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Parents, it's time to spike the spank

  • 19 June 2018


It is an unpalatable truth for many Australians: smacking your child or grandchild is increasingly termed (or seen to lead to) family and domestic violence. Post-Rosie Batty, with the death of Luke at the hands of his abusive dad, more bystanders seem inclined to intervene.

I have older, conservative friends and family who will be rolling their eyes at this point. 'Equating a smack on the bum with child abuse is irresponsible,' is a kneejerk retort that I hear about this subject. The retort's often flavoured with a faint whiff of anti-intellectualism and suspicion towards experts.

If you are inclined to discount expert opinion from medicos, lawyers and criminologists, you could consider the evidence of your own eyes and ears. Observe the body language around you if a parent hits their kids in a public setting. A hush descends and tension increases — because, post-Royal Commission, violence against kids is more and more on the nose.

Still, spanking continues here and elsewhere. Across the world, according to UNICEF, six in ten children aged two to 14 get smacked. And, yes, hitting kids is still culturally acceptable in some Australian circles. Back in 2012, 70 per cent of Australians thought smacking was acceptable; 39.7 per cent of us believed smacking was a useful deterrent, while 36 per cent thought it should only be used in extreme situations.

Clinical research, however, readily compares spanking with child abuse. One large study in the US Journal of Family Psychology found that spanking, defined as 'an open-handed hit on the arms, legs or backside' in response to bad behaviour, has similar effects on children as physical abuse.

Also disturbingly, a US study published last year in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that 68 per cent of adults surveyed who were smacked in childhood were more likely to be physically aggressive towards their partners as adults. That correlation between corporal punishment and 'dating violence', said senior author Jeff Temple, suggests causation.

'Parents are a child's first look at relationships and how conflicts are handled,' he said. 'Corporal punishment is communicating to children that violence is an acceptable means of changing behaviour.'


"Respect, love, and kindness are not qualities you can gain with the back of your hand."


Closer to home, a New South Wales study of child homicides committed between 1991-2005 (published online in 2009) concluded that 'more lives could be saved by measures that reduce the incidence of child abuse, including the prohibition of