Sunday Herald - - POLITICAL NEWS - Val Burns Val Burns is a psy­chother­a­pist, liv­ing and work­ing in Glas­gow email: val­brns@ya­

WHEN was the last time some­one phys­i­cally as­saulted you? And do you think you de­served it? My guess is that the sting of the slap or the thud of the punch upon your face will be painfully etched in your mem­ory. Un­less you’re a masochist, you’re un­likely to be­lieve the as­sault was jus­ti­fied. You may even ex­pe­ri­ence flash­backs or suf­fer post-trau­matic stress. A phys­i­cal at­tack vi­o­lates our sense of per­sonal in­tegrity – we be­come deeply vul­ner­a­ble and our self-con­fi­dence and trust in oth­ers are de­stroyed, al­beit tem­po­rar­ily. As adults, we can usu­ally re­cover by seek­ing so­lace and sym­pa­thy from those clos­est to us. Some­times, we in­volve the po­lice so that the as­sailant is brought to ac­count un­der the law. But imag­ine if you’re hit ha­bit­u­ally – per­haps on a daily or weekly ba­sis and no-one helps you and there is no law to pro­tect you. Worse, imag­ine if you are a child, small, vul­ner­a­ble and not phys­i­cally able to de­fend your­self and the per­son as­sault­ing you is your mum or dad. To­day in Scot­land it is still le­gal to carry out a “jus­ti­fi­able as­sault” on a child for rea­sons of pun­ish­ment. Pro­vided no bruis­ing, bleed­ing or trace marks are caused, par­ents are al­lowed to hit their chil­dren. Not for much longer, though. Last week, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment agreed to make law a bill pro­posed by Green MSP John Fin­nie that will make smack­ing and phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment of chil­dren a crim­i­nal of­fence. Scot­land will be the first coun­try in the UK to pass such a law and in do­ing so will grant the same pro­tec­tive rights to chil­dren that al­ready ap­ply to adults. The de­bate on smack­ing and phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment of chil­dren has raged for a long time and the home­spun mantra of “spare the rod, spoil the child” still has a lot of clout in the school of pop­u­lar wis­dom. This nugget of folk­lore is a smoke­screen for par­ents who are un­able or un­will­ing to re­ally think about the po­ten­tial longterm harm they cause when they hit their child. Over the last 10 years, there have been 74 ma­jor stud­ies across the world and they have all come to the same con­clu­sion: smack­ing is bad for chil­dren and their re­la­tion­ship with their par­ents.

Hit­ting a child doesn’t work as a de­ter­rent and has poor out­comes in cor­rect­ing bad be­hav­iour. Chil­dren brought up in an en­vi­ron­ment where phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment is the par­ent’s de­fault mode for dis­ci­pline and “teach­ing” them how to be­have bet­ter are more at risk of harm from es­ca­lat­ing ag­gres­sion and child abuse. At school, a hit child is more likely to mis­be­have and get in­volved in con­flict with oth­ers, po­ten­tially lead­ing to delin­quency in teen years.

Re­search also shows that chil­dren who are phys­i­cally pun­ished are more likely to be­come per­pe­tra­tors of do­mes­tic abuse and sex­ual vi­o­lence in adult­hood and are more vul­ner­a­ble to men­tal ill­ness and sub­stance abuse. A pun­ished child is usu­ally a fright­ened child who does as they’re told – not be­cause they un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence be­tween right and wrong, but sim­ply be­cause they are fright­ened and shamed.

Smack­ing, slap­ping, punch­ing, pinch­ing, kick­ing and grab­bing can never be dis­pensed with a “light touch” or lov­ingly ad­min­is­tered. Once the phys­i­cal boundary is crossed, the con­tract of trust and re­spect be­tween par­ent and child is se­verely com­pro­mised.

I’ve yet to meet a par­ent who has not reached the end of their tether with a child who seems to re­sist rea­son and in­sists on do­ing ex­actly what you tell them not to. Yes, it’s in­fu­ri­at­ing, es­pe­cially if so­cial cir­cum­stances mean you have no sup­port, no money to buy food, pay bills or take the kids on a bus or train ride to while away a rainy day dur­ing school hol­i­days. But such harsh re­al­i­ties of life and liv­ing are not caused by chil­dren; mostly, they’re caused by a so­ci­ety and sys­tems that fail to sup­port par­ents with lim­ited per­sonal and eco­nomic re­sources. Chil­dren are bi­o­log­i­cally pro­grammed to mimic their par­ents and will strive to in­ter­nalise and iden­tify with their be­hav­iour.

The sooner we pri­ori­tise ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren right at the out­set of their lives about the psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cial prob­lems caused by phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment, the sooner we’ll have a gen­er­a­tion of par­ents who un­der­stand that it’s al­ways a bad idea to hit small chil­dren.

Good on the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment for de­cid­ing to spare the rod, but its ad­mirable in­ten­tions must be re­in­forced by ed­u­ca­tion and sup­port for par­ents who are all too of­ten strug­gling to un­der­stand their own feel­ings and re­ac­tions to the world they find them­selves in.

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