Smacking and the Law

This post: circa 1,400 words, estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Criminalising a smack on the leg

The Telegraph and others are currently covering Scotland’s proposed law to make smacking your child a criminal offence. e.g. I smacked my four-year-old – does that make me a criminal?

People that make these laws are, IMO, pretty clueless. Sadly, arguably, it seems, that includes some of the expert sources. They know there is a fundamental problem. They have been aware of it for decades. Have researched it, written numerous papers about it. But do nothing because “that’s how it’s always been”.

For instance, in psychology, ‘attachment theory’ (Mary Ainsworth) is required study. (Variation for cultures, and allowances for autistic spectrum aside), hundreds of studies show that a normal, neuro-typical child will behave ‘this’ way in the test environment. In contrast, an abused child will behave ‘thus’.

The problem is, they rarely study ‘abused’ children. It’s not a court-appointed test. The studies are not done by social services, they are voluntary. They are often carried out using mature undergraduates and their children. They are not carried out by children whose carers and parents are inherently abusive, “carers” who are violent. Who are dangerous. It is a fundamental flaw in the system. At best, a deep understanding of attachment theory gives an awareness of ‘something might not be right here’. If a kid’s got a black eye and a broken arm, and the mum is silent, cowering behind the heavily-built father, the child didn’t ‘fall’ out of the cot! It’s not rocket science.


It’s weird, isn’t it!

You can look this up yourself, just Google for ‘WEIRD psychology’, it’s well documented. Weird is an apt acronym for the problem, it stands for Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. The reason it is so weird, and so apt is up to 95% of psychology research focuses on the western world, mostly on wealthier Americans. To be precise, commonly, undergraduate university students on psychology modules. One of the reasons given for this is they are handy, plus they’ll do it for free, or grades.

Then the researchers take this data, from young, healthy, generally middle-class Americans and say, “this is what we found”. Then, for some inexplicable reason – reminding you I am an undergraduate psychology student myself – they take this data and jump to the conclusion “this is how people are”. All people. So this tightly focused peer study now encompasses the cast of the O.C., Eskimos, Chinese goat herders, and the underclass of Calcutta. It puts Russian peasants next to Silicon Valley billionaires and says, ‘they could almost be twins’. (Shades of Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger). Well, yes, about that.

e.g. Psychology Today, Psychology’s WEIRD Problem. Often, WEIRD scientists conduct WEIRD experiments that are not generalisable.

In the 893 articles published in 2015 and 2016 in the top five cross-cultural psychology journals, a staggering 96.7% of participants were WEIRD, and more than 85% were American.

As I pointed out in a module essay, the type of people that are systematic abusers will not allow their charges to be inspected. That would cast a light of their activities, would risk investigation. It’s ironic then that Attachment Theory appears to virtually ignore those that most need the study. The sad thing in such case is, often, their teachers know, their doctors know, but they rarely want to get involved, to risk themselves (or the children).


It’s not that simple.

The thing is, it’s not about a ‘smack’. As the article points out (behind the paywall):

Abuse, bullying, intimidation, assault – physical, psychological or otherwise – is abhorrent and to be condemned and prosecuted with extreme prejudice.

It’s not about a “smack” it’s…

Getting taken to the hospital with your arm or leg broken in two places ‘cos your ‘loving’ father used a baseball bat on you. Whilst being told: “It’s not your dad’s fault, you know how he is when he drinks.”

It’s spitting out your broken teeth and, on the way to the hospital (yet again), being instructed, “Tell them you fell, that you banged your face on the kerb. You don’t want to get your dad in trouble, do you? It was an accident, he didn’t mean to hit you in the face that hard. You understand.”

The little girl taking an overdose ‘cos…

It’s real and implied threats, the underlying promise of extreme violence for the least disobedience.

It’s the police records were the parent or carer, in their defence, declares, “They are my ‘property’, I will do with them as I wish. Besides, it’s their word against mine. My partner will support me, and my kid will retract. You have no case.”

It’s not one smack in frustration at a 4-year-old’s tantrum that is the problem. It’s not shouting when you are the end of your patience with them – and them knowing they are pushing your buttons. Events like that are (all too) everyday common, and while it’s not ideal, it is understandable; parenting is hard work.

No, it’s when it goes further, When the abuse is systematic, calculated, physically and mentally damaging. A problem made worse because no-one wants to get involved, because you “don’t cross Big Tom”, “you don’t get on the wrong side of Mary”. Not the schools, not the police, certainly not social services, nor the hospitals. The caring doctor who’s not blind, who sees the medical record, who knows the difference between a fall and something more violent, “Tell me what really happened. We can protect you.” So you ask, “Here, maybe, but when I get home, will you be there to protect us then?” And you see the answer in their eyes, and another part of you dies. There is no-one to help.

Or the counsellors and support teams, picking up the pieces, the ones who, on behalf on their bosses, tell their ward that, “the measures weren’t in place, we are sorry, lessons will be learnt.” And decade after decade, you see or read reports of similar ‘missed opportunities to intervene’ in the news. You hear once more from the mouthpieces of governments, NHS trusts, authorities and councils of how “lessons will be learnt” – yet never are. Funny that you rarely in ever hear of the officials responsible for these catalogues of ‘misfortune’ facing prison, or being sacked, or even reprimanded. As best they are quietly moved sideways, and so it continues, as it must when there is no accountability.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

~ Edmund Burke


No respite.

All of this leaves aside peer bullying and othering in and out of school. You know, pick on the fat kid, the ‘ginge’, the loner, the ones who’s parent can’t afford branded shoes. The easy targets. Bullying is bullying regardless.

Meanwhile, in schools, where you hope it is safe and secure, you may find that is not the case. Openly lying to Ofstead, to parents, to authorities, they will declare, avow that “bullying does not go on in this school“. So no, the headmaster wasn’t bullying the teachers. The teachers didn’t have favourites, didn’t have targets of their own.


Across the board.

So it’s just a poor people thing, right?

No, even without physical, sexual abuse, without the hardship of poverty, there’s the mental abuse, subjected to rich and poor alike. Do you really think that the damage done to a millionaire’s child is different from a kid on welfare? When, for instance, they are both continually told, “You are useless, you are a failure, you are nothing like your sibling.” No hand is raised, but that infant is messed up by the time they are an adult. Even the straight ‘A’ student, the popular one, pushed and pushed and pushed to excel, to only pass with top marks. Never to fail, until they do – at which point the whole house of cards crashes down.


Ace it.

There is something called the “Adverse Children Experiences” or ACE score. (e.g. ACEs too high). It’s just ten questions about your childhood. Smacking is not on the list, as such. Even with a low score of two, it may cause issues in adulthood. With four, the increase in risk and problems is significant. With 6, 7 out of 10, you are highly likely to have a catalogue of physical and mental health problems.

I disagree with smacking, but making a law about smacking isn’t solving the problem, it’s nannying, it’s virtue signalling. It’s a smokescreen for all the genuine abuse that goes on under the radar. That is brushed under the carpet with the faux promise that ‘lessons will be learned’.

See also: Childhood programming.


Feature image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

Ack

Been playing with computers since the stone age, online since the '80s, and developing websites since the '90s.

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