30.12.1990

No smacking - another fad that threatens families

No smacking - another fad that threatens families
 
AS IT IS
 
by LYNETTE BURROWS
 
Heigh-ho! this week has been designated National No-Smacking Week by one of those ineffably self-important, ludi­crous groups composed of media child-care experts who think they know what is best for the rest of us. This group have taken it upon themselves to instruct full-time mothers in the skills of daily man­agement of their children despite the fact that, as career men and women themselves, few if any, have much practical experience to go on.
 
The results are as predictable as the people who have joined a cam­paign that, since it is organised on a professional, fulltime basis, con­tinues to gather adherents among other professionals terrified of ap­pearing out of fashion.
 
Never mind that most of them are middle-aged parents of grown-up children who seem to have taken a professional lifetime to see the light and only now speak out against something which they have lived with for a long time. What is important is that they are trying to force an overwhelming majority of parents to go against their better judgment and to abandon the well- tested forms of moderate physical punishment in favour of emotional and psychological punishments which most parents at some time or another have tried and abandoned because they are either too severe in their effect or do not work.
 
To substantiate theories which fly in the face of tried and tested expe­rience, today's child-care experts are heavily dependent on using the results of psychological surveys carried out in other countries to convince anxious parents of the rightness of their case.
 
However, if they want to play that game, we are entitled to ask why they take no account of research which contradicts their claims — such as that physical punishment produces violent children. There is, for instance, the research of Parke & Slaby (USA, 1983) which con­cluded that punishment only increased children's aggression if the punishment was severe.
 
There is also Dr Baumrind's authoritative research at Berkeley University (1973) which found that parents who used moderate punish­ment, including smacking, produced children who were not only more mature than liberally reared children but were also "superior in all measures of social responsibility".
 
This piece of research also pro­vided the not very surprising infor­mation that parents who smacked their children when necessary used ridicule, fear and withdrawal of love less than other parents — which probably accounts for their chil­dren's confidence and well-being.
 
However, from the point of view of those reformers who believe that moderate smacking leads on to child abuse, the most impressive finding of this research was that parents who never smacked their children were more likely to admit to "explosive attacks of rage in which they inflicted more pain or injury upon the child than they had intended".
 
This should, in all conscience, give these modish child-care profes­sionals pause for thought. In using their influence to persuade parents to follow what is, in all reality, merely the latest professional fad, they are risking the stability of countless families as well as the emotional and physical well-being of their children.
 
While we are on the subject of wrong-headed profession­als, it would be an enlighten­ing experience for many to read the best-selling child-care book for 1928, The Psychological Care of Infant and Child. The author, John Watson, was as influential as any of the self-appointed experts of today, and his main thesis was as bizarre and extreme as any of theirs.
 
He believed that "mother love was a dangerous instrument" that could wreck a child's chance of hap­piness, and he led a campaign against physical affection or encouragement towards children that affected professional attitudes for nearly 40 years.
 
"Never kiss or cuddle children," he said, "never have them sitting on your lap; if you must, kiss them once at night, on the forehead before they go to bed; shake hands with them in the morning."
 
He also insisted that parents should not encourage children unless they had made "an extraor­dinarily good job of a difficult task" and even then they should receive "only a pat on the head".
 
And what was the reason for these outrageous beliefs? Yes, you've guessed it: he had "massive evidence" that physical affection shown towards children produced "moral invalidism, including a ten­dency to suicide and depression".
 
We could all enjoy an indulgent chuckle at the lunacy of such pro­fessional theories if it were not for the practical damage they do. Because of his ideas, a whole generation of sick children had a wretched and traumatic time when they were ill because until the late 1960s many hospitals had a policy of not allowing mothers to visit chil­dren.
 
It is strange that we make such a fuss about the state of Christian­ity in this country. Sitting in Mid­night Mass this Christmas, one could not help noticing that there were more young people than one sees at the theatre, more old people than one sees in the pub, more poor people than one finds in a library and as many rich people as one will see at a race-course. And this with­out it being able to offer the attrac­tion of food or alcohol, pop music, money-making or entertainment of any kind.
 
They were not drawn there by the power of advertising or because the media or educationists had preached that it was good for them or fashionable. They had come out on a freezing night, or staggered there after the noise and convivial­ity of a pub, to stand, jam-packed to the very doors and sitting in family groups on the floors of the side cha­pels, just to bear witness to a story they do not begin to understand that had its beginning at this time of the year: the mystery of the risen Christ.
 
The people taking part in the Decade of Evangelism that begins in the New Year should derive the most enormous encouragement from this marvel repeated in towns and villages all over the country.
 
Our culture has done its worst to destroy and undermine faith in the transcendental; if not by outright attack, then by the more insidious method of making it all seem mean­ingless and silly. But still it totters on and means something, dimly felt, from the top to the bottom of the age range and across the classes.
 
More than a thousand years of faith have not been wasted; there are the buildings, there is an organi­sation which would be the envy of any political party; they even have the people. All they need now is the courage and the conviction to spread the Gospel, undiluted, that gives meaning to the faith. If they can do so much without the benefit of a decade of really trying, what may they not accomplish when they seriously get down to it! Happy New Year to them — and to you.
 
Peter Simple returns next week