I once smacked my daughter. She was the first of our four children and she’d done something I told her not to, so I smacked her. She howled, her mother appeared and comforted her, and I exited feeling like a bullying brute. That was the first and last time I struck any of my children (Addendum to any of them reading this: so far…)
I hadn’t thought about whether I should or shouldn’t smack her – it was an instinctive reaction. Or rather one I’d learned from my own upbringing, where at home and at school smack and strapping and worse were the norm. And I remember in the early 1980s, when physical punishment was still permitted in schools here, there were teachers who warned that if a ban was placed on such punishment, teachers would be left helpless and an appalling vista would open up. But it hasn’t. That’s not to say that teachers don’t struggle on a daily basis to cope with youngsters who think it’s their right to say and do the first thing that comes into their head. But thinking about teaching and learning and the respect that one human being should show another has evolved. Schools manage.
The Irish Time this morning notes that the southern government is under increased pressure to introduce a ban on smacking children at home as well as at school. At present it’s legal for parents to strike their children. The Minister for Children in the south, Frances Fitzgerald, says that in recent years “considerable progress” has been made in “encouraging parents to use alternative non-violent forms of discipline”. Frances Fitzgerald of course wants to keep as many of her voting constituency as possible on-side. What might be better would be if she were to forget about considerable progress and the pressure from Europe, and ask herself if she thinks big people hitting small people is a good thing. Then act accordingly.
It’s not that most parental chastisement is physically dangerous or that parents don’t think they’re acting in the child’s best interest. It’s a failure of imagination. As with the plague of marching in this jurisdiction, the question that needs to be asked is “So you’d also be OK with things happening the other way round?” Few Orange marchers would agree to have thousands of republican marches throughout the six counties every year, and few parents would agree that it’d be all right for their children to strike them when angry. It’s not rocket science. Simply apply the do-unto-others-etc. rule.