Scotland’s Smacking Ban: a Hit?

‘Smacking’ sounds really nice, doesn’t it? The word, I mean. If you’re hungry for a snack, your lips might smack; if your gran comes to visit she might ask you to pucker up and give her a big old smacker on the kisser. Onomatopeiacally, a smack is rather like a crack, but much less forceful: sharper, cleaner, kinder.

It’s the sort of sound that makes you nostalgic for the good old days, when men were men, women were women, and botties were smacked. By golly we miss those halcyon, smoke-hazed days, before the cultural assassins in the Stalinist SNP tried to rob us of our right to smack: a right that is as sacred to us Scots as is the right to bear arms to the Americans, by God! And we will fight to defend that right!

I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll organise a protest outside of the Scottish parliament: six-thousand angry parents and their six-thousand passive, blank-faced children. We’ll march them up to the front door, whip their trousers down, bend them over our knees and show Nicola Sturgeon that we mean business with the world’s biggest six-hour-long, six-thousand-bum synchronised smacking, the sound of which will fill the air like revolutionary gun-fire! Smack, smack, smack! Read our bums, Nicola! We won’t be turning the other cheek on this one. Well, we will be, as a matter of fact, but only so we can bloody well smack it, too!

…Language is a funny old thing, isn’t it? Time and again we bend and smash and smush and twist our words as though they were putty and paste, making paper machier towers that we let ourselves believe are permanent, solid, unbreakable. We build words around us like ramparts, and take up sniper positions behind them; we try on words like we’re shopping for clothes, seeking out dazzling combinations that accentuate our wealth, power, sex appeal, or contrition – does my guilt look thinner in this sentence? – or else use them to reinvent ourselves entirely; sometimes we use words as shields to protect us from the force of the truth: the truth of who we are and what we do: enemy combatant; extraordinary rendition; my honourable friend; friendly fire; constructive dismissal; it’s not you it’s me; McDonalds Happy Meal.

‘Smacking’ isn’t really smacking, you see: it’s hitting. Why don’t you try saying that instead? ‘Smacking’ is hitting a small, defenceless child, and that’s true regardless of the strength of the hit, or whether the point of impact is a bottie, a thigh, an arm, a face or a chest.

If you’re defending what you perceive as your universal human right to smack a child, then at least be honest about it. Rip the mask from the face of that word to reveal its true identity, and lay bare your own sub-Lecter-ish lust for pain and power. Spell out your intentions both to yourself and to the world at large. Shout it from the rooftops: ‘I demand the right to hit and inflict pain on the fruits of my loin without consequence or interference, whenever I see fit and however spurious the reason.’

In terms of self-delusion there’s very little difference between ‘I don’t beat my children, for goodness sake, I just give them a light corrective smack’ and ‘I’m not an alcoholic, for goodness sake, I wait until at least lunchtime before having my first drink!’

‘Yea, yea, yeah, you ponce!’ you might cry. ‘But I got smacked, and it never did me any harm!’

Ah, that familiar cry, countered so many times by the now-equally familiar cry, ‘Yes it did, because you believe that it’s okay to hit children.’ I’ve noticed that the most ardent supporters of ‘smacking’ are usually those upon whose faces you can see the tragic consequences of a life lived through shortcuts in a permanent present tense: crumbling teeth; unkempt hair; blotched and bloodshot eyes that show the world a map of impulse forever left unchecked.

Probably best to eschew parenting advice from someone who’s lazy and blinkered enough to hit first and ask questions later.

Plus, if smacking is your go-to punishment of choice, how do you punish your child for hitting somebody? By hitting them? What message does that send? Especially since they may be hitting other people precisely because you’ve taught them that hitting is permissible.

‘But how else will children learn right from wrong?’

Take violence from our toolbox, and we’re powerless! It’s true. That’s why we still beat children in schools, and our boss is legally entitled to smash us in the face with a tyre iron. That’s why when the judge is about to pronounce sentence in the courtroom he might say something like: ‘The defendant has been found guilty on all counts of his robbery charges. Now bring him here so I can kick the fuck out of him.’

I can understand the impulse to hit. Of course I can, I’m a human being, and I live in a world that contains Piers Morgan. I can even understand the impulse to hit a child. No creature on earth can inspire such anger, and scream-inducing helplessness and frustration as your own child. But I would never – and could never – do it. I don’t think I could ever look my kids in the eye again, and I’d feel like an irredeemable failure as a father.

In no other sphere of life do we condone hitting as a solution. Even savagely violent, hopelessly recidivistic killers are spared violence as a behaviour modification tool. Looking for another reason not to hit your child? Let reason itself be your reason. Behold the maxim below that’s been floating around cyberspace in meme form for quite some time now:

Now that our eldest son, Jack, is approaching the age of reason, we’ve started using a sticker-based behaviour-modification system, through which good behaviour can be recognised, rewarded and reinforced, and bad behaviour can be circumnavigated. It’s not a perfect system, granted, but it seems to achieve its aims without causing major psychological damage. The other week, Jack was trying to pilfer a biscuit before bedtime; he had a hand inside the bag with a biscuit held between his fingers in a vice-like pincer grip. When I calmly advised that his current course of action would result in the immediate loss of a sticker, he couldn’t have dropped that biscuit any quicker if I’d been an armed New York cop shouting ‘Freeze, dirtbag!’

On a few occasions, thanks to the child’s method of learning and evolving through mimicry, he put on his best faux-cross-face and told me he was going to take a sticker away from ME.

Replay that scene again, mimicry and all, but this time imagine that I’d hit him.

‘Kids will run wild if you don’t show them who’s boss.’

It’s hard to believe that we once allowed teachers to belt our children up and down the schoolyard, making our own flesh-and-blood handy scapegoats for everything wrong in a teacher’s life from sexual frustration to really bad hangovers.

But there are still those who would give a wildly disingenuous defence of smacking, both private and corporal. They’ll tell you that there’s a direct correlation between the ban on corporal punishment, and a decline of discipline, order and respect in today’s society. That somehow if we were to take the next logical step and ban smacking entirely then discipline would cease to exist. Instead of there being negative consequences for misbehaviour, kids would instead be disproportionately rewarded for their breaches: “Ah, I see you’ve thrown a television through the window of the old folks’ home, Timmy. What would you say to a lovely new Playstation 4, slugger?” (PS: If anyone should be beaten for their transgressions, it should be me for splitting an infinitive in the previous sentence)

You want to be disingenuous? I can be disingenuous too. My friends, there’s a direct link between corporal punishment and child beatings, and the advent of both world wars. Violence begets violence, you see.

We can’t live in the past. We have to move forward. Learn from our mistakes. As has become abundantly clear in recent months and years, there are many among us content to hark back to the good old days, which weren’t really all that good anyway. They wish they still lived in a world where they could be thirty-thousand feet in the air in an aeroplane piloted by a shit-faced captain, knocking back whiskeys, maniacally chain-smoking, free to punch their child in the face should they have the temerity to cough, and occasionally stopping to hurl sexually-charged racial abuse at one of the stewardesses: ‘Phwoar, you’re alright for a darkie, sweetheart!’

I don’t think the smacking ban has a realistic chance of being properly policed or enforced, but it might just open up the issue to public scrutiny – as it’s doing right now – and perhaps dissuade parents from adding smacking to their parental repertoire. The ban, however symbolic its application, will at least amplify the message, loud and clear, that we don’t live in that world anymore.