Posts Tagged physical punishment

The economics of whacking kids

July 13, 2009

By Colin James

An enrolment deadline for the yes-means-no/no-means-yes referendum passed on Friday. Have you worked out how to vote? Will you vote?

Why vote? It is only indicative. MPs ignored the 82-92 per cent majority votes in the three previous citizens-initiated referendums, in 1995 on the number of firemen and in 1999 on reducing the number of seats in Parliament and on the needs of victims and minimum and hard labour sentences.

Major-party politicians are not keen to reopen the wounds of 2007 when the Crimes Act defence of reasonable force in disciplining children was abolished. Labour backed Sue Bradford’s bill as an article of faith. National brokered the awkward compromise as an article of politics to avoid losing women’s votes.

Whacking may well be going the way of abortion, settled by a messy compromise in 1977. Abortion still excites the minorities for “choice” and for “life” but it is parked offstage with the Abortion Supervisory Committee.

Two issues are at stake in the whacking/smacking referendum.

One is the value and future of non-binding citizens-initiated referendums.

The hurdle petitioners must clear is high. Parliament’s Clerk must approve the wording and petitioners must get a sample-checked 10 per cent of enrolled electors to sign.

Then petitioners need a credible turnout. This is guaranteed when the referendum runs alongside a general election (as in the two in 1999) or voters see it as important. Turnout in the firemen’s referendum in non-election-year 1995 was a derisory 27 per cent. (Turnout in the compulsory retirement savings referendum in non-election-year 1997 was 80 per cent but that was government-initiated.)

Postal voting, introduced in 2000 and applied to the whacking-smacking referendum, might better the firemen’s 27 per cent. But would even a 90 per cent majority on a 40 per cent turnout in next month’s referendum be convincing? Opponents of MMP questioned the validity of the 54 per cent majority on an 85 per cent turnout in that government-initiated referendum.

Turnout is one objection opponents raise against making citizens-initiated referendums binding (as they are in many United States states and in Switzerland). The topic’s public policy importance is another: the firemen vote was an issue for phone-in polling, not one in which most citizens felt they had a real stake.

Comprehensibility is a third test: can the question be answered by yes or no, can voters be effectively educated so they can make an informed decision and is the question clear? The back-to-front wording of next month’s vote has confused some voters. And so far the educating has been done by protagonists and is most likely to be heard by those voters who themselves have strong views.

That highlights the second issue in the referendum: its substance.

Fact: the police reported on Friday that from October to April they attended 279 child assault “events” which “were most likely to identify ‘smacking’-type incidents”. (The total of child assault “events” was much higher. The new law has not stopped whacking.)

Of the 279, eight involved actual smacking (not whacking) and none of those eight resulted in a prosecution, though four were referred to Child, Youth and Family or a family conference — more than smacking was involved. (Of 39 acts of “minor violence”, eight were prosecuted.)

That doesn’t sound like widespread persecution of good parents who smack.

Most of the referendum debate is at that level: the rights of the child versus parents’ rights. Civilised societies have (slowly, over centuries) been coming to deem that if a child’s rights are abused by parents, society as a whole has a duty to assert the child’s rights.

The whole society has an intimate interest in those rights, as it does of the rights of all “minorities” and defenceless individuals. Social cohesion demands it, as much as ethics. A child belongs to all of society, not just its parents.

But society also has another interest in its children: an economic interest.

A child ill-treated in the womb by a smoking, drinking, poorly-fed mother starts with a handicap. That handicap is made greater by poor nutrition, inattention to cognitive development or violence in the early years of life.

That handicapped child will do poorly at pre-school and school and will be more likely as a teenager to go off the rails or develop mental illness and less likely as an adult to be a productive worker and taxpayer. Worse, that child may as an adult be a charge on society as an addict, beneficiary or criminal or a charge on the state as a prisoner.

Intervening to assure those children a reasonable start is expensive and intrusive. But it is an investment, with a quantifiable return. John Key’s new scientific adviser, Peter Gluckman, has led international work on the science and economics of that.

It is an investment Key has hinted he will make. Whether he does will be a central test of his prime ministership — far greater than a muddled referendum.

  • First published in the Dominion Post and Otago Daily Times, July 13, 09
  • ColinJames@synapsis.co.nz

Youth advocates show initiative

July 10, 2009

save-banners

Youth advocates for YES vote have formed a group called Students Against Violence (SAVE) and yesterday launched a set of novel car stickers. One of its organisers, Johny O’Donnell, 15, said the smacking debate was focusing on the rights of parents to hit their children, and overlooked the rights of children not to be hit.

Based in Nelson, they are keen to get other teens on the campaign trail. Contact details are on their website.

Nelson teens urge vote for right not to be hit

July 9, 2009

A group of students campaigning against violence are asking adults to “speak for them” by voting “yes” in August’s smacking referendum according to a story in the Nelson Mail.

Students Against Violence (Save) founding member Johny O’Donnell, 15, said the smacking debate was focusing on the rights of parents to hit their children, and overlooked the rights of children not to be hit.

A student at Nelson College, he told the Mail he was one of five people who turned up to hear long-time child advocate Beth Wood speak on the referendum at the Victory Community Centre.

He said Save intended to have a stand at the Saturday market on the issue. It wanted to do more but was constrained by a lack of funds.

He helped set up Save in Nelson in March as he believed many young people were affected by violence

US report show clear connection between abuse and physical punishment

July 3, 2009

Report on physical punishment in the United States: What research tells us about its effects on children

An extensive report from the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, USA on the effects of physical punishment on children clearly shows connections between physical abuse in later life and physical punishment as a child.

Published last year (2008) the main goal of the report is to provide a concise review of the empirical research to date on the effects physical punishment has on children. It was created for parents and others who care for children, professionals who provide services to them, those who develop policy and programmes that affect children and families, interested members of the public, and children themselves.

The report’s author, Elizabeth T Gershoff, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, received her doctoral degree in Child Development and worked for five years at the National Centre for Children in Poverty at Columbia University.

Her current research focuses on the impacts of parenting and violence exposure on child and youth development over time and within the contexts of families, schools, neighbourhoods and social policies.

The research supports several conclusions:

– There is little research evidence that physical punishment improves children’s behaviour in the long term.

– There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.

– There is clear research evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for negative outcomes, including increased mental health problems.

– There is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse.

It also reveals that mounting research evidence shows that physical punishment of children is an ineffective parenting practice comes at a time of decreasing support for physical punishment within the United States and around the world.

The majority of American adults are opposed to physical punishment by school personnel. An increasing number of Americans (now at 29 percent) are opposed to physical punishment by parents. At the same time, there is a growing momentum among other countries to enact legal bans on all forms of physical punishment, bolstered by the fact that the practice has come to be regarded as a violation of international human rights law.

The clear connections between physical abuse and physical punishment that have been made in empirical research and in the child abuse statutes of several states in the US suggest that reduction in parents’ use of physical punishment should be included as integral parts of state and federal child abuse prevention efforts.

Smacking never worked for me – why I’m voting Yes

July 2, 2009

Geoffrey, who would prefer to remain anonymous, recently wrote to all MPs about his experience growing up in a violent and insecure home. His story supports the Yes Vote campaigners’ contention that smacking can ever be said to be “good parental correction”.

He received replies from Jim Anderton, Catherine Delahunty and Peter Dunn.

Dear MP

I am appalled that there are adults who have no idea of an alternative to smacking a child.

I was born in 1960 and my parents were convinced that corporal punishment was the way to discipline us.

It didn’t work.

The violence escalated until I was insecure at home and at school (corporal punishment at school). In both cases, home and school, I felt I had no recourse and my behaviour got no better as a result of being assaulted by my parents and teachers.

My relationship with my parents was distrust and disrespect right up until I left home. I admit, that once I left home my relationship with my father was better, but there has always been an emotional distance that will never be bridged even though I am 49 and he is 82.

I was married 28 years ago and I have three adult children. These three children have never been hit by their parents and are kind considerate and caring adults, the youngest is 21. In contrast to my own relationship with my parents, they are close to us and seek us out for support and advice.

My oldest son entrusts us with the care of his four month old daughter every weekend, something I couldn’t trust my parents with for my children for fear of their corporal punishment ethic.

Home is a place where a child should feel safe and have no fear where they must feel protected and not threatened – even if they have no language yet.

Smacking is a reaction by a frustrated, brutish mentality in a stressed individual who has no idea of any other approach. To sanction this behaviour, as many religions do, is to allow the brute mentality to take what they feel is the most expedient course of action. Unfortunately, corporal punishment has the opposite effect.

In the 1960s it was considered right to discipline one’s wife with violence, a crime which the police could not take action against because an old law stated a man’s home was out of bounds in domestic incidents.

There were the same cries of outrage by what seems the same people when this exemption to the law was overturned.

My guess is that we don’t want a referendum on the law which criminalises the wife beater, nor should we in the case of the same conservatives who want to be able to hit children with immunity to prosecution.

Keep our children safe!

Loving smack? Hateful hug?

June 26, 2009

By Deborah Coddington

Why am I supporting the Yes Vote Team? For a number of reasons.

First, there’s the pragmatic reason.

Ten years ago I didn’t think much about Section 59 of the Crimes Act, but then I was assigned to write a feature for North & South magazine on the short life and cruel death of James Whakaruru. I interviewed the families of James and his killer and I realised, to my horror, that it wasn’t just a “light smack” used as everyday discipline, but jug cords, vacuum cleaner pipes, belts, closed fists, pieces of wood – anything close at hand when tempers were lost.

Members of the whanau argued with me, even as the earth on James’ grave was still fresh and the little windmills fluttered in the Hawke’s Bay breeze, this was acceptable if their children were naughty. Misbehaviour was defined as not eating their food, answering back or not answering back depending on the mood of the parent, making a mess – in fact any behaviour seemed to depend on what side of bed the parents got out of.

With some people you can educate and persuade as much as you like but you’re never going to make a difference. I believe you have to accept that laws must be changed if children’s lives are to made better. I accept that children will still die – sadly – and children will still be bashed, but there will be parents whose behaviour will be moderated because it is against the law to smack, belt, slap or whatever you like to call it.

You only have to look at smoking laws, or seatbelt laws, to see how they have changed people’s habits.

Secondly, the philosophical reason. I believe in the non-initiation of force, so why shouldn’t that apply to children as well as adults? Why should children have a lesser defence in court when they have suffered violence?

If I give my husband a shove, or a flick over the ear, or even a smack on the bottom, that is assault. There is no defence. If he lays a complaint and it goes to court, I cannot use “reasonable force” as defence because my husband might have come home late from the pub for the fifth time that week and needed some discipline.

So why should a child, who may have suffered similar initiation of force against their person, not be similarly protected? A child is a human being, with the same powers of reason as an adult – a mind, a heart, a brain. A child is not an “almost human being”.

Thirdly, getting rid of Nanny State. Eh?

Yes, you read that correctly, I want Nanny State out of our lives. Therefore the same law should apply to adults and children (though I am happy with the John Key amendment as it stands).

The pro-smackers who claim Nanny State is telling parents how to raise their children by banning smacking are actually doing more of the same by telling parents what kind of smack they can give their children. Act MP John Boscawen wants a new Bill which would allow a light smack. This is just another politician butting in with another law. Sue Bradford’s Bill actually got Nanny State out of people’s lives, but there was so much hysteria, nobody seemed to realise that.

I don’t expect miracles from Sue Bradford’s law change but hopefully, in the next few decades, we might see a shift in attitudes toward children in this country. It doesn’t help when issues are poisoned, and people like Christine Rankin are applauded for polarising the debate. It’s not simply a case of leftie versus rightie; Commie versus Christian. Jesus said suffer the little children to come to me, but Family First backs a father who allegedly repeatedly pushed over his little boy on the rugby field.

Loving smack? No such thing. How about hateful hug? And finally, consider this. Within marriage, rape was once legal between man and wife because marriage was taken as consent. Imagine we were campaigning to change the law, and those who opposed the amendment had written a referendum question which asked: “Should forced sex as part of a good marriage be a criminal act?”

I won’t smack my son

June 24, 2009

KERRY WILLIAMSON on his Dominion Post blog, says he would like to think that he will never smack his new-born baby boy – ever.

“No matter how mad I get when he acts up, I just don’t want to be that kind of parent. No matter how loud he screams, no matter how big a tantrum he throws, and no matter how much he ignores me, I don’t want to smack him,” he writes.

He’s also annoyed that the government has legislated to this effect saying: “I’d like to think that parents should be able to parent however they want. I’d like to think that parents are responsible, caring and considerate towards their children. I can’t imagine that not being the case. “

However, he says, the reality is not so nice nor easy and goes on to cite numerous and terrible cases of child cruelty in New Zealand meted out by parents who believe in physical punishment.

Smacking – “It’s wrong, full stop” say children

June 23, 2009

Media release: Barnardos New Zealand             23 June 2009

“It’s bad that they are smacking them. It’s good that they are disciplining them but they shouldn’t be hitting them really hard. Maybe they could send them to the corner”

11-year old girl who participated in the What’s Up survey.

The debate around the Referendum ’09 on physical punishment has been widely debated by adults but who is listening to the voice of those who are at the centre of this debate – the children?

As New Zealand’s largest telephone helpline for children and young people, 0800WHATSUP provided an opportunity for children and young people to express their views about physical punishment and whether or not adults should be able to claim a legal defence if charged with assaulting a child.

“The initial results from the survey show that the majority of callers (more than 55 percent) do not think parents taken to court for hitting a child should be let off if they say they were disciplining the child”, says Murray Edridge, Chief Executive of Barnardos New Zealand.

“Despite this, comments from the children and young people who participated in the survey suggest many children are conditioned to expect and accept physical discipline from parents. Importantly, many of the callers suggested that parents should be let off with a warning or community service if they perpetrated low levels of violence against children”.

“This is how the child discipline law is working in practice. Parents are not being prosecuted for lightly or occasionally smacking a child, only serious levels of violence are being prosecuted”.

“Barnardos welcomes the sample of results in the survey that provide valuable insights into the views of children and young people about physical punishment. We are pleased that What’s Up has done this survey, giving children and young people the opportunity to express their point of view about a subject matter that affects them most in Referendum ’09”, concluded Mr Edridge.

Download the full report.

The telephone survey was conducted from 27 April to 10 May and was successful in eliciting a large proportion of meaningful votes and comments, with a response rate of around 10%. What’s Up continues to invite children and young people to express their point of view on the matter of “smacking” until the referendum closes on 21 August.

Contact:

Uschi Klein, Communications Advisor
DDI (04) 382 6717
Mobile 027 228 3088
PO Box 6434, Wellington

Referendum offers king hit to humanity

June 21, 2009

Deborah Coddington (New Zealand Herald, June 21, 09) decries the “dastardly” referendum in her regular column saying it was organised  “by grown men who should know better”.

She says there is no such thing as a “loving smack, just as there is no such thing as a hateful hug” adding that it was no wonder children were “not valued as individuals in this country, but instead as some sort of chattel belonging to adults”

“We do not own our children,” she says, “a fact that has yet to be driven home to those selfish individuals who fight their way through the Family Court over who has the offspring, ensuring any remaining family happiness is destroyed forever.”

She goes on to argue that she doesn’t see a future in NZ for treasured children nor respect for their presence.

She admits she gave little thought to the issue until 10 years ago when she wrote about the death of James Whakaruru and realised how “normal it was for discipline to include beating children”

She concludes asking how we would react if the question was: “Should forced sex, as part of a good marriage, be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith: Family discipline in context

June 16, 2009

Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith presented their interim findings from their research at Otago University today at the Families Commission’s Annual Research Seminar.

We’re pleased to be able to bring you a slideshow and audio of their talk.

Audio:

Abstract:

Family discipline is a controversial topic which has been debated for centuries, and which is known to have a lifelong effect on the well being of children. This report provides a snapshot of the views, experiences and practices of a sample of 100 New Zealand families, in relation to the discipline of their preschool children.

Parents/caregivers were asked about what they believed about discipline, how they disciplined their children, and the type of support and stress that they experienced with parenting. The study also looked at the effect of child and family characteristics and context over time, on discipline. The study used a multi-method approach, involving semi-structured parent interviews, parent diaries of disciplinary events over three days in a two week period, and a standardised tool, the Parenting Daily Hassles scale. One hundred and seventeen caregivers comprised the national sample – 99 mothers, 18 fathers, one grandfather and two grandmothers. The findings include the following headings: beliefs about discipline; disciplinary practices; the influence of child and family characteristics, stresses, context and support. The findings suggest a more favourable picture of New Zealand parents’ disciplinary practice than previous research has, showing that the majority of parents took an authoritative (firm but warm) approach, and suggests that professionals who work with families could benefit from professional development programmes focusing on effective approaches to discipline.

Background:

  • Research shows disciplinary practices during childhood have lifelong consequences
  • Most previous research has focused on broad surveys and physical punishment – NZ parents favour relatively negative disciplinary techniques (Ritchie & Ritchie; Maxwell)
  • Need for better parent education and support in context of legal change in NZ
  • Little knowledge of the challenges parents face in using discipline in everyday contexts

Research questions:

  • What do New Zealand families with preschool age children believe about appropriate disciplinary practices for children?
  • What are the range and typical uses of discipline in New Zealand families?
  • How are family disciplinary practices influenced by context and events over time?
  • What type of support (if any) do families receive in their parenting with young children?

Summary of findings:

  • Majority of parents use authoritative or mixed approach (ie sometimes they are permissive)
  • Positive methods (rewards, praise and reasoning) more commonly used than negative methods (smacking or shouting). Timeout the most common punishment.
  • No enthusiasm for physical punishment.
  • Own experience of parenting important – but can be rejected.
  • Books and TV hugely important source of info and support.
  • Family and friends important supports but also early childhood teachers (other professionals less mentioned)

You can also download the presentation (PDF)

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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