Sunday 20 October 2019

Parents shouldn't be afraid of going to jail for a tap on the hand

Justine O'Mahony.
Justine O'Mahony.

By Justine O'Mahony

There has been a lot of talk this week about the pros and cons of smacking children following the news that the Government is bringing new proposals to effectively ban us from doing so.

Minister for Children James O'Reilly is seeking to remove the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' which applies to parents or child carers at the moment.

I've thought a lot about this over the past week and as awful as this sounds, although I have never smacked my own children, I'd still like the option to do so if I felt it was necessary, without the risk of being thrown in jail.

You see I'm one of those old-fashioned parents who thinks a little smack never did a child any harm and although, as I said, I have never smacked mine (partly because I'm a big softie and partly because I don't think they've ever been bold enough - yet - to deserve one) I think as a parent, I should be able to reserve the right to do so.

Like most kids who grew up in the Seventies and Eighties, I was smacked occasionally as a child. And to be fair, I did deserve it when it happened. My mother used to chase me round the kitchen with a plastic spatula to try and get the backs of my legs and the wooden spoon came out the odd time too when I was in really big trouble. We still laugh about it today so obviously there's been no long-lasting emotional trauma.

In other words, it didn't do us any harm. Because the reality is kids can be absolute nightmares and sometimes they need to be punished. A little smack is a quick and effective way of reprimanding them that they've been really naughty, it's over in seconds and you move on.

The harsh fact is, the people who physically abuse their children by hitting them excessively (and there is a difference between hitting and smacking) will continue to do so, whether this ban goes ahead or not. Because they are people who feel they are above the law, who have no sense of right and wrong and who will always find a way to hurt their children.

But most of us aren't like that. Most of us love our children unconditionally but want to teach them that some behaviour is unacceptable. An occasional smack won't turn them into anti-social violent delinquents. And you know what? Sometimes a smack is a reaction. Sometimes if, for example you're in the supermarket and they're throwing an unmerciful tantrum because you said they can't have sweets, the hand comes out of its own accord because they're making a holy show of you. You smack because you're mortified. Or if your child runs across the road without looking, you smack them because they put themselves in danger. That doesn't make you a bad parent or a child abuser. It makes you human.

As parents, our role is to teach them the difference between right and wrong, to show them love and to guide them as best you can. Screaming blue murder at them can cause far longer lasting damage than a tap on the hand.

Wexford People