THE divisive, age-old question – is it right or wrong for a parent to slap a child – has raised its controversial head once again with the publication yesterday of a survey from two Irish children's organisations.
A report commissioned by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Children's Rights Alliance shows that three in five parents in Ireland have slapped their children. At the same time, three-quarters of adults do not believe slapping is an effective method of discipline, and 57pc support a total ban.
Both children's groups – who do excellent work – are using the findings to re-iterate their call on the Government to follow the example of 16 other EU countries by making it illegal in Ireland to slap children.
The survey has once again opened up the emotional debate on the rights or wrongs of lifting your hand when disciplining a child. Social media and the airwaves were full of it yesterday. Challenging parents' rights to hit their children is always guaranteed to get a reaction.
First, I want to put on record again that I have smacked my children on a few occasions when they were young. I am being totally honest in saying that. It is not something I am particularly proud of, or brag about. I don't condone violence against anybody.
I myself am of a generation where getting a clip on the ear at home, or a smack in school, was the norm and I don't think for a minute that it has ever done me any harm.
I doubt if there is a parent anywhere who has never lost it, or been on the verge of losing it, with their children at some stage. We are human. We are all under massive pressures and strive to be the perfect parents and to provide as best we can for our families. The grind of the daily routine can be very hard, and things snap and give.
Like it or not, giving a slap, or even the threat of giving one, can be a very effective way of getting children to behave. If, for example, your child is being giddy and is about to run across the road the instinct is to give a tap on the arm or leg to stop him or her. There is no time to cajole.
There was no great news in yesterday's survey results which predictably grabbed headlines. It tells us that most people already think smacking is illegal. No surprise there. The only new element is that that the number of people who support a ban on slapping has increased from 42pc five years ago to 57pc today. There are ample legal protections as it is. Corporal punishment is outlawed in schools and creches. A moderate and "reasonable" level of chastisement is permitted in the home. Campaigners claim this is open to interpretation and abuse.
I don't think laws should be introduced on the basis of public opinion or survey results. Because a certain number of people believe something does not mean it is right or that the Government should act. It is important to point out that while 57pc of people support a ban on slapping, 43pc don't hold that view.
Of course in an ideal world parents would not raise their hands to their children and would first look to non-violent ways of disciplining them. Calling so-called "time out", especially for smaller kids, is one I see friends and sisters using with results. Another obvious one is to withdraw privileges. Take away the iPad or smart phone, cut back on pocket money, or deprive them of a favourite toy. With older children and teenagers grounding them can be very effective indeed.
The one non-violent discipline often used – which I am totally against – is putting someone in the "naughty corner" either at home or in school. The humiliation of that can leave its own scars on a small person. In fact I wonder can punishing a child psychologically be as damaging as a smack. Is shouting and roaring and using rough words more preferable than a tap on the hand?
The ISPCC director of services, Caroline O'Sullivan, said at the launch of the survey yesterday that international research was overwhelming that slapping children was harmful to their physical, emotional and mental well being.
There are dozens of research reports. If you want you will find ones which also show that children are more likely to grow into well-adjusted adults if their parents are firm disciplinarians. For example, a 2009 study by researchers from London's Institute of Education says that traditional "authoritative" parenting, combining high expectations of behaviour with warmth and sensitivity, leads to more "competent" children. I think instead of the focus once again being on an outright ban on slapping children, the energies of these lobby groups should be put into devising and implementing a large-scale positive parenting campaign.
It is worth pointing out – and this you won't have seen in the survey headlines – that two-thirds of adults believe there isn't enough information available to parents relating to alternative methods of disciplining children. This shows the need and appetite for educational programmes to assist parents. So instead of outlawing slapping, let's focus on giving mothers and fathers support. Let's not beat them up – they are under enough pressure as it is.