Distinguishing between correction and violence


Distinguishing between correction and violence

Thu, 13 Aug 2009Sue Bradford

Sue Bradford

Most parents do not seek to harm their children but want the best for them, writes Michael Reid.

What does that imply with respect to the “smacking” referendum?

“When war comes, the first casualty is truth.”

In the debate over smacking and the associated referendum, the definition of violence is the casualty.

Advocates of the “yes” vote get away with using the word “violence” all the time.

They don’t distinguish between responsible parents who use a light smack from those using implements to inflict severe pain.

Emotive words like “belting”, “beating” and “whacking” all blur the distinction.

But the difference between parental correction and violence is critical.

The occasional smack is not the same as abuse with jug cords, belts and sticks.

The latter is totally unacceptable and most parents know the difference – they always have.

This debate is not about legal rights but the lived experience of family life.

Despite hysteria to the contrary, those opposing Sue Bradford’s law are not condoning smacking, but they know that responsible parenting requires a range of skills and techniques to do the job.

Many voting “no” are upset with the state limiting their options and making them criminals if they dare to smack.

The caveat that investigating police exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis prior to charges being laid doesn’t allay parental fears nor promote consistency in enforcement, which is the basis of good law.

Ms Bradford herself is confused: she doesn’t want light smacking criminalised, but then claims she wants children to be “free from violence”.

Good law, though, has to be enforceable and this equivocation only muddies the waters of what is meant by violence.

The former s.59 of the Crimes Act assumed responsible parenting and respected parental freedom up to a point.

Where real abuse occurred, the police were right to prosecute.

Ms Bradford’s amendment did not come about by the wholesale failure of s.59 but by the sustained activism of certain groups bent on popularising particular understandings of children’s rights.

Children are not marching in the streets demanding reform; they want loving, committed parents, not more legal rights.

As one writer has put it, a child is protected because she is loved, not because she has a right to be protected.

Supporters claim to be protecting children by extending to them the same rights as others to be free from violence.

This sounds plausible, but is it? The parent-child relationship is a blood-tie, intergenerational bond that is different in essence to two adults on the street where one decides to hit the other.

Parenting involves a responsibility to nurture and provide for the child from infancy to independence around 18 years of age.

Most parents do not seek to harm their children but want the best for them and often harbour a desire they will do better in life than they have.

In this sense, the “best interests of the child” (that hackneyed notion enshrined in the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) is fleshed out every day in families when parents love, nurture, discipline and sacrifice for their children.

Moreover, the parent-child relationship has never been equal in terms of political power.

Conflict always involves the will of the adult against that of the child.

“Stop hitting your brother”; “go to your room”; “pick up your clothes” involve parents asserting their will.

Only in recent times and as a result of the waffle offered by discourse analysis have theorists conceptualised normal tensions as a power issue in any political sense.

This has created an artificial atmosphere of competing rights between parents and children.

When rights clash, whose rights are most right?This is the where the yes supporters depart from the no voters in the referendum.

The former see the world in terms of child’s legal rights but the latter just want to get on with parenting without running foul of the law for using the odd smack.

Finally, the parent-child bond is unique among human relationships. It endures.

No friendship or marriage lasts quite as long.

For the child, the dynamic shifts from infant dependence through to independence as an adult.

For parents, it moves from independence and active parenting through to (in many cases) a reliance on children in old age.

That limited period in early childhood when smacking as one of a range of parenting techniques should be tolerated has to be seen in this long-term context of reciprocal responsibilities.

Some parents, sadly, rely too heavily on smacking while others go well beyond it and abuse children. They are violent.

The rate of child abuse in New Zealand is horrific.

But let’s target the real causes rather than create a hypersensitive rights culture where responsible parents are treated as criminals for using the occasional smack.

Let’s also distinguish between parental correction and violence.

The Bradford law fails to do so and is confusing, presumptive and placing undue pressure on police resources.

What an irony that we have rampant youth crime and unprecedented violence in our streets – yes, violence – yet we seem absorbed with this issue.

And by the way, all this bunkum about a confusing referendum question: if you like the Bradford law, vote yes; if you don’t, vote no. Simple.

• Dr Michael Reid is a parent, teacher, and author of the 2006 book From Innocents to Agents: children and children’s rights in New Zealand.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *