On my opposition to the pro-smacking movement

I’ve put up the ‘Yes Vote‘ sky scraper over there —>

It’s a campaign that I want to support. I don’t know if I’ll get into explaining the intricacies of the question and how ridiculous it is but I will address my reasons for supporting the repeal of s.59 of the Crimes Act (which has already been passed in Parliament and has been in effect since 2007…) again without getting into the intricacies of that. Heh.

So I guess this post is just going to be me on my anti-smacking diatribe. It’s something that most people feel unable to tackle due to how up in arms the pro-smacking lobby are about their “right to smack”. I just don’t think there is one – I don’t think it is a helpful parenting tool. I’m not going to demonise parents who do smack… but hopefully address my concerns about using smacking as a form of discipline and then tackle the issue from a wider normative perpective.

Woah, and I haven’t even said anything yet!

As a kid, we were smacked. I don’t think I’ve suffered any particular harm from this at all but in my brief career as a parent I have come across many other methods of “discipline” (this may be a whole other thing to tackle if you follow unconditional parenting!) and I fail to see how smacking could be a preferable option. I’m not a saint by any stretch, I spend far too much of my time screeching at Hannah and trying to hurry her along… my punishment currency has become a loss of independence eg if she doesn’t put her shoes on herself, then I do it for her… miles of analysis to be done on that too. Maybe at a later date 😉 But ultimately, when she does display challenging behaviour, I try to take a step back and look at the root causes. And most of the time can find some physiological reason for her actions which has been the result of a failure of mine to ensure she’s getting enough sleep, food, water, or attention; causes of behaviour which most definitely don’t deserve Hannah being smacked.

I guess my main gripe with smacking is that we are all (generalisation!) trying to teach our kids that it isn’t alright to be violent toward another person. I have massive issues with the hypocrisy of saying “Don’t smack!” *smack*. I believe it would be totally confusing to a child to have that sort of behaviour modelled to them and long term would ingrain in their little heads that violence is the appropriate response to situations where someone has behaved in a socially unacceptable way… instead of considering the cause of the behaviour and how to change it.

My Dad raised the example of the “common cure” for biting that had been suggested to me many times over when Hannah was that kid at creche, leaving a trail of bite marks over her fellow creche goers. While I can see the point that she needed to know that biting hurt, I think it was probably fairly obvious to her from the reactions of the children that they were indeed in pain. If I had simply bitten her back, that probably is the lesson she would have learned from it. But she would have also learned that I was willing to deliberately hurt her. And quite simply, I’m not. I also don’t believe it would have worked as it failed to address the issues that caused her to bite in the first place, which was communication. It took quite a while, but the creche teachers and I worked hard at trying to get Hannah to use words instead of resorting to biting. They were also mindful of when she was getting tired as that was the time when she was most likely to bite. When she did bite, behaviour was modelled by the teachers and/or I by comforting the child who had been bitten. Eventually, she learned to talk a bit more and she hasn’t bitten since.

Geepers. Rambly ramble.

Let’s move on to the wider social norm of non-violence. Hopefully I’ll have less to say about this and it may make more sense. Yeahhh right.

I’m a huge proponent of social change and in particular, the promotion of certain norms through modelling and campaiging/advocacy in order for society to internalise these norms. It’s a product of my study and where I hope to develop a career. For the most part, I am anti-top down approaches. But I’m also contradictory, so in terms of norms which I am favoured towards, in this case I am totally for it. Yuss.

Basically, I don’t believe that the law should allow for people to be violent toward their children as condoning violence at the top means that the message that filters down to society is one that suggests it is socially acceptable to assault your child. As mentioned above, I don’t think violence is necessary toward one’s child but even moreso, I abhor child abuse. This law was not specifically to deal with child abuse. Let me get that clear. We have those laws already and the issue is NOT going away. But this law did seem to be about changing the way we think about disciplining children for the longer term goal of a violence-free culture.

As I said above, I don’t want to go into the technicalities of who or what could be prosecuted under the law. And some people might argue that it isn’t the job of the law to attempt social change. I haven’t got enough background in legal stuff to debate that in great detail but all I know is that I don’t think there should be a defence under the Crimes Act that allows you to plead “reasonable force” if you are up on a charge of assault. (I think that’s the charge it relates to… I got confused reading through the legisaltion. It was probably because I was hungry! If I’m wrong, please correct me.)

So. There ya go. I’m pushing for the Yes Vote in the referendum.

And as I mentioned above, I don’t intend to demonise those parents who do smack… but I would like them to consider the wider social context when they assert publically that they believe they have the right to smack their children.

Over and out.

The eternal optimist

ETA I just had a think about that last bit and I don’t mean to encourage anyone to be secretive about smacking either. I’d like people to be comfortable to admit their techniques of discipline but also to be open minded about positive methods of parenting. I believe people can change and they need to be supported in this. So don’t hesitate to ask for help! There is a helpful section on this on the YesVote website: http://yesvote.org.nz/background/positive-discipline/


12 thoughts on “On my opposition to the pro-smacking movement

  1. Sorry to disappoint – but as a radical 'pro voter' I will not be voting in this CIR. Which feels VERY odd.
    Not because I don't have an opinion, but because the question is so flawed.
    I'm not going to disclose my views here, because as I am not yet a parent (but about to be!) I feel that until I've walked a mile in these shoes I'm no expert (and my opinion may change in practice).
    I am glad to hear that it has got people thinking and talking again about such an important topic.


  2. Fantastic post. I have decided to vote yes, because I cannot bear the idea of the pro-smacking lobby thinking the majority of NZers back them.
    I wish that more people understood that the repeal means that if you are up on a charge of assault you can't claim 'reasonable force', not that if you whack your kid you'll be charged.


  3. what a great thought-provoking and interesting post. This is a huge issue and I whole heartedly agree with you that smacking children is not ok. As I have explained to my kids, when someone pisses me off I can't just hit them (even though I secretly might like to!)
    The section 59 repeal is to remove the defence of 'reasonable force' & to change society's attitude towards parenting. People say it will still happen but just remener once upon a time a law was brought in to make wearing a seatbelt compulsory and everyone said it wouldn't work – now there is an over 98% compliance rate. In time smacking children will be so socially unacceptable, things will just change as they do. I just wish they would spend the $9million that the referendum is costing on parenting courses & support for parents.


  4. i think the whole thing is a humungous waste of time and money. the government has already said that it probably won't do jack…so what's the freakin' point? so family first can say “i told you so” every-time someone is arrested and then back off quickly when it turns out that the “light tap” he gave his son, was actually “pulling of ears”, and “slapping of faces”
    oh, if it's not clear – with you Nikki!

    p.s – just read that unconditional parenting thing – how do you actually make them realise when they are doing something wrong? – not being sarky, really curious. will read more


  5. Great post. We had an interesting family discussion last night about this (with boyfriend's family). There were a range of positions:

    Me – 'yes' vote. I've never been smacked because my mother never was, dad was and he hated it so much he never smacked any of us either.

    Boyfriend & sister – 'yes' vote.

    BF's mum – unsure but was visibly upset to realise that her adult daughter could clearly remember being smacked as a child & feeling like it was unfair.

    Elderly aunt – 'no vote' old style 'never did anyone any harm' school of thought. However she had really negative memories of being smacked as a child for being outspoken.

    Elderly uncle – really strongly 'yes vote'. He was still really upset about the fact that one of his sons was physically disciplined at boarding school in the 60's/70's and just generally anti any sort of violence against kids.

    For me the whole thing is really about sending a message that NZ is a society that is anti violence in all areas.


  6. Hmmm, you've given me lots of food for thought Nikki but I don't think I'm going to vote in this one either.
    I agree with Esther and think the question is badly written, so can't really answer it with a Yes or No vote.
    I can't seem to write my views without going into long rambles so I'll just leave it at: I agree with you in general.
    I really like kiwichick's point about the seatbelt law.
    And I like your ETA at the bottom.
    Good on ya Nikki!


  7. uh, yeah, i'm a bit foncused about the question too.
    but very anti-smacking.
    it's been a long journey to this place tho, thanks for sharing yours babe – love the respect you have for hannah. i think it's all about our view of the child – that's another long stoooory X


  8. yes yes yes to you & the vote!!

    i'm doing my damnedest to encourage people to vote on the issue at hand, not on the (flawed, misleading) question.. and to actually inform themselves on the act/bill/repeal etc etc and not just base their vote on 'information' garnered from lobby groups & the media.

    so yay you!!


  9. Awesome post. It surely is a stoopidly worded question, but like someone else said I can't bear to have the pro-smacking lobby use the results of this as some kind of mandate. So, it'll be a yes vote for me 🙂


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