There should not be a ban on smacking in Scotland

Written by Jenni Davidson on 24 May 2017 in Comment

The relationship between a parent and child is unique and the state should not interfere in normal parenting decisions

Father and children - Image credit: Fotolia

Two weeks ago, Scottish Green MSP John Finnie launched a consultation on a private member’s bill to ban smacking in Scotland with the support of a number of children’s charities.

The argument is that the law at present gives children less protection from ‘assault’ than it does adults.

Which is true, if you consider smacking to be assault, but this argument is something of a red herring anyway.

Children are not adults. Adults don’t run out in front of cars, put their hands in the fire or pull pots of boiling water down on themselves because they don’t know any better.


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The relationship between a parent and a child is unique and not comparable to the relationship between any two adults.

Parenthood gives a level of authority over the child that no adult normally has over another adult: in setting down rules and ensuring they are obeyed, in choosing what they will eat, what they will wear, when they will go to bed, whether they can leave the house – or indeed their bedroom, in imposing punishments (physical or otherwise) and deciding what they are taught is right and wrong, true and false until they are old enough to make those decisions for themselves.

Translate any of that to an adult-to-adult relationship and it would seem really quite abusive.

The other argument is that smacking is terribly hurtful; it will make you violent and give you mental health problems – which rather defies logic, given that the vast majority of adults in this country and across the world have been smacked.

Unless we’re all in collective denial about the terrible effects of the odd skelp, it can’t have done that much harm.

I was smacked a few times as a child. It didn’t bother me at the time. It doesn’t bother me now. I thought then, as now, that it was a fair and sensible way of demarcating serious bad behaviour from minor misdemeanours.

But apart from the ethics of smacking, which is a matter of personal opinion – as are many aspects of parenting – the question is what would a ban achieve?

If you don’t believe in smacking children and you do it anyway in a moment of weakness, anger or loss of control, then clearly that is wrong.

You are doing something you yourself think is harmful and you disagree with just because you lost it.

But how is a smacking ban going to help with that? Those parents are already doing something they didn’t intend to do.

All this adds is the threat of legal repercussions or social services intervention to the guilt they presumably already feel about having done something they didn’t mean to in a fit of anger.

Reacting in anger has the potential to do damage, not the smacking.

And this is how smacking is always characterised: lashing out in anger. But this ignores the reality that many parents smack having made an intentional, conscious decision as part of a loving parental relationship, which evidence suggests does no harm.

All parenting is imperfect. Parenting decisions are subjective and others may disagree with them, but does that give anyone else a right to overrule them?

Is the state now to intervene in all parenting, laying down how children should be brought up?

And can social services cope with the increase in cases relating to parents with perfectly healthy relationships with their children, when it is already struggling to cope with those who actually need extra support or intervention?

We already have rules that define abuse and neglect as opposed to normal parenting, and those work perfectly well. We should leave it at that.

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