Spoiling for it

27th May 2019

Growing up, our feather duster had a split bamboo handle, and our Christmas cakes were mixed with an ancient wooden spoon, missing half of its bowl. They were broken by being used as instruments of punishment – on me, my brothers, sisters and occasionally wayward cousins or friends.

I can’t remember what it was that brought on a smack at home. But I know for certain that every spanking ever dealt in our house was a result of adults losing control and kids just being kids. We weren’t beaten children, we were disciplined exactly as most of my friends were. These were cusp years when teachers could still physically punish boys but not girls. We got detention, or litter picking or were sent out. Boys got ‘six of the best’, the cane or blackboard dusters buzzed at their heads.

Debate on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill opens on Tuesday. This topic is usually referred to as the anti-smacking bill but I like the term ‘equal protection’. To me it says that just because you have a position of power over a child, your relationship is not an excuse for physical force. Just like I seriously doubt any of my friends would ever condone my hitting their children. There is no other child-adult relationship where physical punishment is overlooked, or indeed upheld in law.

I have managed to bring up my daughter to her late teens without ever hitting her. And it was not easy. Parenting is hard and kids are frustrating at times. But kids are also smaller and weaker and I didn’t sign up to parenthood to be a bully. I appreciated every tip and strategy that helped me step back from physically punishing her, and every time I succeeded it made it easier for me to use better options the next time.

Legal change is not aimed at criminalising parents, and the 54 countries that have banned physical punishment have not experienced this. Approving this Bill helps to define the message about what is acceptable in how we treat our children – and each other – and assault is never acceptable.

When I think about all the scenarios and people that might merit a defence of ‘justifiable assault’ it is not responsible parenting that springs to mind. Parenting is a learned skill, and Scotland must help us to do right by our kids. This change in law, if accompanied by good support for parents, can foster a culture that supports the oft-quoted aim of wanting Scotland to be the best place for children to grow up.

This blog represents the personal views of the author