Disciplining parents

The campaign to make smacking a crime will do more harm than good.

Frank Furedi

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Topics Politics

The Scottish Executive’s plan to ban smacking children under the age of three, and to make it illegal to hit children of any age on the head, has little to do with preventing violence against children.

Among child professionals, the campaign to ban smacking has acquired the character of a moral crusade. It is also a dishonest campaign, since most of its proponents object to any form of punishment that parents use to discipline their children. In the USA, where the campaign to ban smacking is even more vociferous, ‘time out’ is also denounced as a form of adult brutality.

Opponents of smacking denounce it as a form of violence – but this equation of smacking with violence is a verbal trick designed to associate smacking with an act of abuse. Parents who occasionally smack their children are not behaving violently. Violence represents the projection of physical force designed to injure or abuse. Caring parents who administer a smack in response to a child’s wilful defiance, with the objective of discouraging unacceptable behaviour, are not behaving violently.

The inability to distinguish violence from caring discipline exercised by loving parents says more about the outlook of anti-smacking campaigners than it does about mothers and fathers. It is an outlook that assumes that parental abuse is the norm rather than the exception. And research shows that the claim that smacking has a destructive impact on children’s lives is based on prejudice rather than fact.

The main effect of the campaign against smacking is to undermine the ability of parents to exercise discipline. Most parents already find it difficult to hold the line. Interference by the government and the courts will further erode the ability of parents to exercise their authority.

The real damage to children happens when the state assumes the role of the all-mighty parent.

Frank Furedi is professor of sociology at the University of Kent. His books include:

  • Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?: Confronting Twenty-First Century Philistinism (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

  • Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age (Routledge, 2003)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

  • Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child (Chicago Review Press, 2002)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

  • Culture of Fear: Risk Taking and the Morality of Low Expectation

    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)
  • Visit Frank Furedi’s website

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    Topics Politics

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