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Physical punishment isn’t a solution

Smacking children; it’s a divisive topic and, to many, an outdated notion. Both in Wales and Scotland, it’s an illegal act, yet here in England it’s a greyer area altogether. Smacking might be considered questionable from a moral perspective, but from a legal standpoint it can still be justified as ‘reasonable chastisement’. Boundaries, let’s not forget, are important to impose as adults towards their offspring. But outdated or not, is such a punishment effective?

That the answer to the question above is a resounding ‘no’, and should be sufficient to end the smacking debate once and for all…

Children’s behaviour must be managed – make no mistake about it – but physical punishment is not the solution.

For one thing it is harmful – quite aside from the physical pain inflicted, damaging self-confidence and engendering emotional issues.

For another, it just doesn’t work, with researchers from University College London (UCL) having discovered that, rather than discouraging bad behaviour, it just teaches children that violence and aggression are acceptable strategies for solving problems.

Outlining the study’s results this summer, lead author Dr Anja Heilmann told The Telegraph: ‘Physical punishment is ineffective and harmful, and has no benefits for children and their families. This couldn’t be clearer from the evidence we present. We see a definitive link between physical punishment and behavioural problems such as aggression and anti-social behaviour, [and] physical punishment consistently predicts increases in these types of behavioural difficulties.’

Just consider this for a moment…

It’s not just that smacking has been proven to be both harmful and ineffective – it’s also that it tends to exacerbate issues, encourage aggression and make bad behaviour even worse.  

To repeat our earlier assertion, children’s behaviour must be managed – make no mistake about it – but physical punishment is not the solution.

That this is not recognised on a universal level is troubling, but across the world, attitudes towards physical punishment differ greatly.

In Sweden, smacking children has been an illegal act since 1979, but in the US, it is an acceptable practice in all 50 states. Scotland became the 58th country to impose a smacking ban in November 2020, whilst Wales has just followed suit – passing a similar law earlier this year that is due to come into force next. In England and Northern Ireland, however, young people are offered no such protection and although there is mounting evidence to demonstrate that smacking children does such damage, there are believed to be no plans imminent to tackle this most troubling issue.

‘This is yet another significant study that shows physical punishment is harmful to children,’ said Joanna Barrett, the NSPCC’s associate head of policy. ‘It cannot be right that in 2021, children are the only group in society that it is legally acceptable to assault in England [and] the case for reform is beyond doubt. We believe all children should be able to grow up free from violence. Changing the law on physical punishment is a vital step towards this.’

It might be considered in some quarters to be a sign of ‘wokeness’, a cultural problem that concerns us a great deal here, but nevertheless our belief is that a nationwide smacking ban is long overdue, and that this is an outdated notion that needs to be left behind and consigned once and for all to the past. 

Like the NSPCC, we believe all children should be able to grow up free from violence. That further research emanating from the US backs up the UCL findings just strengthens our conviction.

‘Parents use physical punishment because they think that doing so will lead to better behaviour,’ said Professor Elizabeth Gershoff, from the University of Texas in Austin. ‘But our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behaviour and instead makes it worse.’

Time to take that ‘vital step’ and make clear this greyest of all areas?

Smacking should be banned…

In our opinion, this ought to be a divisive topic no longer.

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