Smacking – Not Such a Simple Truth
It was many years ago that I wrote an article in a national newspaper, having secured an estimate of a hundred young children every year dying or being severely injured at the hands of their parents or those close to them.
And so it is interesting to see the same figure still being given by Professor Terence Stephenson, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health President, in his letter to the Daily Telegraph condemning the practice of parents smacking their kids.
The article I was writing all those years ago focused on the worst kind of parental abuse and I did meet mothers who, after neglecting or abusing their children, were being helped by an NSPCC special unit.
As a mother myself, and one who never subscribed to hitting children, on the basis that the smallest and most vulnerable in our society should surely be afforded equal protection to that of fully-grown adults, I anticipated detesting the women I was about to meet and interview.
What I found were a group of mothers who had been so damaged by their own childhood experiences that it was hard not to weep over their stories. I also found a very special group of NSPCC people who took on the role of parenting these damaged parents. What a special breed they were. How difficult to see that bruised and broken little child, then nurture and help the parent perpetrator.
But they did help them, finding homes, jobs, nursery places, helping them manage finances and their lives and even, on 24-hour call, riding to the rescue when anger or grief overwhelmed the mothers. The children were not permanently removed but protected, the mothers helped to become mothers, the cycle of deprivation broken. At the time the London unit’s success rate regarding re-offending was 100%.
But on all levels we want a quick fix. The parents who hit do so rather than as Professor Stephenson says taking a positive approach, setting stronger boundaries for their children.
Columnist Christine Odone prompted the Professor to speak out when she praised Labour MP David Lammy, a former education minister, who opined that last summer’s riots were partly caused by parents being scared to smack their children.
The truth is that far too few parents are scared of smacking their children. And it’s also true that as a society we are too grudging and shortsighted to see the worth of investing in prevention, in breaking that cycle of deprivation that makes monsters of mothers and yet another generation that will raise a fist rather than a well-adjusted child.