It Never Hurt Me Any

There comes a point in a man’s life when he has to admit something he has resisted for many a year…

I’m turning into my father – although this has been a slow process, it is often quite hard to fight. I find myself getting grumpy at the slightest piece of poor driving for example, or I like to complain at things I’m not willing to do anything about to fix.

Of course, I am definitely not my father. And quite thankfully so as I think my wife would be somewhat concerned if I had suddenly morphed overnight into her father-in-law.

Do I have a point? When I started writing 6.5 minutes ago I was going somewhere with this. However, it seems I have wandered off track like the aimless career path of Michael Jackson following the last 30 years of advice from his many, many ‘yes’ men. Before I get back on track I have just one thing to say about that weird pseudo-paedo – man could he dance. Well two actually – did anyone ever find his other glove?

Back in the 70s, when my father had the most influence over me, giving a child a sound thrashing for disobedience, silly behaviour, swearing in the house, stealing etc, was an acceptable disciplinary option for many a parent. Both here in New Zealand and around the world I’m sure many mothers and fathers optioned the occasional chastisement in order to teach their children right from wrong. And it was fine – those were very different times. At one point in the 1970s Richard Nixon was a well respected US president, Iran was pre-republic, and Michael Jackson was black.

So when did it all change? I think the crunch would have been somewhere around 1980 – the year I turned 10. Although my father still used the spanking to discipline, Iran was no longer headed by a Shah, Nixon had been impeached and Jacko was on the road to being the King of Pop (his attempts at being the King of Soda Pop were to fail dramatically, however, after the product used to keep his afro straight exploded in a fireball during the filming of a Pepsi commercial). My dad stopped spanking me around this time, not because I stopped being naughty, far from it (that didn’t happen until my mid-twenties), by this time I was nearly as tall as him, so this kind of punishment was becoming ineffective.

During the 80s and 90s, the sound thrashing that was part of many children’s upbringing was on the decline. During the noughties, with the rise of Supernanny and her wonderful parenting skills, despite the stunning lack of any children of her own. I suppose it’s easy to practise experimental parenting when children aren’t yours (controversial comments once again Boon – grow up!). So Supernanny Jo Frost has shown 172 countries (ABC website bio) that you can raise children without the need to assault them with your hand, a wooden spoon, or some kind of buckled, leather, & gravity-defying trouser device.

So now we move to New Zealand and the current Citizen’s Initiated Referendum we have before us on the issue of smacking or spanking depending on what you want to call it. It was initiated following legislation being passed that outlawed excessive force being allowed to be used as a defence by parents ‘disciplining’ their children. But before I start talking about the subject of the referendum it’s important to point out a few things about referendums here in little old NZ…

  1. A Citizen’s Initiated Referendum is just that – initiated by the citizenry. All someone, or a group of someones has to do is gather up a petition with signatures from at least 10% of eligible voters.
  2. Once the petition has been organised then it is checked by the Clerk of the House to make sure nobody has signed it 500 times.
  3. As long as everything is in order, then it is presented to parliament and the Governor General sets the date or declares a postal referendum.
  4. We all vote on whether we agree or disagree with the question put to us.

All sounds pretty democratic… well, to be frank, it’s bollocks.

Firstly, the whole process is fraught with nonsensical gibbering from various interest groups. It is the people with strong viewpoints on the matter that initiate these referenda. They write the questions, so quite often the questions are politically charged and worded terribly. This current question is appalling: Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand? The organisers of this petition question were very cunning. If, like me, you’re against assaulting children in any way, you might decide to answer in the negative – I’m against smacking, so ‘no’. You would, in this circumstance, be voting in favour of hitting kids. The question is so bad that our prime minister John Key and leader of the opposition Phil Goff have both said it’s a waste of money and they might not even vote. Why couldn’t the question just read: Are you in favour of hitting children? If you answer positively to this question, then well done you dick.

Secondly, the whole process is a waste of time because this type of ballot is “non-binding” in that the government of the time can accept the result but the are under no obligation to pass any laws. And why would you? Punters are particularly good at having extreme viewpoints on a variety of issues – why should the politicians, who are all moderate, listen to the public they represent? I’m not sure if you can tell, but the inflection on that sentence is thoroughly sarcaticatory in nature.

Thirdly, because of the first two points, and the fact that this current referendum is costing $9 million ($US5.8 million), why are we even bothering. Couldn’t they save a whole bunch of money by doing a survey? Isn’t there something called the Internet now? Can’t we just log on to a secure page and vote there? I do Internet banking, inland revenue stuff and pay bills on-line using secure log ons all the time.

Fourthly, New Zealand has one of the worst rates of child abuse in the world. You wouldn’t think so, but about 6 or 7 times a year the news media will pick up on the story of a child – usually under 5 – who has faced such neglect and lack of respect that they have died at the hands of the people who are meant to be their carers. The last great example of this was a household of adults, who’ve since been convicted of murder & manslaughter, who ended up putting a 3 year old in a clothes drier and hanging her on the clothesline as punishment for crying. If you are in favour of disciplining children by hitting them in someway and/or with something, then you are on the slippery slope to abuse.

Think about it in this context: if I was to walk up to a person on the street, put them over my knee and give them a sound thrashing for something they had done, I would be charged with assault. There should be no difference for an adult who hits a child. Why should the size of a human determine the severity of the crime? Assault is assault – I don’t care what the bible says.

So, in summary, if you hit your kids you are a child abuser. We got rid of it out of schools in the 80s because it just doesn’t work in the long term. Nowadays there are many different options available to the parents – far more than when I was growing up when a pants-down hiding with the wooden spoon was considered appropriate. If you are a parent reading this and thinking, I smacked my child last week, does that make me a criminal – well yes it does, but you probably won’t get caught because nobody outside your family saw it. If you are wondering where to look, start with the Supernanny website – all sorts of wonderful material is available there, many bits you can download for yourself (rewards charts etc). I’m sure there are many others out there as well. Let Google be your guide.

Until New Zealanders realise that assaulting a child and disciplining a child are mutually exclusive, then our child abuse rate will continue to be above those of all other countries.

The naughty step is definitely the way of the future.

Boon x

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