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Guest Opinion: Smacking Children Is Not Harmful

Smacking Children Is Not Harmful


Ruby Harrold-Claesson, Lawyer

This comment is a response to "Smacking children not so harmful – study" that was printed in Stuff.co.nz on October 7, 2006.

I fully agree with the study presented in Stuff according to which "Smacking children [is] not so harmful". In this day and age when we have to study everything from a scientific point of view, common sense, which was the guideline for former generations, has been thrown out the window!

Most sensible people must be aware of the fact that no matter how much we love our children, there occurs sometimes in the most harmonious of families occasions when parents must use reasonable force against their children. That has nothing to do with violence. Smacking a 16-yr old who has thrown an axe at a younger sibling, (Case 14 in my submission to the Select Committee), is not violence. Smacking a 15-yr old who has pushed her mother so she fell down the stairs because she was not given a tape-recorder, (Case 16 in my submission), is not child abuse. These two cases are exact scenarios from my legal experience. The 16 and 15 year olds were legally responsible but they were not prosecuted for their terrible acts, but the parents were prosecuted for "child abuse".

Former generations, and most of the parents in the world, can differentiate between smacking and child abuse. Smacking is used by responsible parents, when words and admonitions are not enough to make the child cease and desist from an unacceptable behaviour. That has nothing to do with violence or child abuse.

On October 15, 2004 in the wake of the acquittal of the stepfather in Uddevalla, (a small town in southern Sweden), who had smacked his 15 yr old step-daughter who had spat in his face (Case 29 in my submission), the evening newspaper, Aftonbladet, interviewed five persons. They all said it was wrong to smack children.
(See http://www.aftonbladet.se/vss/nyheter/story/0,2789,547607,00.html).

The following day I was interviewed on the Morning Program on TV and I congratulated the court on a verdict based on common sense. The same day Aftonbladet published an article with interviews with a well-known record producer, Bert Karlsson, and me. Bert Karlsson said: "I would have hit even harder".
(See http://www.aftonbladet.se/vss/nyheter/story/0,2789,547945,00.html)

The following Tuesday night (19/10) I was invited to participate in a panel debate on the Television program "Debate" with Lennart Persson. The panel was made up of six persons: three for smacking and three against. On my team I had Rune Torwald, one of the six MP's who had voted against the anti-smacking law and a criminologist. On the other team were the Children's ombudsman, a psychologist from Save the Children and a European MP. The anti-smackers claimed that it was damaging for defenceless children to be smacked. However, the issue at hand was the case with the 15-year old girl. A 15-year old is not a defenceless child. At age 15 a youngster is punishable by law and has also attained the legal age of consent to sexual relations.

Towards the end of the program Lennart Persson asked the psychologist from Save the Children if all former generations of children - including us adults born before the anti-smacking law was passed - were damaged. The psychologist from Save the Children hesitated then he answered "No". That's the only answer he could give because I'm sure that he too was smacked as a child. So, if he had replied "yes" then he would be stating that he himself was traumatised.

Several leading authorities on child rearing have a more common sense attitude towards child smacking. For example, Dr. Laura Schlessinger states in the article "Is parental authority important? Dr. Laura weighs in on 'sparing the rod'", published on WorldNetDaily on February 10, 2001, the following:

"(...) the necessity for the adults to establish themselves as authority figures is, in my opinion, the single most important factor in child rearing."

The American psychoanalyst, Robert Waelder, wrote in his book "Basic theory of Psychoanalysis", I quote:

"... a psychoanalytic approach to upbringing does not mean that children should get what they desire when they desire something; instead it demands an attempt to find a suitable balance between satisfaction and disappointment in every situation ... we have to find the optimal combination of two equally important but partly opposite ingredients for a healthy development, namely, love and discipline; to love without spoiling and to discipline without injuring."

In Sweden we have had a blanket prohibition against smacking children since 1979. Since then hundreds, maybe thousands, of parents have been prosecuted for "child abuse" and their children have been taken into compulsory care and placed in foster homes - where in fact they have been severely abused mentally, physically and even sexually.

The greatest harm that is being done to children in Sweden today is not caused by parents who give an occasional smacking, but by unnecessary state intervention into their private and family lives. Since the beginning of the 1970s, parents have been indoctrinated in the modern philosophy that children should have free upbringing. Free upbringing came to mean "freedom from upbringing". The state agencies took over and parents have been forced to abdicate from their positions of authority for their children - on pain of prison and the loss of their children to the state.

Discipline became a despised word - a word that should not be used by parents in child rearing and neither by teachers in the schools. Many leading persons in Sweden have reacted to the fact that Swedish children are wild and lacking in discipline.

In an article "Youngsters must meet a firm reaction", published in the Swedish Daily on September 5, 1993, former Justice Minister, Mrs Gun Hellsvik, and former School Minister, now Justice Minister, Mrs Beatrice Ask, asserted that Sweden needs a new family policy. They wrote inter alia:

"In recent years, there is a dawning societal debate on moral and ethical questions. (...) We are beginning to see the results of the general lack of principles that the social democrats promoted as a political goal during the sixties and seventies. It was their vision of family, school and teaching and also about the legal system in general. There are certain basic ideas that we believe most people in our country agree with in principle: Adults have a responsibility to teach the youth what is right and wrong. Parents have a particular responsibility towards their children. ... Young persons who break rules must learn to take the consequences and expect to meet a firm reaction. The State shall in every respect facilitate parents and among others teachers to fulfil their educational tasks." (My italics)

" Aversion towards the family
Among the social-democrats since the beginning of the sixties, there has been an unexplainable aversion towards the family and a reluctance to allow the schools to fulfil their important roll as a conveyor of norms. Parents were told that they "snuffed the development of their children. They were informed in no uncertain terms that their children would fare better if they were taken care of by specially trained staff at public institutions.
Parents were deemed to be lacking in knowledge and rather dangerous for their children... (...)
In the end it is necessary that children or adolescents who break prescribed rules must meet a firm reaction both at home and at school. Because of this there are a number of changes that are necessary in our country.
Therefore, we need a new family policy that will show that the responsibility for the supervision and upbringing of the children rests on the parents... (...)
It is high time to let parents and the teaching staff take responsibility for the youth in our society. If we fail to do that we will fail our children!"

On August 16, 2003 the Swedish columnist, Linda Skugge wrote: "We are bringing up a generation of monsters" and on July 4, 2005, the journalist Roger Lord wrote the article: "The children are embarrassing Sweden". Despite the negative Swedish experiences, certain politicians in other countries are trying to enforce similar legislation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was quoted in an article published in Aftonbladet on October 27, 1996, saying that "smacking is good for children." The article also informs that Tony Blair has admitted smacking his children, and that he deems it necessary sometimes.

And, on October 9, 2006, USA Today published the article "CEOs Often Spanked as Kids", asserting that smacking is one thing they overwhelmingly have in common.

There is no conclusive evidence that smacking is harmful to children. The burden of proof must lay on those who propose a change in the existing system.

*************

Ruby Harrold-Claesson, attorney-at-law in Gothenburg,Sweden and president of the NCHR (www.nkmr.org)

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