Respect and caring are inextricable and there is no effective substitute.
Most people are sick of the debate about hitting children. I am too. But after reading and listening to so many mischief-making statements on the subject I could not resist a final word before moving on.
A negative and mischievous interpretation of the current debate suggests that those in favour of the Bill want to deprive parents of their lawful authority. While those who are against the Bill want to continue to hit their children. The way I see it, both sides are equally concerned with the welfare of children. Parents who want to retain the right to smack their children are concerned about losing the ability to manage their children properly, losing control of them. While the Bill’s proponents want to reduce family violence. Both sides know it is wrong to neglect a child’s discipline and wrong to abuse a child.
Remember the debate about corporal punishment in schools? Society was divided between those who wanted to allow teachers to continue beating children with straps and canes and those who wanted the practice stopped. It was stopped by law eventually and we moved on.
When I first worked with difficult boys in a residential institution disciplinary measures included the strap, administered by senior staff. It made me uncomfortable but I could not at first see a reasonable alternative. The strap was our nuclear deterrent. For although the behaviour of the most disruptive boys was not modified by the strap, it was fear of the strap that kept most boys within reasonable bounds. Yet corporal punishment was a brutal, demeaning experience for everyone. I know most of the staff who administered the strap hated doing so. But by the time the law prohibiting corporal punishment came out, the debate had already reduced the practice. And to the surprise of many, world war three did not break out after all. We moved on.
It is fair to point out that parents, particularly single parents, do not have the resources of institutions. I should also add that, while we staff were all guilty of lapses from time to time, as most parents and children are, respect between adults and children was highly valued at that institution. The boys generally thought the staff cared about them. This is a crucial factor. Respect and caring are inextricable and there is no effective substitute. It was not so many years ago that the police moved on in their attitude to family violence. Women subjected to assault by strangers were worthy of protection. Women beaten by their spouses were often ignored as ‘just another domestic.’
While I’m confident that most parents who oppose Sue Bradford’s child discipline Bill are caring parents, I’m also sure of this: Their view is shared by most wife-beaters, sex offenders, child abusers and child killers. These are the people who cling to a distorted sense of entitlement to control the lives of others. Moving on would leave them behind.