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Should parents be allowed to smack their children?

Controversial comments from Tottenham MP David Lammy have re-ignited the debate about whether parents should be allowed to smack their children.

Jeronime Palmer photo
Jeronime Palmer

Mr Lammy backed the right of parents to smack and criticised those who see it as abuse – and claimed that Labour’s 2004 decision to tighten up the smacking law was partly to blame for last year’s riots which erupted in his north London constituency.

The current law on this issue, laid out in the Children Act of 2004, states that parents are allowed to smack their children without causing the reddening of the skin.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has supported calls for a change in the law to allow parents to smack to instil discipline in their homes, saying the current system left parents feeling anxious that they could face prosecution if they tried to do so.

The 2004 Children’s Act removed the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ for any punishment towards a child that leads to bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches and any adult found guilty of breaking the law may face up to five years in jail.

While mild smacking which causes no more than temporary ‘reddening of the skin’ is permitted, critics have said the distinction between this and excessive force is unclear.

Britain is one of only a few EU countries not to have introduced a ban on smacking children, although excessive force can result in an assault charge.

In October 2008, a cross-party group of MPs tried unsuccessfully to change the law to introduce a ban.

So is it ok to smack your child?

The NSPCC believes any form of smacking should be banned and support a change in the law to completely ban it.

“Parents have to be able to set clear and consistent boundaries and maintain discipline with their children but this does not require smacking them,” says Pat Buckley, NSPCC service manager for Cumbria and the North East. “These recent comments are misleading and unhelpful.

“Evidence shows that smacking is not an effective punishment and sets a bad example by suggesting that problems can be solved through hitting, often in the heat of the moment.”

The NSPCC believe the reasons for the riots run far deeper than minor changes to smacking legislation.

“These changes would not, in any event, have significantly impacted on many of those involved in the rioting as they would have been teenagers already when the law was altered,” Pat adds. “However, we do agree with Mr Lammy’s comments that the current laws are confusing.

“This leads to a minority of parents overstepping the mark and really hurting their children and then using smacking as an excuse.

“It also prevents social workers taking action as there is no clear line.

“The only way to stop this ambiguity is to ban smacking altogether and help parents to use more positive and constructive forms of discipline.”

Cathie Jones, lecturer in childcare at Askham Bryan College’s Newton Rigg campus, says it’s a grey area of the law.

“The law is very shady in this country,” she says. “Parents shouldn’t be allowed to smack their children but the language is open to interpretation.

“There are problems defining what is a smack or reasonable force and the boundaries need to be clearer.

“If you hit a child who is 16 or 17 then you’ll go to court but is hitting a young child acceptable?”

She agrees that a tap on a child’s arm or leg isn’t the same as a smack but believes there are other ways to improve a child’s behaviour and uses the example of a young child going towards a plug socket.

“Clapping or shouting will get them to stop,” she says. “Nobody should physically show their power against a child.

“Children will remember being sent to their room and being kept away from the family for an afternoon.”

As for the London riots last year, Cathie doesn’t believe the tightening of the law was to blame but points to a general breakdown in society.

“Children do find it hard to take criticism and be told off,” she explains. “Teachers can’t discipline children anymore.

“We’ve gone to the other extreme.”

Jeronime Palmer, from Keswick, is mum to seven children and knows only too well about the pressures of bringing up kids.

Her children are aged between four and 20 and her 15-year-old son has Asperger Syndrome.

“If you tap a child on the leg you feel you have failed as a parent because you have lost ground,” she says. “You can be so stressed as a parent though.

“We’re not born equipped to parent.

“Children do push the boundaries, it’s how they develop.

“I’ve seen parents give their child a whack in public and I feel awful for the child.

“If you constantly use that method then they’ll think it’s ok.

“At some point they may use it on you.

“They may believe it’s the norm and how people respond to each other.”

Jeronime thinks there’s a big difference between a full blown whack and a tap on the leg.

“If you’re standing at the side of a road and your child refuses to hold your hand, if you give them a tap on the leg it allows them to stop and focus,” she says. “While they’re shouting they’re not listening to you.”

When it comes to the current law on smacking, she admits she isn’t clear on the legislation in the UK.

“I’d love there to be a complete ban but if you ban it every time a parent taps their child they’ll feel guilty and know what they’re doing is illegal.

“But by banning it you will find better ways to parent over time.

“A ban would make people think.”

Sarah Ludford, from Keswick, is a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) trainer and understands the need for parents to be taught how to communicate with their children and deal with difficult situations.

“The only thing that can be achieved by smacking is psychological damage,” she says. “If there’s any violence then you’re showing it’s ok to discipline them in this way.

“From being born to the age of three the brain is still developing and if you’re hit or abused then it affects this.

“If you hit your child you’re saying it’s ok and they will grow up thinking it’s ok to hit someone.

“You’re not in control when you’re hitting someone.

“A ban on smacking makes it clear but as a parent I know how tricky it is when you get frustrated.

“There’s no straight answer to this.”

Sarah believes in providing support to parents and teaching them to connect with their children to work out why they’re behaving in a particular way.

“If a parent is at the end of their tether then they need some support,” she says. “To take a child away from the parent causes more damage.

“If it’s more than a little tap then they need more support quickly but not necessarily support from Social Services.

“We are shut off from others and I’d love it if there was more support available for parents.”

Have your say

If your not allowed to smack a child with out making the spot you smacked red i don't know what you can do. A good smack on the bum once in a while to keep ya child in line is fine. I think that if a parent abuses their child that much that blood is visible it is child abuse and they should go to court.

Posted by Ben on 10 May 2013 at 08:31

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