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Parenting Trials and “No Smacking” Kids

August 5, 2009

The other morning the BBC interviewed the father of a teen, whose daughter had dimed him in for “smacking,” the refined, British word for hitting.” In 2007, New Zealand joined 23 other countries making it illegal for a parent to smack his child. In America, where we still debate the pros and cons of corporal discipline, the Brits are either infinitely more civilized or have lost their minds.

The BBC interviewer valiantly attempted to elicit the father’s reflection on whether he could have disciplined his daughter another way. The guy with almost cartoonish defensiveness, replied: “I didn’t leave a mark, it was just a smack on the top of her leg; I had tried to reason with her, nothing else worked.” Now the guy had a conviction on his record.

One can sympathize, because who as a parent hasn’t been tempted to just give a smack? When your child seems absolutely impervious to your efforts to get them to stop what they’re doing, listen to you, change course?  But, is hitting really a way to get your child to care about what you care about?  I decided to ask the people the interviewer forgot to interview: kids.

So I turned to my two older teenagers and posed the dilemma to them. My eldest argued philosophically that governmental violation of privacy was at stake, unless there was a true public interest otherwise. My mid-teen thought that the father had run out of creative ideas, but unless the pattern of hitting was pervasive it was a stupid law. Then I asked what had worked for them: “positive incentives and time out.”  I questioned, “But I don’t think we gave you any strict time-outs, though we did tell you to calm down before discussing things further.” I was gently reminded, “Mom, the time outs were for you to calm down.”  Oh yea, right.  Calm down and no smackings…why?  Because what’s really at risk is your good relationship with your child. You can ruin it by smacking—not for every parent or every child. But I’m not a gambler, so why take the chance–even if no one will dime you in?

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