To smack or not to smack? That’s the hot topic that comes up at least five times a year. Someone has killed a child or maimed a child or starved a child to death. Then it’s on for young and old. Everyone has an opinion. There are the experts, many of whom disagree with smacking and the parents who come in all shapes and sizes as they do.

There are as many opinions as there are parents and parent types (single, married, divorced, and gay). They say: they aren’t ever going to do to their children what their parents did to them; they used to get the strap at school and it never hurt them, in fact it turned them into solid citizens; a little smack on the bottom never hurt anyone and it teaches them a lesson.

Earlier this year a woman hit her child with a wooden spoon. She was quoted as saying that she only uses a spoon when her child is being naughty. That she talks it through with her child first and gives her a ‘fair chance to rectify the situation.’ On the surface of it, it sounds reasonable, but why the spoon? Why not a slap with an open hand to the bottom? Surely it hurts less than the spoon but still sends the child a message. Either way, the message to that child is that violence is only acceptable if you are bigger than your victim. It gives (me) an insight into bullying.

In a democracy the government has no power to call the shots when it comes to when to have children or how many to have or who should be allowed to have them. When things go wrong it can only work indirectly through government agencies. But time and again these agencies have proven ineffectual because neither the money nor the laws are enough back up the overworked and embattled representatives.

Smack seems an innocuous word. It’s used far too often to describe something that’s a lot more violent. If an adult is in control of his or her temper then the occasional smack administered as a last resort and in extraordinary circumstance might work.  But if a child breaks something precious or breaks that final straw at the end of a long day can that adult remain cool? I saw a man slap his daughter’s face the last week. She’d let go of his hand when crossing the road. You could see the adrenalin pumping. He reacted through fear. But I could tell that he didn’t make a habit of it. The little girl, she couldn’t have been much older than 8, sobbed and said over and over again, ‘you hurt my feelings, daddy.’

In the real world we tell our children that violence is wrong. That you don’t bully and if you yourself are being picked on try sorting things out with your tormentor. We teach that negotiation is the way. We don’t smack our neighbours, even if they irritate us beyond belief, we don’t get stuck into them if we’re tired or have had a bad hair day.   We believe that we are far too civilized to take it out on our neighbours. And of course if we are tempted they would slap us back with a writ.

People often say my child, my decision.  I think we need to do for smacking what we did for smoking. It was in the too hard basket until people campaigned to have the laws changed and enforced.

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