Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Smack Attack

The film of Alice in Wonderland has been awarded a PG rating because of the presence in it of ‘a smoking caterpillar’ (and, let’s face it, kids do take caterpillars as role models, don’t they?) The slide and swings in our local playground have been deemed potentially dangerous and taken away after 25 years of uneventful use (and the objects that have been put in their place are so baffling that the local under-10s do not play on them but simply stand in front of them and weep – which is, I suppose, a good outcome, since you can’t break any bones crying.)
Given these and countless other manifestations of an all pervading concern for the welfare of our littlies, I was not surprised to read in the Sydney Morning Herald that the smacking debate has raised its dreary head once more.
And as usual it’s brought its share of creepies slithering out from under their rocks. Not least, David, a pro-smacker and father, who smacks his two and a half year old in special situations, such as when she shows ‘extreme defiance’. This, he explains, is how he goes about the unpleasant but necessary task:
‘After an explanation, [remember we are talking about a two and a half year old – how well-developed are their skills at absorbing explanations, I wonder, especially when they’re in the midst of acts of ‘extreme defiance’] her nappy will be taken down and she will get one light smack on the bottom.’
I find the phrase, ‘her nappy will be taken down’ peculiarly chilling, and the fact that, as David explains, the smacking is never done in anger seems to me to make it worse. We learn next that the little girl, whose name is Lilli, has been smacked ‘only five or six times’ in a six-month period – this seems quite a lot of times to me. Finally, it is revealed that David ‘and his wife are committed, practising Christians and their approach to parenting is guided by this. ‘“We believe that human beings are innately sinful,” he tells [the journalist]. “Kids need to be taught to be good; they don’t need to be taught to be naughty.”’
I don’t know when naughtiness and sin became the same things, but what I find most upsetting about the attitude of David – an attitude shared even by the anti-smackers quoted in the article – is the idea that smacking should only be done in cold blood. I think smacking or any act of violence towards a small child is bad in any circumstance, but it is particularly nasty when planned and carried out in advance. When a parent smacks in the heat of the moment, having come to the end of their patience, it is wrong, but understandable– and immediately afterwards most parents in that situation are filled with remorse. Pre-planned, intentional smacking, carried out following a slow ritual taking down of the nappy is wrong as well; but it’s also monstrous.
Mind you, I wasn’t hit very often as a child myself. There was quite a lot of shouting, of course – in fact, I remember my mother screaming from the front of the car that she would have a nervous breakdown if we didn’t stop fighting. It was at that point that my brother leaned over from the back seat and asked, quite seriously, ‘Why don’t you hit us, mummy?’ I think her reply was, ‘Because I can’t reach.’
On another memorable occasion - also in the car, this time with my father and my mother both present– the rod was spared us once again. My brother must have been misbehaving in some way or other and, despite my parents’ admonitions, he would not stop. In desperation, they threatened to put him out of the car. The threats made no difference and so, finally, my father brought the car to a halt. My brother climbed out. I started crying. My brother stood there, all alone, on the side of an empty country road.
And it was then that the farce began. Instead of being frightened or cowed – or at least instead of letting us see that he was - my brother waved cheerfully and set off by himself in the direction we were heading. I will never forget the ridiculous scene that followed. For some twenty minutes, my parents were forced to drive very slowly along beside their son, leaning out of the car window, begging him to get back in.
He did eventually, but only after he’d renegotiated pocket money, bed time and various other conditions favourable to himself. My admiration for his daring and his negotiation skills was boundless. My parents spent the rest of the journey arguing about whether it wouldn’t be better to give us an occasional wallop in future - if only as a safety valve, so that they could let off a bit of steam.


  1. Excellent stories. I agree - smacking is only acceptable in the heat of the moment and only then very sparingly. I find anything that is cold-blooded and premeditated much more cruel, in intention as much as effect.

  2. This brings to mind an article I read a few days ago about a couple who literally beat their child to death and severely injured another. Their beatings were based on the teachings of some American evangelist who went so far as to spell out the devices that should be used to administer beatings to children of various ages. Another example of "devout" Christians teaching children to be good... and no doubt those that survive go on to inflict the same on their children.

  3. It's all ridiculous. Parents who constantly scream at children instead of smacking occasionally, do just as much damage as those who give just an occasional smack. Moderation in all things. A gentle occasional smack never hurt anyone. Compared to the lengths some people go to avoid it, smacking can and should have its place.

  4. My mother once tried to stab me to death when i wouldn't stop nagging about something or another - unluckily, perhaps, she missed.

  5. Yes to all of the above plus I sympathise with your mother, ghostof - children can be most provoking and mothers almost always miss.