Smacking should not be banned

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Children’s Commissioner for the UK, Maggie Atkinson. Photograph: Eleanor Bentall

The Children’s Commissioner for the UK, Maggie Atkinson, recently claimed that there should be a total ban for parents smacking their children. This comes as no surprise as the nanny state continues to dictate how parents ought to discipline their children instead of leaving it up to the parents to decide how to raise their children. Speaking to The Independent, Dr. Atkinson’s assertion that “it’s a moral issue. The morals are that, taken to its extreme, physical chastisement is actually physical abuse and I have never understood the line between one and the other. Better that it were not permitted,” does much to blur the distinction between hitting your child to put them in line and actual physical abuse. With this, it is hardly surprising that her comments have generated an expected wave of controversy towards the increased penalisation and criminalisation of a tried and tested method of parenting.

Maggie Atkinson possesses no real understanding of the law concerning smacking. Under current legislation, parents can hit their child if it constitutes “reasonable chastisement” and “does not leave serious marks.” Her inability to distinguish between a mild smack and a full on beating does nothing to promote her cause to ban smacking. Any reasonable person would see that this issue should not be conflated; it comes across as an attempt to justify her argument to score political points and to garner public support. Her proclamation that her experience as a teacher effectively undermines her position in this debate. “Having been a teacher, and never having had an issue where I’d need to use physical punishment, I believe we should move to ban it.” Dr. Atkinson’s judgement is wholly unfounded. With corporal punishment being banned from schools, her statement, backed up by her experience, should not be used a springboard to campaign against an anti-smacking ban in all spheres.

Maggie Atkinson’s appointment as the Children’s Tsar is thoroughly misplaced. Bearing no children of her own, Dr. Atkinson’s lecture on “proper” disciplining practices is no better than Channel 4’s Supernanny Jo Frost in handing out parenting tips. Although we can somewhat recognise Jo Frost’s credentials, this does not eschew the notion that she has not had first-hand experience of being a parent; being a nanny is insufficient practice when one’s preferred mode of discipline proves to be meagre in trying to control your own offspring. The Children’s Tsar’s unsolicited stance is anything but patronising and with her office confirming that there will be no campaign against the ban “because there are a lot of other things in the queue,” Maggie Atkinson’s self-aggrandising holds no relevance in today’s political agenda.

Growing up in an African household, physical chastisement is a standard form of parenting. I can recall stretching my arms out and my dad whipping them with a belt. Other forms of disciplining included my body going through excruciating pain as I was made to face the wall with my knees bent and arms stretching towards the ceiling. Saddening and agonising as this was, I only ever got this treatment when I was out of line. There is no doubt that Dr. Atkinson would equate this to child abuse, but my parents deployed this short sharp shock to put me in line. If anything, the threats bellowed by both of my parents and the lead up to the smacking was a much more harrowing than the smacking in itself. If the Children’s Tsar’s campaign is ever to be successful, the role of parents in taking responsibility for their children will be superseded by the state.

Current government policy concerning smacking children is clear. “We do not condone violence towards children. However, we do not wish to criminalise parents for issuing a mild smack.” Responsible parents will know where the boundaries lie and are all too aware of the psychological impact that a violent smack entails, coupled with possible criminal action if a child is reported to be abused. It is better to leave this issue to the parents and develop their child in way that they deem fit.