Thursday, 4 October 2012

Legal Abuse

Evening boys and girls - let's start this with a quote:-

"People with an emotional stake in an issue are not always the best-equipped to make a judgement on it".

Anyone wondering which famous scholar said such a thing will be relieved to know that the man concerned was neither famous nor possessed of remarkable intellect. It was actually myself, talking about double jeopardy and I think it's worth repeating before talking about the issue of parents smacking their children.

I know more than most about the pain of belt buckles, slaps and puches that snap the head back and being grabbed by the throat and having one's head smacked repeatedly against the wall. Some readers will take the view that 'what goes on in the home stays in the home' and that this sort of thing should be regarded as 'fair game'. I disagree precisely because I was told that 'what goes on in the home stays in the home' as a kid, and when I began to talk to others about the experience as a teenager, realised why I'd been given that instruction. So yes, I have an emotional stake in this issue - feel free to disregard my take on it based on previous comments.

Parents have legitimate authority if they're the ones paying the bills and providing a roof above the heads of their offspring, but like all authority, it has to be checked and the police have to be policed themselves. I think that ultimately the smacking of children, unless carried out as an act of self-defence, is child abuse and there are no exceptions to this. Does that mean that anyone who has ever used physical force of any description on their kids is some kind of monster who gets their kicks from dishing out pain? After some consideration, the answer is probably not, although I wish more reasonable adults would take a stance against the culture that says 'kids are fair game and need a good hiding every now and then'.

This has been prevalent in our society for centuries and helped to protect generations of abusers and sadists from the consequences of their actions.

Many people grind out a generally unhappy and unfulfilled existence, and perhaps have regular moments akin to that described in the Martha and the Muffins song, Echo Beach. They wish they could forget the boredom of marriage, work, kids, dog and lawnmower, dsaappear somewhere exotic and live a life that actually appeals to them. They get frustrated and pissed off about things, they don't always regard their kids as the most important people on their planet, sometimes they even resent them for getting in the way of travelling, new experiences and freedom to regard tomorrow as the next day of the rest of their lives.

The reason I mention this is because the permission that parents currently have to justify the smacking of their kids is based on the misplaced assumption that they will always make a reasoned judgement on what constitutes 'just cause' and 'reasonable force'. The most unreasonable people I have ever met were all adults and not children, so the thought that they could play judge, jury and executioner, having been given legal power to do so by the state, sends a chill down the spine. An ex-boss of mine once had a piece of paper on his wall that simply stated 'NEVER MAKE A DECISION WHILE YOU'RE ANGRY'. We all know that judgement calls are susceptible to mood swings and feelings caused by something that might have the square root of zip to do with the behaviour of the child.

Then there's the more sinister situation where a 'strict upbringing' based on 'discipline' can so easily become the smokescreen for tacit (or even outright) cruelty and abuse. Some people are just bad bastards who like dishing out pain, enjoy getting their kicks from watching others suffer, feeling big through the process of making someone else feel about six inches tall. The trouble with these bad bastards is that they tend to also be clever bastards who understand exactly where the legal boundaries are and stop either on or a fraction short of it, or overstep the mark while mainpulating the uncoditional love of their kids, convincing them that what goes on in a nasty and unpleasant household is 'normal' or 'all for your own good, and I'm only doing it because I love you'.

Fuck off Dad, I hope you burn in hell you evil bastard...

Anyway, swiftly moving on...

There are of course much less emotive arguments against the smacking of children. The initiation of aggression against any other individual is rightly a crime and there is no logical argument for an exception being made just because the person on the receiving end of violence happens to be one's own child. A person subjected to this kind of assault is surely entitled to defend themselves, so what if a teenager on the end of an unjust hiding for something they didn't actually do turns round, stripes Mum or Dad and hospitalises them? Personally, I wish them all the luck in the world and would gladly give them a fiver for every broken rib, but maybe I'm going a step too far? The serious point is that supporters of legal violence cannot have it both ways, since favouring the initiaition of force while refusing the victim's right to self-defence equates to:- CHILD = PUNCHBAG.

How as a parent can one turn round to a child who has been fighting, and demonstrate that violence is wrong by using violence themselves? All this does is plant the seed in a young mind that force solves problems, that the bigger or more violent person is always right, that this is a means by which an individual can get his or her way. Violence of course is no solution, and we shouldn't be sending young people such mixed messages. Moreover, is there any evidence that corporal punishment of any description turns bad kids around, or has any positive effect whatsoever? I don't doubt that some good parents occasionally use this weapon because it happens to be there legally, but then good parents, who spend quality time with their kids, take time to explain right from wrong and instill some values in them, don't need to.

There seems to be an overlap in views on corporal and capital punishment (i.e. most people who are against one are also against the other). This makes logical sense, since not only do both work on the basis that two wrongs equate to justice, but they also assume that some divine figure of authority will behave flawlessly, with total honesty, fairness and reason, at all times. I dunno about you, but humanity has never inspired me with such confidence, and this is why the smacking of children should be outlawed.

Kids are not 'fair game' and do not 'need a good hiding every now and then'.

Thanks for reading - take care and I'll catch you soon.


  1. Right as usual Daz.

    We don't need new laws we just need the common law to be universally applied. For any person to hit another is assault unless it is done in self defence. A child is a person not the property of its parents.

    It was once acceptable for women to be beaten in the house because they were regarded as the property of their father or husband. Our society is just about managing to move beyond that sort of abuse.

    Of course Daz is right that parents have a special role as the nurturers of their children and the child has a responsibility to behave at home in the same way as society expects for everywhere else. Bringing up a child requires the same standards being applied in the home as are expected everywhere else. Physical assault is a crime and parents should not be exempted from that crime.

  2. Thanks Mal - you're always the one step ahead aren't you?

    You're absolutely right, we simply need to repeal the law that permits child abuse.

    Parenting is a hard job and it's supposed to be so.

    Hitting one's kids is not a shortcut or easy answer when one cannot be bothered talking to them.

  3. Really good post Daz, and very well written too; the usual 'Rabbit standard.

    Anyway, I have to agree with you; quite simply two wrongs don't make a right. There is a balance to be found in disciplining children and also in policing and disciplining the general public. We know deep down though that punishment is often about revenge and allowing certain people to do what they like in the name of law and order or discipline. How many bad bastards hide behind the word 'discipline' in all walks of life, using it as an excuse to knock the shit out of someone not capable of defending themselves? It happens all the time.

    You wrote (quite astutely): 'They wish they could forget the boredom of marriage, work, kids, dog and lawnmower, dsaappear somewhere exotic and live a life that actually appeals to them.' Ah, probably everyone at time feels like this, and how many people live lives that they feel are far less than their dreams? It's certain that adults get trapped into corners and then take their frustrations out on who happens to be the nearest; i.e. usually the kids but sometimes someone else. If we don't condone random violence against adults, then why kids?

    And the big question you raised is capital punishment. It has never made sense to me that that a State can tell you not to kill someone because it's totally wrong, and then kill you! It's completely ridiculous isn't it?! One thing laughing at the other so to speak. Thanks for the great post and raising interesting and relevant topics mate.

  4. Brilliant post Tim - thanks as always.

    And for once, we're in total agreement...