Jersey has become the first part of the British Isles to ban smacking, after voting to repeal the Channel Island’s existing law which permits parents to use “reasonable” force.
Following the vote, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield said that the law on smacking should be overhauled beyond Jersey. “It should be updated to reflect what the majority of parents believe: that hitting children is wrong,” she told the Mirror.
At the moment, the law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland states that it’s unlawful for a parent or carer to smack their child “except where this amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’.”
The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are current consulting on whether smacking should be banned and are likely to change the law later this year.
[Read More: Is it illegal to smack children in the UK?]
Liat Hughes Joshi, a parenting author and commentator, told HuffPost UK smacking is not the best choice for parents. “If we look at the research, it shows that smacking is not effective,” she says. “Many people think, ‘well, it didn’t do me any harm’ – and believe parents should have the choice. But research shows that overall, it does do harm.”
Joshi would support a ban across the UK. “Wales and Scotland are consulting on it at the moment – it’s just England that’s the outlier. But to me, it’s clear-cut,” she says. “I believe categorically that the rest of the UK should follow suit with a complete smacking ban.”
But Dr Amanda Gummer, a child development psychologist and founder of parenting website Fundamentally Children, disagrees with Joshi. “We are increasingly disempowering parents,” she says. “There’s a massive difference between a parent giving a child a smack on the wrist because they’re in danger of putting their hand in a fire, and physical or emotional abuse.
I believe categorically that the rest of the UK should follow suit with a complete smacking ban."Liat Hughes Joshi,
Statistics show that many people are happy with the status quo – the latest YouGov poll, conducted in 2017, showed that 59% of parents did not believe smacking should be banned. But studies have shown a link between smacking and psychological problems in adulthood, including symptoms of depression, drinking moderate or heavy amounts of alcohol, and taking drugs.
Joshi argues that one of the problems with smacking is that it tells the child they’ve done something wrong – but doesn’t explain what they should do instead. “It just boosts their levels of cortisol, activates the fight-or-flight response, and makes them stressed and anxious,” she says.
“If you’re feeling stressed and a bigger person has just smacked you, you’re not physically going to be able to listen or learn. You’re too busy crying. It’s just not a very sensible thing to do.”
Joshi points towards using other methods to discipline and motivate children, such as using rewards like star charts and marble jars, or depriving them of screen time or pocket money. “Different children respond to different methods. You just have to find what works best for your child,” she says.
But Gummer believes if a child is in a loving family, is emotionally safe and secure and gets an odd smack when they’re really overstepping the mark, it’s not going to cause any lasting damage. “Legislating for this kind of thing can be dangerous,” she adds.
“The better approach is to equip parents with alternative strategies – if you’ve got a child who just won’t listen, or who is constantly hitting others, the only way might be to show him or her what it feels like. Otherwise, how will they learn?”