforce a lesson or point or because we were mad. If the answer is the latter, we fall on the side of other punishments.
  • I don't really think mine is going to need it until she's fourteen or so*. * I am not sure I am looking forward to this bit.
  • I don't really think mine is going to need it until she's fourteen or so. Ha! That innocence that our three year old had heretofore exhibited, largely dissipated at around 2 and 1/2. She's still innocent in the general sense that young children are but she also will do things deliberately that she knows that are "bad". We haven't spanked her, as noted above, but that's not saying we didn't want to from time to time! Actually timeouts have been reasonably effective. She can't stand the thought that we're mad at her for more than about 30 seconds or so and she usually breaks down into tearful and apparently sincere apologies almost immediately. We ask her to explain why she was given the timeout so that we're sure that she understands the connection between her offense and the punishment and she invariably understands perfectly well. I'm not sure exactly what we'll do when she's older, as timeouts are reputed to be effective only till they're about 4 or so. Privilege deprivation is the most likely candidate. BTW Wolof, in Oz do they also prohibit CP for adopted kids?
  • No, they don't, or if they do I've heard nothing of it! No conditions other than reasonable care imposed, I believe.
  • This is a very hard question. I was spanked as a child, and while it taught me what my parents did and did not want me to do, it did not prevent me from doing them -- I only became sneakier and more secretive. Out of fear and spite. So far, my little one (18mos) has not been spanked, nor do we plan to; however, we cannot entirely rule it out. We will reserve it as a final measure that will hopefully never be called upon. The one thing that is certain, I never would spank him out of anger. A few months ago, he went through a phase of trying to hit us in the face / throw things in our face. We tried several things to stop this, including smacking his hand. What I found most effective, was to never laugh at the action (despite how cute he might have been), and to use a face and tone of voice that let him know that it was not funny. We'll see how I stand on this in 12 years.
  • The law is a very blunt instrument when it comes to people's personal/family affairs, and is as apt to make things worse as better.
  • If "room arrest" was illegal here I'd have gone to prison for life by now. I have a two-year-old, people!
  • The best way I've found to disciple a child is the 1-2-3 Magic system. The basis - treat the child like a wild animal and you are the trainer. (Sounds harsh, it isn't, really.) Why can't people understand that, as brilliant as toddlers can be, sitting down and negotiating won't work with a child who wants a cookie *now* and doesn't care about the concept of a time called after dinner? I have a problem with the government telling a parent what is acceptable in disciplining a child as it dangerously empowers the child. I have had occasions to speak with a child care worker in the GTA region (Toronto-ish) of Ontario who specialises in 'troubled teens'. They are called in by the parents of tweens / early teens who have disciple problems. The parents have a universal complaint - they can not disciple the child with CP as the child threatens, "If you touch me, I will call the police and have you arrested". This of course, is followed by, "If you don't give me xxx I will call the police and tell them you hit me and get you arrested". Nothing like giving an emotionally developing child a loaded weapon to be used to get their way.
  • I live in Norway, which is another country with the ban. So I don't talk about it.
  • Skrik- that's interesting. Perhaps a "friend" could talk about it for you-through Anonymous George or something. Seriously, it would be good to hear your reflections on the ban. And also, how is it living in the best country in the world to live in?
  • In Sweden and Norway, are children required to attend school? If so, are they permitted to go out into the school yard and play when they please? If not, that sounds like "classroom arrest" to me.
  • In Norway, the law requires educating the kids, not sending them to school. I have few reflections on the ban. It sounds corny to say it, but my kids are well behaved, so I have little reason to think too much about it. It's a strange thing to spend a lot of time thinking about, really, in my opinion. When they are misbehaving, my kids know fully well that corporal punishment is the ultimate sanction - and I haven't told them I'm not allowed to use it. :)
  • ...they can not disciple the child with CP as the child threatens, "If you touch me, I will call the police and have you arrested". This of course, is followed by, "If you don't give me xxx I will call the police and tell them you hit me and get you arrested". I know someone whose sister tried this at around age 14 during a "troubled" phase. Social services essentially laughed at her and told her to go home and behave herself, then called her mother and told her what had happened. Like many in this thread I have smacked my son -- the last time I swatted his backside was when he ran out in front of a bus, and the time before that he ran away from home (he inherits his toddler-wanderlust from me, I admit). I grew up in a home where smacks were liberally applied, to say the least, and so I would never resort to smacking except under very serious circumstances. I could never support anti-smacking laws and that was one of the reasons I didn't vote for the Green Party in our recent elections -- because they are the party trying to introduce anti-smacking legislation. At the moment, a child can call in the police claming abuse, and the police will come, assess the situation and apply child-abuse laws, and leave if it's no big deal. One MP essentially said, "The law won't change anything, just trust the police to work it out," but the police have to follow the law to the letter. They will arrest.
  • discipline requires hierarchy, and hierarchy is set by rules. If a kid doesn't understand "don't try to reach the cupboard with hat old chair cos you might fall"...I'm sure gentle "smacking" will get the point across. I'm all for it. Parents should have that right.