Monday, 30 January 2012

no smacking to blame for the riots?

Tottenham MP David Lammy has recently made it into the press by saying that if only parents had been able to smack their children, then last summer’s riots in the UK would not have happened.

Well, what he actually said was that many of his constituents felt that the recent changes to the laws on smacking have left them feeling unable to discipline their children.

Smacking is quite possibly one of the most emotive of parenting topics, and it is generally divided into the “smacking is wrong, it is abuse, damaging to children and should be banned,” group, and the “I was smacked as a child, it didn’t do me any harm, nothing wrong with a tap when all else fails,” group. And then of course there is the “What he needs is a bloody good hiding,” group, but on the whole I find there are few people that genuinely subscribe to that view.

But in truth this isn’t really about smacking, is it? It seems to be more about a section of society who feel the need to blame the state of their children’s’ behaviour on one law, brought in by someone else, that they seem to feel must hold the key to their children running riot and ending up as juvenile delinquents.

And it’s such an easy conclusion to reach. Children’s’ behaviour has changed, there’s little doubt about that. There’s far more anti social behaviour now than there was when I was growing up, and I suppose it’s easy to conclude that as smacking has been all but outlawed, the change in behaviour must be down to that.

But in fact there is so much more to discipline than smacking. Now instead of the slipper we send children to the naughty step, and instead of the belt we reach for the parenting book. And what’s wrong with that? The answer is nothing, but perhaps there is a section of people who it would seem lack the skills to move from a short sharp shock into the realms of reasoned discipline. But in an age where asking for help is seen as failure, and where sections of society are deteriorating as a result, it’s far easier to dress up those failings as political correctness gone mad, and the government turning into the nanny state wanting to tell us how we should bring up our children.

I think there is little doubt that a significant part of the reason behind the riots is the fact that many parents have failed to bring their children up in disciplined homes. But I very much doubt that the lack of discipline has to do with the lack of a good smack now and then, and probably has more to do with a lack of reasoned discipline that the more modern parenting methods subscribe to.

The fact is not smacking a child isn’t going to turn him/her into a delinquent. But not disciplining them might. And in truth, if a parent doesn’t feel that there is any other way to discipline a child that doesn’t involve physical punishment, then maybe it is the parent that needs to think about what is wrong, not society, or the government.

After all, it is not the punishment than shapes the child, it is the reasoning behind the punishment. If you simply smack a child when it does wrong, it doesn’t reason as to why it did wrong, it reasons as to why it was smacked. And therein lies the fundamental difference. You can still reason with a child without having to add the physical force of your anger behind it. You can still add consequences without having to resort to punishment.

So perhaps if parents feel uncomfortable smacking their children, maybe they need to reason with themselves why that is. Is it really because they feel the government has taken that option away from them? Or is it perhaps that they themselves don’t actually feel comfortable with the idea of smacking their children, but it’s easier to blame someone else for the fact they don’t know of an alternative solution?

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