This is a very awkward subject to handle at the best of times, one that will always conjure up mixed emotions from different sections of society, and there is not a person in this country that will not be able to offer a strong opinion on the debate that rages over specific childhood laws.
When we use the term ‘specific’ here, we really mean the fact that in law, it is acceptable to use ‘reasonable punishment’ on a child when it would be totally illegal to do so on an adult. Indeed, if a person used the same level of force on another adult, this would probably come under s. 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
Although not clearly defined at the time of implementation, s. 58 of the Children Act 1989 does state that it is unlawful for a parent or caretaker to smack a child, except where this may be seen as reasonable punishment. Reasonable punishment has now been clarified as meaning that any such smack administered should never leave a mark on the body of the child.
Of course, many parents would enter this debate stating that at the end of the day, this is their child we are talking about and no government or legal system should ever have the right to interfere with the way in which they choose to discipline their children. The government has now interfered, almost completely, through the very fact that s. 58 of the Children Act 1989 is now in force.
Many readers may well be able to recollect back to their own childhood and most of us would have to admit that we were smacked at some time or other during our earlier years. Did this do us any harm at the time? Did this lead to us resenting our parents and even feeling afraid of them at times? It is almost inevitable that a few of us will have felt that way if we are being truly honest with ourselves.
So, this begs the question, is this fear and intimidation a healthy mentality for your child to hold towards you as a parent? It may well ensure that your child remains on his or her best behaviour for much of the time, but when you are trying to instil certain values into your child for use in later life, this is always going to prove to be contradictory. The main laws of this land clearly state that it is completely unacceptable for one adult to hit another; how confusing then if a child is subjected to behaviour that is unacceptable between adults.
Nowadays, a vast majority of parents would be under the impression that smacking their child is already illegal. This would probably transpire to be the best interpretation of s. 58, to remain on the right side of it. After all, what parent could administer a smack and be certain of the fact that a mark would not result 100% of the time? This would be impossible.
Germany and Sweden have had an outright ban on smacking children for many years now and it does not appear to have created any major issues within their own societies. In fact, when compared with the United Kingdom, childhood crimes and other such issues seem to be statistically lower than in this country.
But then, we need to consider the other side to this argument. It is a fact that children are far less respectful of their elders today. As our species evolves, young minds become more and more intelligent, and it does not take toddlers long to realise that there will not be a sufficient punishment to fit their misdemeanours. Children definitely manipulate this fact and the responsibility for parents to chastise their offspring is definitely becoming harder. Many parents have probably become quite paranoid over the extent of the law that aims to protect their children nowadays and would therefore treat their children with kid gloves, just to ensure that they are not prosecuted for child abuse.
We seem far too inclined to allow children to grow up earlier today. Take the law that stipulates that children must be consulted over issues relating to their own schools, including decisions over the appointment of new teachers. Surely the law makers should realise that this was a step too far, when apparently a candidate for a teaching post was rejected by a child, as the child believed the candidate represented Humpty Dumpty too closely? Whilst this is bound to set alarm bells ringing loudly in all of our ears, what on earth were the politicians thinking when they implemented this law?
Is there a balance that can be achieved here for the future? Very possibly!
We can be pretty certain that our law will not do an about turn where it comes to physically chastising our children. So we need to make good use of other less severe punishments that are recommended. Also, perhaps we need to remember that children are children at the end of the day. No one is saying that children should be seen and not heard, but as adults we have the duty to accept and decide upon what is right for the benefit of the youngsters in our society. Giving children vitally important input in decisions they are too young to fully understand could be outright dangerous and is certainly taking matters too far.