Child well-being

The following is my response to a BBC editorial piece entitled “Our children need time not stuff“, which discusses a UNICEF report on child well-being.

It’s remarkable that this article and the report completely ignores the use of corporal punishment (spanking – i.e. hitting) as an influence on a child’s well-being, given that spanking is still prevalent in much of the western world. Government-commissioned research in 1990 found that three quarters of a large sample of mothers in the UK admitted to smacking their baby before the age of one. In families with children aged one, four, seven and eleven where both parents were interviewed, over a third of all the children were hit weekly or more often by either or both parents, and a fifth of the children had been hit with an implement. Research in 2006 showed 7/10 parents said they use corporal punishment and that 80% of the population believed in spanking.

Is spanking wrong? Of course it is. It’s wrong to hit a person who disagrees with you or does not have the mental capacity to reason well enough to negotiate with you, therefore it is wrong to hit children. After all, children are people. Spanking is just hitting.

The usual justification given for spanking is that you can’t reason with babies or children, therefore the only way to discipline or teach them is to hit them. Following this line of reasoning, it is then also moral for care workers to hit elderly dementia sufferers for disagreeing, not cooperating, or exhibiting undesired behavior. But clearly, hardly anyone would advocate such behavior in a care home, and most would deem it immoral.

Corporal punishment against children is strongly correlated: increased child aggression, increased delinquent/antisocial behavior, decreased quality of parent/child relationships, decreased child mental health, increased physical abuse, increased adult aggression, increased adult criminal behavior, decreased adult mental health, and increased risk of abusing own spouse or child.

To focus only on household incomes, access to basic educational resources, and housing living space as measures of children’s well-being is to ignore something that is a crucial part of most children’s early lives; violence. It’s much harder to be ‘well’ when the adults that brought you into your relationship with them are hitting you on a regular basis.

I don’t believe most parents desire to hurt their children, they just lack reasoning skills and knowledge of peaceful parenting techniques. I do believe most parents would be interested in learning how to be better parents to their children and how to have a much better relationship with them. Some won’t be, and those we may rightfully morally condemn.

There are peaceful solutions to resolving conflicts with children and remedying undesired behavior. P.E.T (Parent Effectiveness Training) is a good place to start to learn about alternatives to hitting.

Parents can start right now by sticking to one basic principle: the non-aggression principle. Which means, don’t hit. It’s never too late either. Research has shown that the negative affects on children from using corporal punishment can be reduced or even completely reversed if done soon enough. So even if you’ve been spanking your child up to now, it’s not futile to stop. It won’t be easy to change yours and your child’s behavior, nor will it happen overnight, but it is possible.

Make a vow never to hit your children again, and you’ll put yourself on the path to a much more enriching and loving relationship with them. And most of all, you’ll be given them the best chance of a happy, fulfilling, successful adult life in which they will be much less likely to suffer mental illness or hit their own children. Never hitting your children again can lead to all that, make the change today.

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