Fifty-one countries have laws banning the smacking of
children. In December 2016, France became the fifty-second country to bring in
a law banning smacking however, in January 2017, the short-lived law was overturned on technical
The French law, intended to be read out to couples when taking their civil wedding vows, was largely symbolic as there was no criminal sanction for those found guilty of disobeying the law.
Penalties for smacking in some countries where the law exists, vary from fines to community service to restriction of parental care to jail time. It is unclear whether these penalties apply to assault and abuse or light smacking or both.
In most countries, unlike laws against child assault and abuse, there is no criminal penalty applied to anti-smacking laws.
What about in Australia?
Australia doesn’t have an anti-smacking law. Like many countries, we do have laws against excessive, harmful physical, emotional and psychological ‘chastisement’ that falls under the umbrella of child assault and abuse.
While details vary from state to state, smacking by parents in the home is deemed legally acceptable on the proviso that it doesn’t involve excessive force.
And in Australian schools?
When I was at primary school getting a whack with a ruler on
bare legs or knuckles was a normal part of school life.
In high school, girls escaped corporal punishment but boys were given ‘six of the best’ on the palms of their hands for serious misdemeanours.
This continued, with variations according to individual teachers and principals, in many schools, private and state, until the 1990s.
Since the 1990s (some earlier, some later), many countries around the world have banned corporal punishment in state schools, and private schools receiving government funding.
In Australia, it’s left up to the states, which makes
Regardless of the inconsistency and ambiguity most Australian schools don’t use corporal punishment however there are still a few private schools whose code of conduct includes physical discipline by the school principal.
Tynan, clothed in the hair-shirt of
co-sleeping martyrdom, claims that sharing beds with babies and children is not
only contentious but a ‘sure-fire lightening rod for parental judgement and
She writes that ‘it’s regarded as the genesis of dependent, needy children at best, with a potential to kill them at worst’.
To support this statement, she cherry-picks a case from the UK where a judge recently removed two children from a mother ostensibly for sharing a bed with her children. Certainly, the reporting of the case emphasised the bed-sharing aspects however tucked away in the fine print was the disclosure that the children were being physically abused.
Babies are never removed from parents simply on the basis of bed-sharing. Social workers do not prowl suburban streets waiting to pounce on parents who are sleeping with their children.
I’ve always liked the idea of teaching kids to read and swim as soon as possible. Apart from any other considerations – fun, pleasure, pride in self-sufficiency, - once children can read and swim life for their parents becomes much easier.
Thus, when I became a grandmother I decided to take responsibility for my grandchildren’s swimming. Not just lessons but how to have fun in the water as well.
When Sage was a toddler we spent
Friday mornings at the Boy Charlton Pool where we frolicked in the water under
big shade cloths. Sometimes we were frogs, ribick, ribick, ribick, hopping slowly along the
steps, sometimes we were dolphins leaping up and down, and sometimes we made a
shopping list and swam to the fish supermarket located at the far end of the pool.
At intervals, we sat on the warm timber deck and ate chunks of watermelon and squinted across the harbour at the boats.
Sage’s water skills improved over the summer until she was able to keep afloat by treading water. But as her body was still vertical I decided we’d join the swimming classes held at the pool in the mornings where I’d noticed babies and toddlers having lots of fun bouncing around with their mothers guided by the teacher, a kindly, energetic woman who gave everyone massive amounts of individual attention. Perfect.
I signed us up for a term. Secretly I thought I was a groovy granny. I had visions of telling my granny friends how I taught my granddaughter to swim.
Sage looked dubious on the morning of the first lesson but I ignored it. I knew she was going to love it.
She hated it.
Not because anyone was being mean or because she was being forced to put her head under or to do anything scary. She was puzzled because our play time had suddenly turned into a classroom. As I struggled to make her join hands around the magic carpet and ride the noodle she kept pushing away.
‘Why can’t we go and play Grandma?’
My composure wobbled. The other toddlers were doing it. Why wouldn’t Sage?
‘I want to go to the fish supermarket.’
‘Sage I’d like you to join in…here we go…round and round the mulberry bush’
‘I want to be a dolphin’
‘Sage please sit on the noodle like the others.’
‘I want to get out.’
To my horror, I felt a knot of exasperation in my tummy. Lips thinning, I told the teacher we were leaving the class.
‘Are you sure?’ she said. ‘Sometimes it takes a while for them to get used to the structure.’
‘Grandma, I want to get out.’
I was aware of sympathetic eyes upon me. I closed my eyes, counted to ten and together we left the pool. I stared out at the harbour while Sage got stuck into the watermelon then, pointing her bum to the sky, peered through the cracks of the deck at the water below.
‘Now can we go and play?’
I laughed. My tummy knot dissolved. If it’s so easy for a grandma to fall into the activity trap what hope is there for parents? Somehow, I’d managed to turn fun with granny into ‘it’s time you learnt to swim whether you want to or not’ without stopping to consider whether that’s what Sage would prefer on our Fridays together. It was important that she learned to swim but it didn’t have to be with me, right then.
1970s, baby advice was straightforward and simple, if a trifle bossy and prescriptive and somewhat overladen with scary warnings about spoiling
I sometimes wonder if this was preferable to the loaded warnings parents -
mostly mothers - are deluged with now about making sure they respond adequately
to their babies' needs to ensure the optimum flow of attachment from mother to
In the first half of last century mothers were too busy with basic household jobs and running homes on strict budgets to get overly excited about the possibility of attachment problems from putting a sleepless baby in the laundry for a few hours so everyone could get some sleep.
Ditto tying a toddler to the clothesline while they dealt with boiling the nappies in the copper.
'parenting' word, and all its subsequent manifestations, arrived sometime
during the 1970s and was taken up with gusto.
Prior to the noun morphing into the verb, people had babies, became parents and
raised their children. Some - many in fact - did it well, others not so well and
still others rather badly.
There have always been appalling parents and despite a vastly improved standard
of living in countries like Australia and gallant attempts in the last 100
years to turn this around, appalling parents are still with us.
I'm writing about truly appalling parents here - neglectful, abusive, absent - not having a shot at the vast majority of conscientious parents doing a good job, sometimes in trying and difficult circumstances.
on the 'parenting' word illustrate the spectrum of conflicting advice
conscientious parents must work their way around:
Attachment parenting, profound attachment parenting, detachment parenting, mother-led parenting, baby-led parenting, calendar parenting, helicopter parenting, free-range parenting, night-time parenting, intuitive parenting, permissive parenting, authoritative parenting and authoritarian parenting (spot the difference between the last two).
first year the over-riding theme between conflicting 'parenting styles' and
their proponents can be summarised as 'never pick the baby up'
versus 'never put
the baby down'
This has reached a manic stage today where opposing advisors and parents face off and sling mud at each other in a manner similar to politicians at election time.