David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, has aroused the ire of many by suggesting that one of the reasons behind last summer’s riots is that parents are afraid to smack their children.

In an interview with LBC Radio to publicise his book (Out Of The Ashes: After The Riots) Lammy said:

“Many of my constituents came up to me after the riots and blamed the Labour Government, saying: ‘You guys stopped us being able to smack our children’.

“I have to say when this was first raised with me I was pretty disparaging. But I started to listen. These parents are scared to smack their children and paranoid that social workers will get involved and take their children away.”

Whilst smacking has not yet be outlawed in the UK, the smacker must not leave a mark (including reddening of the skin) on the body of the child and the decision on whether or not the smacking is reasonable can be up to a social worker if someone complains.

Putting my amusement of Mr Lammy squirming as his constituents attacked legislation passed by a governing party of which he was a member to one side, as a Libertarian the use of smacking is an issue where I find myself slightly confused.

At first glance, it certainly seems to violate the ‘harm’ principle as when you are dealing with children the action cannot be consensual*. However as parent you are responsible for looking after your children and doing what is best for them.

As no decent parent particularly wishes to harm their children, smacking is not a first response to misbehaviour but the last one. If you are dealing with a repeat offence and other approaches have already been tried, a few smacks on the bottom to associate – in the mind of the child – certain unwanted behaviour with pain has to be an option.

If the end result is a better behaved child then is it a entirely bad thing?

Given my personal dislike of children it is unlikely that I will ever be put in the position to have to smack any of my own but if I was then I think I would, but only as the option of last resort.

It is probable though that my views on the matter are clouded by my own childhood experiences. Both my brother and I found ourselves turned over dad’s knee occasionally whilst we were growing up and, with the benefit of hindsight, we probably deserved it each and every time. Yes, it bloody well hurt (dad used either his hand or the slipper) but I doubt we found ourselves in that position more than once every 6 months and only then because we had well and truly crossed an already defined line.

Did it do either of us any harm? Well we both got to 18 without getting into trouble with the police so in the long run I’d say that somehow my parents managed to do an ok job.

* Adults are, of course, a different matter but that is entirely between you and your partner(s) ;-)


  1. Demelza says:

    The bigger question is whether it is the children or the parents who need a smack. In most cases what the children need most is a damned good listening to—delinquency comes from disfunctional relationships which starts with neglectful parents. This happens in the affluent classes as much as the lower.

  2. LC says:

    Hello – random lurker here.

    I’m not against smacking, but I think it needs to be done in a controlled and considered way – too many people just randomly belt their kids out of anger. If it’s reserved for situations when you know you’re waaay out of line, then it means something, but if it just happens every time your mum’s pissed off about something it stops being punishment and turns into abuse.

    • Misanthrope Girl says:

      Indeed so. Smack a child every time it steps out of line and the act soon loses any meaning. There are many other ways of punishing a child without resorting to force which is why such a thing should (usually) only be done after those options have been exhausted.

  3. JuliaM says:

    “Did it do either of us any harm? Well we both got to 18 without getting into trouble with the police so in the long run I’d say that somehow my parents managed to do an ok job.”

    Same here, though an actual smack was rare. We knew when we were getting close to that uncrossable line when we got ‘the look’!

  4. jameshigham says:

    I was only smacked once, when 2 years old, for pulling the knob off a radio. It was gentle but a shock and I was never smacked again. It has its place as a final resort once or twice in a lifetime.

  5. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    It is beyond me how anyone can conclude that someone with limited reasoning skills (ie a child) can be taught not to use violence by having violence inflicted on them?

    Young master SAOT is nearly three and can be challenging, but I’ll never hit him, nor tolerate anyone else doing so. Sometimes you need to restrain him if he is about to harm himself, but mostly its just explain and if necessary, out wait him.

    How can we advocate the non-aggression principle if we exclude the small and defenceless from it?

    • Furor Teutonicus says:

      XX How can we advocate the non-aggression principle XX

      We do????

      So, instead. you are left with a limp wristed wimp, that goes running to “Mummy”, or expects “the authoritys” to look after them, every time something “nasty” happens?

      • Single Acts of Tyranny says:

        The Non-aggression principle is the non-inititation of force, not the refusal to actively and strongly defend oneself. I teach him not to initiate force, but if he is attacked to hit back harder rather than go to the teacher.

        He’s not a wimp, limp-wristed or otherwise and can certainly look after himself in nursery school even at the tender age of (nearly) three. And I am sure that is the last time you will ever suggest otherwise of him.

        • Furor Teutonicus says:

          O.K. Maybe I misread your firts comment.

          Thanks for the clarification.

          Your philosopy appears to be what I would wish for, and “teach” my self.

          It appears, however, that many in this world confuse “non aggression” with laying down and letting the bad guys punch your lights out, without any thought of retaliation, or the Gods forbid, PREPARATION/WILLINGNESS to defend.

          I misread your comment to mean that. I apologise.

    • Angry Exile says:

      The non-aggression principle does not rule out violence and force, just the initiation of violence or force. As a response aggression is just fine, and depending on the situation it may even be appropriate to use a greater level of aggression than is shown by the initiator. With regard to smacking I’d say that means a smack when all else fails is okay when a child’s actions, due to their inability to see consequences, are going to do them more harm in the future than a smack will now. Conversely, beating the crap out of them for it will likely store up a lot of harm for the future and so is both unjustifiable if you’re being consequentialist about it and simply repugnant otherwise. So for example, a child that’s continually running into the road because he’s testing boundaries and can’t grasp the inherent danger despite warnings and explanations would take less harm from a smack if that’s the last thing left to try than being allowed to continue while the parents ask their iPhones where the nearest place to buy kiddie reins is. In that situation it’s not so much about physical chastisement, e.g. spanking them for it when you get home, as sending a physical message when others aren’t getting through because what’s going on needs to stop, urgently. It’s really not that different to the question of whether you’d pull a child by the arm really hard knowing that you’re going to break their arm or dislocate a joint in the process – the thought might turn your stomach, and rightly so, but if you had around a second or less to get them out of the path of a moving bus I’d bet you’d yank them clean off their feet with every ounce of strength you possess. There are times when harm is going to happen or is highly likely to happen, and if the parent’s judgement is that in the situation the kid has got themselves into the least harm will come from a smack, then I for one will not hold it against them any more than I’d call breaking their arm child abuse if it saved them from being killed by that bus.