Smacking Ban Law

David Elston's picture

This time two years ago the smacking ban law plan for Wales was dropped and we were left with the rather ambiguous decision that if you smacked a child, it was permitted by the state so long as you did not leave a mark - which is rather subjective as certain skin colours show different degrees of markings and some parts of the body can be dealt a large degree of pain without any obvious physical marks. The smacking ban has intermittently appeared in debates for years and the assembly always considers flexing what little legislative power it has to simply ban it.

In these two years since the drop of the ban, the Welsh Government could have taken a different approach to smacking and put in place parent support programmes for those who are struggling and provided an education avenue. Instead, the Government has decided to do nothing and now has rebooted the smacking ban.

The assembly needs to break out of this pattern of simply suggesting a ban and operating as the nanny state. Their knee-jerk reaction to trying banning things, such as the e-cig ban, plastic bag ban, banning words, ban on legal highs and even banning James Bond (well, not quite but you see where this is going).

Now you may or may not agree with the principle point that plastic bags are bad for the environment and legal highs are generally not good for you or smacking should stop but the banning of such things are either:

1) Completely ineffective, often generally confusing and unhelpful but perhaps more importantly...

2) Make no real attempt at creating a better and more educated society. It simply removes the freedom of choice from the individual. Generally speaking when the public have free access to information and in some cases, additional support they want to make the best decision for themselves and their children's well-being.

It is a shame the Welsh Assembly has not taken these many years to consider why parents smack. Smacking is generally only used in order to reduce undesirable behaviour and increase desirable behaviour. However, researchers have shown that short-term and long-term non-compliance is reduced with smacking and sometimes can be associated with aggression. It also undermines trust, can reduce mental health, increase delinquency and criminal behaviour. Generally speaking, smacking is bad on all fronts. However, there are some studies and psychologists that admit that a quick smack can be less traumatic than a prolonged period of isolation or other punishment - the psychological damage of one punishment can be greater than the physical pain of smacking. That isn't to say we should simply resort to smacking for fear of doing something worse accidentally but we need to be careful not to simply replace smacking with a different and possibly more harmful form of discipline. Some parents have taken to public humiliation as an alternative.

There are of course other issues; it immediately criminalises a large proportion of the population. While Wales figures aren't easily available, in the year 2000 88% of people in England said smacking was sometimes necessary but only 1% thought leaving bruises or marks was reasonable and only 1 in 14 children are considered to be physically abused. While it is likely the 88% has decreased as parents have access to new information and parenting techniques, this would suggest smacking is seen as a reasonably normal thing by most, so an outright ban is not going to change behaviour or patterns any time soon. It will merely keep it out of the public view.

Furthermore if a parent is smacking a child and wants help to stop, they are less likely to seek help if they are going to be reporting themselves as a criminal.

In short, the smacking ban would not work and the government needs to stop trying to fix all problems with a ban-hammer. Not all problems are nails.

Alternative solutions are easy to find. Wales like most deprived areas often struggles with parenting and often many parents are single parents, who are statistically more likely to be less able to spend more time talking through a problem and resort to a quick smack as punishment. The money would be better spent providing support groups for mothers or fathers, especially but not limited to single parents and information provided through the assigned health visitor when the baby is born instead of wasting money trying to police the problem. We also find that there are more support groups for single mothers specifically while single fathers are excluded - this would also need to be addressed.

What do you think? Let me know.

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