Why Risk Smacking? Evidence Shows It Can Cause Long-Term Problems
Byline: Susan moloney*
THE Royal Australasian College of Physicians has launched a call for law reform regarding the use of physical punishment to discipline children.
Noting the harms of smacking children, it's urging parents and caregivers to consider alternatives to discipline.
"When a big child hits a small child in the playground, we call him a bully; five years later he punches a woman for her handbag and is called a mugger; later still, when he slugs a workmate who insults him, he is called a troublemaker; but when he becomes a father and hits his tiresome, disobedient or disrespectful child, we call him a disciplinarian."
I've borrowed this quote from world-renowned UK child psychologist Dr Penelope Leach's book Children First, because it highlights the social inconsistency about physical punishment.
Children are the most vulnerable and dependent members of our society but it's still legal to hit them in Australia.
They should not be subject to physical punishment and it's important to resolve the legal inconsistency that allows it so the law protects children from assault to the same extent it does everyone else.
Most Australian states and territories have banned physical punishment in both government and non-government schools, and the physical punishment of children in juvenile detention centres, foster care and childcare is also now prohibited.
But it remains lawful for parents in all jurisdictions to use physical punishment for children. In many places, this right is stated explicitly, often using the term "reasonable" to describe the permissible level of force or chastisement.
There are many aspects to this emotionally charged issue - legal, ethical, moral, the distinctions between punishment, discipline and abuse, and the perceived intrusion into parenting choices.
As a pediatrician, what I am most concerned about is the serious long-term effects of physical punishment on children's wellbeing. This is not about parenting styles or punishing parents. It's about protecting children.
Research shows that a child who experiences physical punishment is more likely to develop increased aggressive behaviour and mental health problems as a child and as an adult. …