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.”

Colin Craig on Radiolive

Colin Craig just spent an hour on Radiolive with Wallace Chapman. It was very entertaining and it was great to hear Craig’s comments and interactions with the listeners.

It is an interesting time in the media as they are all over the Conservative Party story and links to National. I wonder, as did a caller to Chapman post Craig leaving the studio, if the media has nothing better to do at the moment so look for stories where there is none.

The Conservative Party could definitely be there or thereabouts after the next election and indeed could become a coalition partner to prop up a third term National Government, but the confident talk of “We’ll definitely be there” needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. There was internal polling at the last election that had Craig and the Conservatives convinced they’d win Rodney in a landslide which they ended up losing by more than 12,000 votes. I don’t say this to say they won’t be there, just as a reminder that polls ‘aint always accurate. Poll results go both ways as well, just ask Winston Peters.

On the topic of Winston Peters, having done talkback and talk radio for close to a decade I have to say that the supporters of Colin Craig, their angle on the world, and the repetitive themes that come from them do remind me a lot of NZ First supporters. I wonder if the Conservatives will go head to head with NZ First for these votes which could lead to a few scenarios.

  1. NZ First losing all it’s share and it disappears again.
  2. NZ First takes voters away from the Conservatives once Winston starts the ‘Foreshore and Seabed’, ‘Immigrants are evil’, ‘Everybody is against the elderly’ campaign which is sure to come.
  3. Or will they spread the potential vote too thin, and end up keeping each other out of politics by splitting the vote.
  4. Or I guess you have to ask for fairness, will the both get in…which would make for fun political observing in 2014/15 as Craig could try to out-Winston Winston!

One of the messages I enjoy from Colin Craig is that he wants to be, and thinks all politicians should be, representative of their constituents. I agree. The problem the Conservatives are going to face is who their constituents actually are.

Here are a couple of examples from today’s hour on Radiolive

These are the constituents that Colin Craig and the Conservative will be representing. I don’t know about you, but if I were in politics I don’t think I’d want ‘Michael’ to be my spokesperson, or writing my bumper stickers but if we did they’d be something like…

  • “We don’t believe in Aotearoa – Vote Conservative”
  • “We believe in Equal Rights for all (especially those of us with current privilege) – Vote Conservative”
  • “We want to smack our kids – Vote Conservative”

Or maybe Esther would be a better way to go…

  • “We used to live in harmony, except those of us who didn’t and had things like our language and practices oppressed – Vote Conservative”
  • “All that land we took off you, that you got back, well you should now agree to give it to everyone and let bygones be bygones – Vote Conservative”

I wonder if the Conservatives are setting themselves up to be a far right alternative to ACT. This is of course a valid voting block with an audience large enough to get the Conservatives into parliament.

I have spent some time at Conservative HQ, I actually offered to help them with their message, but it was plain to see then, as it is now, that as long as they can get across the 5% threshold appealing to the group of NZers that would adhere to the above thoughts then they’d get in, and of course there is a market for those thoughts.

So we shall now see if the media continues the narrative of Colin Craig being the next king maker, or if next month they will be back to Winston and the Maori Party then in 12 months we’ll all know if they were correct or not.

Smacking in the headlines…again!

So here is the story in from the Sunday Star Times. Opponents of the ‘anti-smacking’ law say this is a good example of how good parents are being criminalised for parenting…I would disagree and have three thoughts at the end to back my position.

A  mum’s “considered decision” to strap her son led to an assault conviction, and a judge told her that thinking about it first made it worse than if she’d done it in anger.

The woman and her partner, both South Island teachers, were convicted after they strapped their 8-year-old son, over his pyjamas, with a belt in January last year.

But after taking their case all the way to the Court of Appeal, they were discharged without conviction.

Anti-smacking law critics say the case is an example of good parents being criminalised, contrary to assurances from politicians when the law came in.

Named H and G in court papers to protect their son, the pair told the Sunday Star-Times the boy had a history of behavioural difficulties, had seen psychiatrists, and the family had approached Child Youth and Family.

When he was discovered for a second time doing “something that put another child’s health at risk”, they said it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

“I felt like I had gone down all the right channels. He did it again. I thought what else can I do to try to get him to realise it’s not acceptable behaviour?” H said.

She asked her partner to give the boy the strap that night. “We talked to our son so he knew why. We needed him to know it wasn’t OK.”

A CYF worker was told a few weeks later, and police were notified. They interviewed H, who was told it was “highly unlikely” the case would go to court. But police went to the school a few days later and she and her partner were charged that night.

H said they pleaded guilty and applied for discharges without conviction to avoid putting the boy through a trial.

Judge Tony Zohrab denied the applications, saying “the fact it was a considered decision to assault him” was an aggravating factor. They both lost their jobs because of the convictions, and the boy was sent to live with other family.

H said the decision was “backwards”. “The judge almost said if you had done it in anger, it would have been better.”

They appealed, and her partner got a discharge without conviction in the High Court, but her offending was deemed worse because she had told police she had used a wooden spoon on the boy in the past.

H then went to the Court of Appeal, where the judges said they had “considerable sympathy” for her.

Justices O’Regan, Arnold and Randerson said H was dealing with a child with identifiable behavioural problems, and an incident any parent would have found challenging to deal with.

“She had sought appropriate expert assistance with the child, and had utilised a range of non-physical measures to address behaviour.

“While not condoning the use of physical violence for disciplinary purposes, the actions taken by G at H’s request were at the lower end of the scale.”

The court said the assault was “over clothing and involved, at most, one or two hits with a belt being used as a strap”.

The judges ruled Zohrab had erred in “overstating the gravity of the offending”, and the consequences – particularly losing their jobs – were out of proportion.

H said she was overjoyed at being discharged after “a year-and-a-half of hell”.

She said when the anti-smacking law was introduced she thought it would stop people from abusing their children. “I didn’t for a second think I would get criminalised.”

Family First director Bob McCroskie said the case showed the law “coming home to roost”.

“This mother has had her career damaged, lost income and faced legal fees, and it’s caused irreparable damage to the family.

“She was honest, asked for help, went to professionals who never came running with assistance – but were quick to prosecute.”

“The warning to all good parents from this is to be careful what they admit.”

Police criminal investigations national manager Detective Superintendent Rod Drew said a review of smacking investigation figures showed discretion was being used.

“It’s a matter of degree. Generally speaking, the use of a weapon to hit a child is unacceptable.”

The law allowed reasonable force to be used, but “reasonable” was not defined.

Okay, here are my thoughts as to me, this story means one of three things.

Possibility One: The system works as this mother and father didn’t end up with a criminal conviction as the original conviction was overturned thus meaning that no one here can claim that this is a case of ‘good parents being criminalised’…because they weren’t.

Possibility Two: There is a rogue judge in the system who is using the law incorrectly and therefore this isn’t a reflection on the law…but how that judge applied it.

Possibility Three: The overturning of the criminal act was wrong, and the original judge was correct. I wonder how many parenting groups, lobby groups, parenting advocates would be okay with the use of an implement such as a strap and/or belt to smack a child with?

I would also add one more thought to this from my own personal point of view.

I wonder what happens next time there is a need to correct, or discipline, this child…what then? Do we get the strap again? Do we need to elevate ‘correction’ to something else?

Personally I think using a belt on a child, for whatever reason, is assault, it’s probably where I will depart from my ‘fence-sitting’ on this  issue in the past. I see no legal, moral or ‘parenting’ reason why using a strap on a child should, could or ever would be anything other than the reason as to why this law was brought in which promotes one more question…what’s the point? If the law was brought in to stop people using these kinds of ‘techniques’ for discipline, and parents are still doing it…and getting away with it…then what’s the point.