As MSPs this week prepare to vote on a Bill making it illegal for parents to physically punish their children, we ask experts on both sides of the debate to assess the implications of a smacking ban for thousands of Scottish families.
Mary Glasgow, Chief executive of Children 1st
Changing the law will help every parent fulfil their ambitions for their children.
Mum or dad, gran or granda, auntie, uncle, or close family friend, I imagine that what you want for the children in your life is what I want for mine – for them to feel loved, safe and happy in the arms of their family and to grow up to be secure and confident adults.
When I was a kid, we knew nothing about the potential impact of physical punishment.
Today, masses of robust research shows that physical punishment doesn’t help children become the adults we all want them to be.
Evidence and experience shows it doesn’t work as a way of disciplining children and can cause long-term harm to relationships.
When my son was wee, I was forever telling him that hitting people wasn’t right.
So, how could I ever justify raising my own hand to him, for any reason?
There are other, better ways of getting children to behave well that don’t run the risk of escalating to an even stronger or sorer level of violence.
I think this is why, over recent years, Scotland has seen a steady drop in the use of physical punishment.
Today’s parents are much less likely to use physical punishment than previous generations.
And they are supporting the campaign to change the law now.
That’s not a reflection on what happened in the past, it’s a reflection of what we know now, and the kind of country we want to be in the future.
So it’s sad to see a small number of campaigners trying to worry families by spreading misinformation in a bid to prevent the Scottish Parliament from changing the law so that parents can no longer use physical punishment.
As both a mum and someone who has spent 30 years working alongside children, if I thought this legislation would harm families rather than help them I would not support it.
Contrary to what opponents of the Bill say, police and social workers are clear that if the law changes they would respond to someone raising a concern about a child in exactly the same way as they do now – proportionately and supportively.
Rather than increase pressures, social workers say that, in the long term, clarity brought by the introduction of the law will free up resources, giving them more time to support families in greatest need.
Some 52 countries have already banned physical punishment.
Experience shows there has been no increased criminalisation of parents.
It’s especially reassuring to look to Ireland, where the law change is almost identical to what is being proposed at Holyrood.
Officials in Ireland report only one offence since the law was reformed in 2015 and say it has had a positive impact for families.
Children and their families do better without physical punishment.
It can only help parents if the law now makes that clear.
That way, every parent can get on with doing what does work best for their family and help to fulfil their ambitions for their children.
Mary Glasgow is chief executive of Scotland’s national children’s charity with 30 years’ experience of working in children’s social work and social care for local authorities and third sector organisations
Tommy Mackay, Consultant child psychologist
I am a consultant child psychologist and a chartered scientist.
In the first of these roles I have a duty to protect children and in the second I have a duty to base my views on a careful analysis of evidence.
In both roles I am opposed to a ban on smacking. I fully respect the good aims of those who support it, but I am against it for the following reasons.
I believe it will not achieve its goal to protect children. As is often the case when a new law is felt to be the answer to a social evil, the real problems won’t be solved.
The people from whom children really need protection will continue with their neglectful and abusive actions.
It is disproportionate. The smacking ban is inappropriately excessive for parents whose children are not in need of additional legal protection.
It has potential to criminalise loving parents whose children themselves take the view that they are part of a secure and affectionate family.
It will lead to an increase in reporting alleged breaches of the law, even among parents who do not normally use smacking but who may smack if their children wilfully place themselves in danger and need an immediate sharp response to deter them in future.
Children whose parents are reported are likely to be interviewed by professionals such as police and social workers. While this is appropriate for actual child abuse, it will have potentially adverse outcomes for entire families and for parent-child relationships.
It will increase the number of malicious and false allegations leading to an innocent parent coming under investigation. This is already a problem in the ever-increasing number of court cases where separated parents are fighting over contact and residence.
My work and publications in this field have shown how damaging the problem already is for children.
It will unduly discriminate against many people of faith – loving parents, devout Christians, Jews and Muslims.
Thousands who believe the one who created us set good, positive and proportionate rules on punishment will find themselves in conflict with a law that criminalises them for following them.
It may not even be welcome to many children, who do not at all like smacking but nonetheless prefer it to other punishments, such as being grounded. I was one of these
children, and so were many of my friends.
There will be an increased demand on public resources, such as the police, who are already overstretched.
Increased resource demand is only justifiable where the issues to be addressed are proportionate and essential.
Being able to smack when required supports the authority and confidence of many parents who are not naturally good in establishing their authority by other means.
They will lose an effective tool for ensuring adequate control in bringing up their children.
Despite the claims of those who cite “evidence”, which I can only assume they have not read and certainly have not studied adequately, research does not support the view that smacking is harmful to children and their future development.
Abuse of academic evidence provides no basis for framing the laws of our country.
For all of these reasons I support the majority of loving and caring parents in opposing the introduction of a smacking ban in this country.
Professor Tommy MacKay is a consultant child psychologist and former President of the British Psychological Society.