To smack or not to smack? (psst. the answer is ‘not to smack’)

The topic of smacking is again in the headlines and I am trying to figure out why a particular political party is still pushing this issue.

In response to someone who potentially will be in parliament at the end of this year stating that he breaks the law because he thinks the law is ‘silly‘ Kyle MacDonald of the NZ Association of Psychotherapists released a statement saying amongst other things that the ” physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behaviour, physical injury and mental health problems for children.”

Further to that professional opinion, based on studies and research, I also wanted to mention an interview I did when I was involved with a radio show with Petra Bagust a couple of years ago. We interviewed Dr Russell Wills, now Children’s Commissioner, who was then the head of the Paediatrics Society of NZ and asked him if smacking was a gateway to abuse, his response was that ‘there’s no question about that of course it is.’

You can hear a two and a half minute section of the interview here

I have not cherry picked a couple of academics here either, the vast majority of child care experts agree that smacking, even ‘inconsequential’ smacking can be harmful long term. We live in a country where is something can be harmful it is often outlawed. Our laws work by the majority of us, who know where the line is, giving up some freedoms because the small minority can’t figure that ‘line’ out. You and I don’t need to be told not to murder…but we need specific legislation there so the handful of people who do need to be told, can be legislated against. I guess the one difference here is everyone knows murder is not acceptable but as for smacking we have the vast majority of experts in issues around children almost speaking with one voice saying ‘don’t smack’ and in response some sectors of the public are giving that position the middle finger think we know better than people who work in these fields every day, who see the downstream effects of what we’re talking about, who make the longitudinal studies that we then choose to ignore. It just makes no sense.

Look you can choose to think what you like, but here is something that I read yesterday that I think demonstrates to me what it means to be a parent and what we should be doing, in our own Western way, to raise our children.

Here is a tribe in Africa where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.

And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee, someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.

In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.

The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behaviour is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.

And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when this child is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they sing—for the last time—the song to that person.

Lets just state that bit again

The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behaviour is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.

Even a tribe, in a third world country, who doesn’t have the access to anywhere near the same resources we do when it comes to education and expert opinion, has this figured this out.

But then again, maybe you think the law is ‘Silly’ so you’ll keep smacking your kids because “two thirds of NZ agree with you.”