We smacked our kids but nowadays we'd be criminals


Parts of this article were previously published on The Conversation, see the full article here


When I was a child, it was normal for our parents to give us a smack or bring out the belt when we were misbehaving, but now it seems that laying a hand on your child or grandchild can be considered violence.

The recently released UNICEF report on violence against children draws on data from 190 countries to present a very grim picture of the physical and emotional harm children continue to suffer. Much of this harm is by the adult guardians of the children, whom they rely on for safety and well-being, guidance and positive example. Me or my parents did not contribute to this in such a damaging way: discipline in my day wasn’t meant to be scarring, it was to teach a lesson.

Ad. Article continues below.

The UNICEF report states that violence in all its forms can rob children’s dignity, diminish their self-worth, and threaten their optimal development. Children not only suffer its immediate physical and emotional effects; the violence they see and experience is likely to impact on the type of adult they become and the future society of which they will be part.

The most common form of violence that children suffer is the often “disciplinary” violence – physical force and verbal intimidation – used by parents and teachers as punishment and or to control or change children’s annoying or unacceptable behaviours. But is it really violence if we give a smack on the bum or talk sternly to a child? I thought of it completely differently as a child, yes, but now as a parent and grandparent, I understand why it was done and I turned out fine, as did my children. I even survived the dreaded mouth washed out with soap! I’m not condoning actual violence, by the way, but I think there is a difference between violence and discipline. Without it, how can a child really know when to stop?

The Weapon of Choice project says that words can wound children, and accompanying “disciplinary” violence often hurts children. In the heat of the moment, parents’ sometimes excessive physical punishment and verbal outbursts degrade and humiliate children. And parents usually regret it. I admit I have regretted when I have hit my child a little too hard, but I do not believe I used excessive force. I do feel very sorry for children who do suffer at the hands of their intimidating parents and I do not support violence in any way, but as has been talked about heatedly amongst my friendship circle, a smack on the bum can now be viewed as over the top and even illegal.

Ad. Article continues below.

We now know enough to not ever hurt or risk harm to our children, but I still question whether I should be looked down upon for thinking a smack is still okay. I see mothers in the shops who yell incessantly at their child and scream in their ear, and somehow that is better than a tap on the bum? This new UNICEF report does alert me to the seriousness of it, and while I wholeheartedly agree with their findings, I really believe it is a little over the top to suggest every form of angrily addressing your child is child abuse. I feel sad that I could be viewed as a former child abuser when I feel miles away from what I envision a child abuser to look or act like.

My son Stephen came to me a few years ago and told me that he was stressed because his friend had an argument with him about how Stephen grabbed his son’s arm to put him in the car. His friend said he shouldn’t have laid a hand on the child but my son insisted it was the only way otherwise his two-year-old would have run away. He had been treated like he was a child abuser just for that and that’s why I’m a little shocked at how the world has changed. We used to let the kids run around outside til dusk but now they’re locked up inside. You can’t raise your voice or touch your kid unless it’s in a loving way, even if they’re being a nuisance and will not listen.

Instead of a light smack on the bum, it’s suggested to use positive discipline but not everyone has the patience of a saint. I think that if they’re acting up, you’re well within your rights to give your children an acceptable level of discipline that doesn’t mollycoddle them!


What do you think of the UNICEF report? Is a smack or a yell really child abuse? Or should parents be more caring and not have to resort to such measures? Share your thoughts on the topic below.