Parental Rights vs the Nanny State

In the minds of many, there are no more scarier words than these: “Hi, we’re from the government and we’re here to help you”. Patronising government bureaucrats can certainly come up with some nightmarish scenarios. When governments become convinced they need to micromanage parenting, for example, they end up subsuming the role of parents – usually a recipe for disaster. The truth is, parents are the best placed to know how to parent their children, not faceless government bureaucrats.

A good example of this nanny state mentality was revealed last week: $2.5 million of our tax dollars were spent on a campaign aimed at making parents feel guilty about smacking their children.

The “Every Child is Important” campaign has been developed by the Australian Childhood Foundation and is supported by the Australian Government. It has produced a booklet and website to encourage parents to give up smacking. Of course the ACF had been a long-time advocate of making smacking illegal. So it is an advocacy group with noble motives – to reduce child abuse – but with misguided aims – to make smacking illegal.

While such campaigns are meant to lessen child abuse – a legitimate concern – they end up working against parental authority: the ability of parents to control and discipline their own children. This is because these campaigns effectively equate corporal punishment with abuse, or at least imply that smacking is counterproductive and leads to child abuse.

While we should all be concerned about child abuse, we should also be concerned about those who are unable, or unwilling, to distinguish between child abuse and physical discipline. We already have laws on the books against assault, abuse, and so on. But smacking is not abuse.

Most parents know this difference. They know that a smack done in love, as a last resort, is often the most loving thing they can do. It is part of parental control. The anti-smackers usually say reasoning and discussion is much better than smacking. Do these experts actually have any kids of their own? Many don’t, I suspect.

The truth is, while you can reason with a teenager, or ban a 10-year-old from the Playstation, you cannot reason with a toddler. If they are about to touch an open flame or run on to a busy street, a logical discussion of the issue is not the way to go. A quick smack of the wrist or backside may be just the thing needed to prevent harm, danger, or in other cases, disrespect and rebellion.

Of course the great majority of parents know all this. But if the anti-smackers have their way, they will effectively undermine the rights of parents to set boundaries, to control their children, and to administer discipline.

I repeat, child abuse is always wrong. But smacks done in moderation and in love are not types of violence or abuse. And it is worth looking at the evidence of what bans on smacking actually achieve.

Invariably when the anti-smackers come out with their agenda, the nation of Sweden is brought up. This is because Sweden was the first nation to ban smacking, back in 1979. Part of the reason for the ban was that it was hoped that it would reduce child abuse.

OK, so what does the evidence tell us? What can we learn from the Swedish experiment? In 1996 an important study into child abuse in Sweden was published. It found, among other things, that Swedish data indicated a 489% increase in one child abuse statistic from 1981 through 1994, as well as a 672% increase in assaults by minors against minors.

The study concluded with these words: “We need better research to understand the complexities involved in parental discipline, including its relationship to child abuse. We need to discriminate effective from counterproductive forms of discipline responses, including the role of different forms of corporal punishment in increasing or decreasing the risk of child abuse. We also need better evaluations of policies designed to change parental discipline, given that the effects of the Swedish anti-spanking law seem to have had exactly the opposite effect of its intention, at least in the short term.”

A 2005 study came to similar conclusions. It finished with these words: “there is no objective evidence that the overall situation has improved for children in countries that have adopted smacking bans”.

Much more evidence of this kind can be produced. The truth is, most parents love their children and do right by their children. They are not violent nor abusive, and they know that smacks have a place in parental control and discipline.

The next time the Government wants to spend our tax dollars on programs to deter child abuse, they should do so more wisely. For example, they should be targeting the at-risk groups. The evidence is quite clear, for example, that child abuse is much more likely to take place in broken homes, and in non-biological two-parent family homes. Thus step-parents, live-ins, de factos and boyfriends, for example, are much more likely to commit child abuse than a biological mother or father.

And substance abuse – be it alcohol or illicit drug use – is also a leading factor in child abuse. If we want to get serious about child abuse, we should be targeting those situations which are most likely to produce abuse, instead of seeking to make the majority of parents feel guilty for using smacking as part of parental control and discipline.

As I said in two TV interviews, one radio interview, and one newspaper interview about this issue last week, if we criminalise smacking, we will simply manage to turn millions of parents into criminals over night. This is the nanny state going overboard. And it is something we just do not need.

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25 Replies to “Parental Rights vs the Nanny State”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. The trouble with the anti-smacking campaign is that it assumes that smacking has the same effect on children as other forms of violence. Many people, including me, could tell them otherwise.

    I was smacked growing up. I was also physically bullied in school. Smacking did not harm me; in fact, it helped me, as it was part of a consistent platform of discipline that taught me right from wrong.

    The high school bullying, on the other hand, almost destroyed me.

    I’m not sure how this works. I can only assume it has something to do with the arbitrary character of abuse as opposed to discipline.

    PS. Another example of things that cause pain without causing harm: dentists.

    Mark Newton, Melbourne

  2. The government bureaucrats behind the “Every Child is Important” anti-smacking campaign are not just ignoramuses but if the title of their campaign means anything, are rank hypocrites as well. No doubt many of the same people who want to outlaw smacking are happy with our liberal abortion laws.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  3. I suspect banning smacking will have the opposite effect that is intended. Kids who aren’t disciplined properly will grow up without a clear appreciation of right and wrong and will be more likely to bully and abuse other children. This will produce more misery for other kids. And as Markk pointed out, it is better to be smacked by your parents than to receive bullying.

    But these soughts of counter effective results are typical of what happens when government bureaucracy interfers into the jurisdiction of the family. They will succeed in stopping parents disciplining their children where it counts, will not prevent abusive parents and not be capable of dealing adequately with delinquent and behaviourially challenged children.

    Damien Spillane

  4. The anti-smacking campaigners are reactionaries. They are not wise visionaries. I have been an active supporter of numerous adults, who have suffered over their lifetimes from some form of child abuse.

    Their problems do not originate from receiving a few well-controlled, disciplinary smacks, as children. If only.

    Unfortunately the anti-smacking crew lack basic wisdom on this one. They miss the true value and purpose of pain. It warns of danger. They miss the real criminal. (Ah! But at least they have someone swinging from the gallows! …a few well-adjusted, kind and caring parents)

    To go down this ‘ban all smacking’ track, is actually to take society on a naive, ideological stroll out onto the fast, furious, dangerous freeway of lawlessness.

    Anti-smackers: misguided pop-psychologists? Perhaps. Or rebels – who despise authority – except their own – and who have never grown up! But demand that everyone in the playground play by their rules. Or else they will squeal endlessly.

    Trevor Faggotter

  5. There is a world of difference between just punishment and random violence. Children who receive a smack for disobedience know they deserved it. The argument of the anit-smaking lobby makes as little sense as calling capital punishment ‘judicial murder’. The nexus between offence and consequence is lost altogether.
    John Nelson

  6. Great article Bill. There is nothing wrong with loving correction. As a teacher, I see every day the results of parents not adequately disciplining their children. The children do not respect any form of authority, are often a law unto themselves and end up running the home. I have indeed counselled many a stressed out parent, but by the time they realise they have applied the wrong strategy and want to get things in order, the children are usually too old to respond. A sad but all too familiar story.
    George Kokonis

  7. I suppose it is possible that child abuse and violence in Sweden actually has decreased, but that instances of legitimate corporeal discipline are now included in the statistics as ‘assaults’ on the children receiving that benefit.

    What do you think the position of loving disciplinarian parents should be when smacking is criminalised? Would you start a campaign of civil disobedience? Try to work with what we are allowed? Something else?

    Cheerio, Dale Flannery

  8. Thanks Dale

    Hopefully it won’t get to that here, although New Zealand is well on the way. Yes, mass disobedience by parents and other concerned citizens to such tyrannical laws may be a possible option. But my preference would be to make sure it does not come to pass in the first place. We must be vigilant about such anti-parent and anti-family legislation, and do all we can to ensure it does come about. With a recent poll showing a whopping 88 per cent of Australians opposed to smacking being outlawed, hopefully when push comes to shove, the majority will stand up for their rights.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. If we ban smacking isn’t that the same as insisting that the police and army use licorice bullets?
    Or will it result in more police action being necessary to counter adults who did not receive adequate discipline?
    Peter Newland

  10. Bill, excellently argued and well-researched post! The statistics on Sweden are particularly interesting. This is something that I have given a lot of thought to, namely the European experiment overall. Here are some other figures:

    Other countries that have followed the Swedish example are Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Ukraine and Netherlands.(EPOCH-USA, 2007a).

    Several countries making progress toward bans against corporal punishment of children in all settings, including homes, are Switzerland, Poland, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, Belgium, United Kingdom of Great Britain, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Portugal, Fiji, Taiwan, Colombia, Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands (Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 2007). Current information is regularly posted on the website

    In fact, in some of the countries listed in the second ‘pending’ group, there is already widespread community opposition to spanking. For example, in Switzerland, where you have the dob-in-a-neighbour type culture, many parents are already intimidated about disciplining their children.

    It’s interesting that where spanking/smacking has been out of common practice for some time, there exists a liberal anti-authoritarianism, and a pacifist bent. In contrast, in countries where spanking is still a common practice used by loving parents, there still exists a dynamic will to fight for what is right and a great respect for God and country. Perhaps there is a correlation?

    Dee Graf

  11. Parents who smack their children should be awarded OAMs, not made to feel like lepers.
    Peter Barnes

  12. I am not sure of Kevin Rudd’s views on this. Perhaps he would be interested to know the views of his hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While awaiting execution for taking part in the resistance to Hitler, the Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, commented on the general breakdown of parental authority and diagnosed the problem as being that ‘Most parents today are too spineless.’
    Peter Barnes

  13. Here are some interesting links:

    Response to Sue Bradfords latest form email – this includes Sweden statistics

    Sweden’s Battered Women

    Sweden’s overall reported crime has increased dramatically

    and one last one catching Sue Bradford out trying to make it sound like child abuse has gone down in Sweden

    Barbara Smith

  14. Good one, Bill. Thank you for bringing these things to our attention. They can so easily slip by under our noses. I note the title of the campaign is “Every Child is Important.” This artfully implies that those who disagree are child abusers, real or latent. It is yet another manifestation of the ‘shut them up technique’ best illustrated by labelling critics of multiculturalism as ‘racist’ or critics of some aspects of feminism as ‘sexist’.
    I am also interested in the small focus of the anti-smackers. Do they believe that physical abuse is the only form of child abuse, or one day will raising one’s voice to a child be an offence? Are these the same people who, when an undisciplined adolescent commits a crime, demand that the parents be held responsible? They can’t have it both ways.
    Warm regards and sincere thanks,
    Kerry and Karen Bos

  15. Thanks, Bill. A succinct summary at the nub of the ‘argument’. Don’t need any more! The ‘Truth’ is so simple.
    David Shearer, Perth, West Australia

  16. As a member of Generation X, on the whole my parents did a good job of teaching me the values of morality respect for authority, and discipline. Sometimes, part of this discipline involved smacking. Though painful at the time, in the long run it did me more good than harm. There’s no way known I would consider this abuse, and I’ve retained those values to this day.
    Ross McPhee

  17. Dear Bill,

    Thank you for being bold enough to stand up for parents who long to raise well rounded, disciplined children who other people want to have around. Kerry Bos I am in agreeance with you on they cannot have it both ways!

    “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of rightesousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” Hebrews 12:11 (NIV). The hugs, kisses and loving smiles I received as a child far outway any discipline I received as a child.

    Keep on advocating for parents or our society will be filled with directionless kids who rob the joy of others through bullying and either take their own lives or the lives of others because they have no boundaries and have never been made to really feel and experience the consequences of their foolish actions.

    Also, as a parent, I see so often at school, teachers trying to deal with unruly children that have not been taught boundaries at home. It is not the responsibility of teachers to teach morals but rather reinforce what is being taught at home. Lack of discipline has such far reaching effects that these politicians neglect to consider when they try to introduce these “laws”. Perhaps we need more parenting education in schools as opposed to sexual education then we would not need these “laws”.

    Emma Rodgers

  18. Thanks Bill for your well written and articulated article. I don’t know what to say….I just can’t believe what these “anti -smackers” are trying to do. Since every child is important, it will be so irresponsible of us to allow them to grow up with no boundaries. As it is written, “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Almost every parent will agree that you can’t reason with a toddler so how else do we discipline them? If these politicians do take away with parents rights to smack their own children, I can’t imagine what our society will become. There are already lots of social problems as it is. God help us.
    Marion Teh

  19. Thanks Bill,
    The anti-smacking campaign sounds ridiculous, why? The wise men said, spare the rod, and spoil the child. The Bible says that too. The sixth sense should be with the parent. When do parents discipline their child and when do they abuse the child? A parent should know when she or he has crossed the line. If we say not to smack, then the parent is denied the power of guidance and direct the child to the ways of life and the parents should know why we smack! It’s because we love them. If what comes from your heart is hate, then you are abusing the child.
    Albert Kamau

  20. Smacking update

    In spite of the majority view on the topic and the divine guidance the anti-smackers continue to march forward determinedly in all key areas where they can achieve results.

    They appear to be pro-active but there doesn’t appear to be any organised opposition. It would be nice if some pro-smacking group formed that was as enthusiastic.

    In free parenting magazine “Aussie Kids” March edition at page 19 under the heading “Children’s Rights” an article from Matthew Love Solicitors states:

    “Imagine you were caught doing something illegal or dangerous, such as jay walking, and the police officer, in the lawful exercise of his duties, thought it best to publically smack your behind.

    Would you find this action to be degrading, humiliating, a violation of your human rights, or even criminal assault?”

    If I was jaywalking and a police officer thought it best to hold my hand while crossing the road I would also consider it pretty darn degrading, a violation of my human rights, and a trespass to my person but noone is talking about stopping that.

    Anyway while most people (who I assume are less cynical than myself) are fired up and feeling offended at the thought of being accosted by the imaginery police officer the article continues:

    “How about when a parent or teacher smacks a child for some wrong doing? Do the same principles apply as to an adult? If not- why?”

    Of course that isn’t a concluding question that readers will have time to think about. People as cynical as myself might wonder if it is just to convey the impression that there is no difference and that the preceding example has established that.

    “There are two opposing camps on the issue of corporal punishment of children – the parents who believe it is a sound and appropriate means of disciplining children, and those who would argue that it constitutes assault and is a violation of the child’s human rights.”

    So the parents who consider it appropriate don’t consider it a human right of the child to be appropriately guided? Why do we keep reading the message that it that only whacky minority opinions that care about children’s human rights?

    “Much of the Australian law relevant to the rights of the child is based on the principles set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the UNCRC) which was ratified by Australia in 1990.

    Article 19 of the UNCRC requires governments to take all appropriate steps to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence. As a lawyer, I would say that the words “all forms of physical or mental violence” is broad enough to include corporal punishment.”

    As a lawyer they also know you can argue anything but they would know that most parties to that convention would not oppose corporal punishment and just didn’t draft the agreement to take into account such a misguided minority view.

    “Clearly many things done to children are abusive, and governments across the globe have no hesitation in stepping in to legislate against such abuse”

    So if this was a live issue they would have not hesitated to ban it.

    “It is worth considering however that 23 countries have banned all forms of corporal punishment, taking the view that it constitutes a wrongful treatment of a child.”

    How many countries have brought in Sharia law? If the numbers add up should we join them?

    “Australia is not one of those countries.”

    “In Australia parents may only use corporal punishment if it is reasonable…”

    “Schools are banned from using corporal punishment in the ACT, NSW, TAS and VIC. In WA corporal punishment is banned in State schools but not in private schools. In the NT it is permitted in all schools unless a parent expressly withholds their consent.

    In Qld and SA corpoal punishment is not expressly banned in scholls, however the education departments of both states have had policies in place since the early 1990’s which have phased out corporal punishment….”

    “The question of whether or not to use corporal punishment on your child remains hotly debated.”

    But all surveys indicate the overwhelming population have a common sense view. Where are the debates? Doesn’t the anti-smacking brigade just sneak in undetected and strike with a legislative change before people have a chance to debate it?

    “One of the difficulties in researching this area is that it is not possible to determine the degree of severity of the punishment from a bare statistic.

    Whilst studies show that children who are subjected to frequent corporal punishment are more likely to suffer behavioural and emotional difficulties, the statistics do not show whether the corporal punishment in those instances forms pare of a wider pattern of child abuse within the home.”

    After pumping rhetoric it finishes off with an attempt to sound reasonable.

    Nevertheless in reality parents know the difference between excessive punishment that results in becoming an eligible subject for studies on spanking and reasonable chastisement just as the researchers do. However after at least 5000 years of reasonable chastisement being effective the researchers know what to look at before making implausible extrapolations from abused children who have been smacked. They know reasonable chastisement will have no ill effects but they don’t like it anyway.

    John Bennett

  21. Smacking a child is NOT child abuse. If you want to know what real child abuse is, become a foster carer. It will break your heart and be an honour all at the same time.
    Lynn Nerdal

  22. And the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has just re-opened the arguments.

    Heard a news bulletin yesterday or today from them, with the separate backing of the old lefty-crew at NAPCAN, saying that all smacking is abuse.

    Vanity, vanity, all is vanity and striving after wind.

    John Angelico

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