Smacking children and the power differential

Whilst I was travelling recently in Slovenia and Serbia I was asked by a number of people my thoughts about parents smacking children. In those two countries they are currently debating if it should be illegal for parents to smack children. I answered the question by not answering it.

For the parent child relationship to work successfully there must be a power difference between the parent and the child. The parent in the relationship must have more power than the child, for the child to successfully psychologically develop through the various stages.

For children (and adults) power is a doubled edged sword. On the one hand it is not nice to be the more powerless one in a relationship. When one is dependent on another they feel like they are “in the other person’s hands”. It is a psychologically perilous position to be in.

Bear lady

However a lack of power for the child also allows it to have a sense of security. The powerful one can look after it because it is more powerful. It knows much more about the world, the long term outcomes of particular behaviour, right and wrong and so forth. The child can let the parent take charge of all this and simply be a child. It can experience dependence and a sense of security which are essential for normal child development. Of course if the parent abuses their power over the child then it wont experience a sense of security. But it also can never experience the sense of security unless it is powerless in the first place.

I am not arguing for or against laws about smacking of children. What I am saying is that at some point it has to stop. Using the law to take away more power from the parents simply leaves a child feeling more insecure. If the law continues to even up the power relationship then children will suffer. Smacking is one way a parent has more power than a child. If that is, by law removed, then one more bit of power is taken away

The law and human psychology are often poor bedfellows. There will always be a small group of parents who abuse the power they have over children. To respond by making more and more parenting styles and strategies illegal to my mind is a perilous path to follow. Education and other approaches seem wiser.

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