Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Smacking Referendum

My contribution to this debate will be brief. I'd like to outline the position of a group of parents that has been largely overlooked or assumed not to exist. Parents in this group:
- Don't smack their kids.
- Don't really care if you smack your kids or not.
- Do understand the importance of discipline.
- Don't appreciate being categorised as radical liberals just because they choose a particular form of discipline.
- Are frustrated by a $9M referendum which, for them, is unanswerable in any meaningful way.

I'm only going to cover one aspect of this debacle so let's get to it. Here's a statement that has been noticeably absent from the current debate:

Non-smacking works!

Forget all the ballyhoo about child psychology, legality and morals. Who cares what the hard-core lefties or righties think? There's a simple but powerful reason to take non-smacking seriously: It works.
Here's the thing...

Not smacking ≠ Not disciplining

In other words, choosing against smacking does not mean choosing against discipline. It means choosing a different type of discipline - the most popular being "time-out" or some variant. There are people who don't like the word punishment but I have no problem with it. Time-out is an effective punishment and deterrent. According to one source I read (wish I could cite it), time-out was rated by children as a worse punishment than smacking. My kids hate it. It's not soft.

I find that non-smackers usually understand discipline very well because they need to put a lot of thought and effort into it. If you don't smack your kids you must have a well-planned, consistent approach to punishment. I'm sure it actually helps me keep track of how consistent my discipline is.

As for the practical objections ("That would never work with my kids", "What about when you're at the supermarket?"), I won't try to predict and answer them all in one go. It's more efficient to say that non-smacking works well for many families and there are plenty of people willing to help you if you're keen to give it a try. Your local CAB is a good place to start.

I think my children are very well behaved. I have three (2, 4 & 18) and none of them have ever been smacked. Not because I'm so morally righteous but because it's working.


  1. Great post, from one Dave to another ... spot on. My kids are 17, 13, and 5 with similar results - they're all independent thinking, caring boys who know that force isn't the way to get what you want.

  2. My parents used to smack me when I was a child. But I certainly don't consider them as criminal offenders nor bad people and I sure haven't turned out to be a violent person who can't think logically. My boy friend whom I've been going out with for over 3 years was smacked as a child and he isn't a violent person who tries to pick fights with everyone. When I got smacked I was smacked for a reason. Just because some minority take the whole smacking too far and become violent with their child, doesn't mean the majority who lightly smack as a discipline are criminals. Even in your articles you mention that non-smacking works for "many families" not all the families.
    I don't like the fact that the law actually criminalizes parents who love their child.

    "If a light smack is criminal offence, a kiss on a child should be sexual harassment"

  3. they say you should never smack a child in anger! but its that very emotion of anger & frustration that makes people lash out. The best thing out of this whole issue is that it has made me 'revise' my methods of discipline & I now own the anger & frustration. Democracy, societal expectations & boundaries here in ol' NZ rock. The generations that follow will appreciate this... so thanks all :p

  4. The argument that only a minority "take the whole smacking thing too far" and therefore this law shouldn't exist, doesn't work. The vast majority of the criminal law is there for the small percentage of people who engage in acceptable behaviour. We don't say that because only a minority of the population murder people that there shouldn't be a law against it.

  5. the thing everyone seems to overlook is that Sue Bradford's amendment only means that IF you get to COURT for hitting your child, you can't use discipline as a defence. It DOESN"T suggest there will be a new police force peering into windows and arresting parents who lightly slap.
    However, theft is illegal, and no-one argues that law. The fact that theft is illegal doesn't mean you would be jailed, or even charged for stealing 1 cent off someone. Same with criminalising smacking. It doesn't mean every tiny infringement is a police matter. But honestly, folks - does it have to be as bad as Nia Glassie et al before its considered a problem? Surely, as a principle, physically assaulting someone else should be considered wrong - no matter who it is.
    And as dave says - smacking doesn't work as discipline.

  6. The problem I have with the legislation is that it makes good parents criminal. I applaud a parent who can retain proper control, however they achieve it and congratulate Dave for finding a way which works. I would never dream of insisting that he is a bad parent, or worse, a criminal because he didn't smack his children but it is this very criminalising of those who do which I protest.
    Being "less bad" does not make you good. If you decide there is a scale, where at one end there is a fatal beating and at the other end a light smack, it is easy to argue that all use of force on a child is criminal. That is essentially what the repeal of section 59 does. It says anyone smacking their child for correction is a criminal, just not a bad enough one to be worth prosecuting. I reject that argument (as do the vast majority of New Zealanders apparently) and have been pleased to have the chance to vote so in the referendum.