Sunday 8 February 2015

Why The Pope is Wrong About Smacking

I like to think that should I ever be lucky enough to stumble into any kind of power, I would use it for good. I truly believe that I would use my public platform, no matter how tiny, to improve the world. I can imagine that the pressure of having that power would be huge, and that every word would need to be thoughtfully considered before being allowed to pass my oh so powerful lips. After all, when all the world is listening, you need to be careful what you say.

And that’s why it’s so depressing every time someone with power, lots of power, says something stupid. Something that not only doesn’t improve the world, but in fact celebrates or validates the way things currently are.

It was reported on Friday that Pope Francis had said that it is ok to smack your kids, as long as they still have their dignity. I’m not quite sure how Pope Francis expects this dignity to be maintained, perhaps by ensuring children are always dressed in their most formal attire before taking a beating? Not only this, but Pope Francis actually commented on the beauty of a father ‘justly’ doing this, and apparently made the motion of a parent smacking their child. I fail to see the beauty in a grown adult hitting a child. It is, quite simply, bullying in each and every possible scenario. It’s a shame that Pope Francis didn’t educate himself about smacking before making a public statement in support of this hideous behaviour.

The Catholic Church arguably has some pretty bad PR as far as kids are concerned, so perhaps Pope Francis is of the opinion that there’s not really much he can do to worsen the situation. But, by speaking out against smacking, he could have made a real difference, because:

Smacking doesn’t work
Numerous studies have found smacking to be ineffective at preventing bad behaviour. There is so much evidence out there highlighting the fact that smacking doesn’t work. Well, it works if the aim is to hit your child. But if your aim is to stop bad behaviour, then smacking doesn’t work. In fact, one study found that kids can go back to the behaviour within just 10 minutes of being smacked (you can read the full study here). Corporal punishment doesn’t work as a deterrent, and in fact has been associated with long-term problems including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and, unsurprisingly, aggression.

These parents don’t need encouragement
Do you know how many times the average four year old is smacked a year? One thousand. One thousand smacks in the average four year old’s year. That works out at an average of two smacks each and every day. These smack happy parents, hands poised waiting, really don’t need Pope Francis to talk about how great smacking is. They’re going to smack anyway, and they do, a thousand times a year.

Smacking teaches violence
Nothing is more ridiculous to me than the idea of a parent berate their child for hitting, whilst giving them a smack. When you hit a child, you are teaching that child that it is ok to hit. You’re also teaching them a pretty poor lesson in how to handle anger and other negative emotions. Children who are hit at home, are most likely to lash out at others. Children learn more by observing and copying your behaviour than they will from the lessons you teach them verbally. So if you tell them violence is wrong, you will contradict yourself when you smack them, and they will learn that violence is ok when you feel angry. And it isn’t, ever.

Children get hurt
Whatever your reasons for smacking at any particular moment, what it all boils down to is that smacking is designed to scare and hurt children. Is that really what you want? To have a relationship of fear and intimidation with your child? Children get hurt when they are smacked. And that’s why it’s wrong. It’s as simple as that.

It’s time for a change
Smacking is illegal in almost 30 countries across the world, and sadly I don’t live in one of them. Around the world, people are starting to wake up to the fact that smacking is wrong, and that it doesn’t work. Just because you were smacked as a child, does not mean you need to smack your children. The argument that ‘it never did me any harm’ falls short when you consider that you have grown into a person who believes violence against children can ever be just or deserved.

Research has found that, despite evidence that it doesn’t work, as many as ninety percent of parents use smacking and other methods of corporal punishment. For many parents, it is probably a default discipline technique, relied on simply because it’s what their parents did to them. Instead of encouraging this parenting method, Pope Francis should be encouraging parents to use more positive parenting techniques. Taking smacking out of your parenting toolbox doesn’t mean that your children will be unruly or badly behaved, it just means that you will find better ways of handling undesirable behaviour. You can set boundaries and be a firm parent without using violence, and that is what I believe we should all be doing. As parents, we should be setting the ultimate example that violence is wrong, and instead teaching our children healthy and positive ways to deal with negative emotions and frustrations.

How do you discipline your kids? Do you have any gentle parenting methods that might be of use to someone looking for a better way of parenting?

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