Does Smacking Really Work?

What is Corporal Punishment?

Corporal punishment (which I will refer to as (CP) in this article); is defined as the use of physical force towards the child for the purpose of control and/or correction, and as a disciplinary penalty inflicted on the body with the intention of causing some degree of pain or discomfort, however mild. This can include smacking biting, slapping, forcing a child to kneel on objects or even forcing a child to sit in an uncomfortable position for an amount of time.
Does this seem crazy to you that something like this could possibly be legal, yet you are not allowed to carry these actions out upon your husband, wife, or elderly parent etc?

What are the legalities?

The legality of the action used depends on factors such as; the age of the child, the method of  the punishment, the child’s capacity for reasoning and the harm that was caused to the child. Here in Australia there are guidelines to what is ‘reasonable’ within CP ‘rules’. In the US, smacking on the bottom is one of the most common forms of CP. Smacking is within these rules and is one of the many forms of acceptable CP in Australia. The CP of children is highly debated within many societies, including Australia due to its harsh nature of using physical force and temporary pain to control a child’s behaviour.
The CP of children has been criminalised in many counties; one exception to that is Australia. However, in Australia, it is illegal to smack or hit any person with force, no matter race or sex; as it is to be considered physical assault by law. Yet the smacking of a child, leaving no permanent mark yet with force is considered legal. Knowing this produces one question; should it be illegal to physically hurt children to control their behaviours while it is illegal to do the same to an adult?

The ban of CP in Sweden and the impact on their society…

One of the first countries in the world to legally ban the use of CP on children was Sweden in 1979; this was followed by a further 23 countries. Since the ban of CP in Sweden was brought in, the use of CP has declined; in 1980, 51% of children had been punished with physical force and by the year 2000 that number had declined dramatically to 14%.  A study in 2002 concluded that ‘Legal bans on Corporal Punishment are closely associated with decreases in support of and use of Corporal Punishment’, meaning that as the legislation changed within these countries, the CP of children decreased.  With CP’s ban, society’s opinions on what was believed to be an act of violence had also changed. These societies began to realise that smacking a child was an act of violence; as it was deemed illegal in the name of the law. Another recent study had also claimed that smacking a child is considered an effective way to discipline a child, as it is effective in achieving immediate child compliance, these claims argue that smacking teaches a child respect for authority and self-discipline. Despite these claims a further study conducted by Gershoff in 2002 identified why parents might use CP, and had discovered that many parents used CP to ‘increase their children’s immediate and long term compliance and to decrease their children’s aggressive and anti-social behaviours.’

How smacking a child to teach them not to smack or to behave themselves works, we will never know. Fear is no way to teach a child. Fear has no place in a well adjusted society.

Does it work or doesn’t it and what harm can it do?

A substantial number of studies debate that despite its effectiveness to control a child’s behaviour using fear and punishment, ‘the preponderance of evidence suggests that it is an ineffective discipline strategy that is correlated with poor developmental outcomes.’ The study by Gershoff reviewed 300 studies on the use of Corporal Punishment and discovered that CP ‘increases childhood moral internalisation, aggression, delinquent behaviour, antisocial behaviour, decreased quality of parent and child relationship, negative behavioural symptoms and higher rates of physical abuse victimisation by the child.’   

The study also indicated that 63% of incidents of childhood physical abuse had originally intended to be used an act of Corporal Punishment to correct their behaviours. Unfortunately though in many cases, even though parents did not wish to harm their child they found that their use of smacking had then escalated to physical abuse.
Despite their best intentions.

The physical abuse of a child more often than not leads to mental health issues later in life, As the development of the child at an age of importance can be hindered by their parents attempts at ‘discipline’. The chances of a child or adult that was smacked as a child having issues with anxiety and depression is also increased with the use and frequency of smacking. In addition to that; over time the threat of a smack or the continuous smacking of a child can cause an individual stress, and/or anxiety and depression causing adult to contribute less to society as a well- functioning adult. Many parents often believe that by smacking their child they are raising a well-adjusted child that will respect their elders and those around them; however, the child may have a different understanding of what the smack means. Children often may not completely understand why they are being smacked or how it helps teach them a lesson. Children have reported often feeling estranged from their parents after being smacked. It is also argued that children often feel like they can not trust their parents or feel close to their parents, as the parent is also the one that hurts them, therefore shy away from speaking to them about issues and/or situations where they may feel they could be punished or disciplined by them. There is also a strong link between CP and aggressive and/or anti-social behaviours in childhood, it is often easy to spot the child who has grown from infancy to school age with a Pro-smacking family, they tend to be the child who smacks or hits in response to others not behaving in ways that they desire.
Considering this; it is also not surprising to find that this effect on them continues into adulthood. The child has already learned that aggression can control others and can force others to behave in a way that they desire and if not rectified soon enough in childhood, that same attitude surrounding the use of aggression and aggressive behaviours, will continue to be an issue throughout adulthood.
Adults who were smacked as children have an increased likelihood to also act aggressively toward their partners and even their own children, therefore beginning yet another cycle of family aggression and violence, something that our Australian society is trying so diligently to rectify.

Is there a negative to banning the use of CP?

Despite the positives that come with making smacking illegal; there are issues to making smacking a criminal offence. Many parents have already smacked their children or have been smacking their children in the past. Could making smacking an offence open a profusion of cases against parents who smacked their children ‘back in the day’. Many parents have also smacked their child/children in an isolated occurrence out of frustration or stress and upset due to their own circumstances, with no intent of any kind other than their own cure to their own frustration, then completely admitting they are at fault. Additionally, these parents may have also been smacked as children and have not learned that there was ever another way to discipline, as after all generally; society parents the only way it knows how.
Could bringing in such laws mean more parents will be charged with an offence for a one-off mistake?
It is; without doubt, a vital component to the laws; that there must be policies in place to assist the law to evaluate the correct way to punish those who do offend. In the above-mentioned countries and various 23 others, all but two laws mention prison sentences as a possible consequence of CP while other punishments can include community service and fines. However, by enforcing such legal bans on CP could help enforce a society to look at other more beneficial and more socially acceptable ways to discipline our children, without the option of CP.

There are other ways to teach a child right, from wrong, and many other ways to discipline a child.

How will this help parents?

While making CP illegal could cause many families some stress due to a change in disciplinary strategies, parents could potentially use the change in law to benefit them, by learning new ways of parenting meaning a better relationship for the parents and their children. Many parents are often willing to learn new skills when it comes to parenting and if support services intervened correctly it could mean parents will find they have no need to smack their children. Eventually new strategies could be put in place for at risk families to teach them how to connect with their children using less-invasive and less-negative disciplinary strategies and as a result society will benefit.  I believe that parents can be ‘taught highly effective alternative strategies’ to replace CP, nevertheless the most important issues to consider first are that; it is vital to support families and not to criminalise them. These laws are not in place to hurt families, these laws are in place to support good parenting practices. These laws should not be made law as to cause distress to families but to work with them to help them develop their own parenting skill set. A skill set to assist them in developing well-adjusted and unharmed children and adults to attain a positive future.

Should children have the same human rights as adults?

The use of CP on children is a human rights issue, given that it is illegal to hit an adult and to hurt another human being is a violation of human rights. To use force upon an adult is beyond reasonable doubt; a criminal offence, therefore one might assume that to do the same to a child would be even more so a crime.

Let us assume that our children are just like adults, merely smaller, younger and less knowledgeable, yet undeniably human.

Should our children not be considered under the human rights act because of their smaller younger stature? Only because they have not been taught the way we have, because they have not been a part of the world for as long as we have?

Does an Australian society believe that children don’t have those rights because they are younger, less matured and because they don’t know any better?

Do they not have these rights because we have not taught them about the world yet.  If our society can not think of anything but to chastise and physically hurt a child to teach them an important lesson, what are we teaching the future generations? To physically cause discomfort to another human being if that someone does not do what they want or need them to right away. Is that not what we are trying to avoid in our society?
This conflict, this aggression? Have we not learned anything from what we as a society have already witnessed? And if anything shouldn’t their size and age should give them more rights to protection from those that intend to harm them than someone twice their size?

So should smacking be illegal in Australia?

Yes, and the negative effects of the use surrounding smacking children should be enough to deter its use, however, parents often do not know of any other way to control a child quickly and effectively. The benefit of knowing this now is also knowing that there needs to be more education provided for parents surrounding this, the effects of smacking a child can last a lifetime as with any childhood abuse.
As a society, we are all after better, bigger and brighter future.  A better society starts with the children grow ourselves. Our societies and cultures need to educate the parents better so that Australia can have a society with well-adjusted future adults; meaning a well-adjusted and just society.
Mental health is a consistent issue in Australian society and it is only on the rise. Finding a better way to parent, a more strategic way to figure out how to get through to a child means so much more to the world than we will ever know especially when it comes to the mental health of our future adults, as they are our future.
Given the evidence in other countries such as Sweden, it appears illogical to not ban something that has such negative effects on our youth. Legal bans on CP use can be used to reinforce positive parenting techniques and to deter physical violence, and with the evidence swaying toward the ban of CP in the clear majority of studies it is almost undeniable that smacking can certainly have a lasting negative effect that can flow into generations to come.

*In text references have been removed from this article for the readers ease, if you would like to read more on this please look into the references below for more information. 


Holzer, P & Lamont, A 2010, ‘Corporal Punishment: Key Issues’, National Child Protection Clearinghouse, resource Sheet, Child Family Community Australia
Kish, Antonia M and Peter A Newcombe. “‘Smacking never hurt me!” Identifying myths surrounding the use of corporal Punishment’-Sciencedirect”. N.p., 2015

Maguire-Jack, K., Gromoske, A.N., & Berger, LM.(2012). Spanking and child development during the first 5 years of life. Child Development, 83 (6), 1960-1977.

Gershoff, Elizabeth T. “More harm than good: a summary of scientific research on the intended and unintended effects of corporal punishment on children.” Law and Contemporary Problems, Spring 2010, p. 31+. Expanded Academic ASAP, Accessed 27 June 2017.

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