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.