Don’t treat me like a child, especially if you think spanking is ok

It’s very cool having a daughter majoring in Psychology at University because we speak the same language more than ever before. I also enjoy dusting the cobwebs from my brain when she shares some of her assignments with me and asks me to recall theories and social psychology experiments that I haven’t thought about in decades. So, when she asked me If I had time to answer some questions for an assignment she was working on, I prepared myself with a feather duster in hand.

Turns out that the duster wasn’t needed to clear the cobwebs retained from material in a text book, but rather to think back to when I was a child and the way in which my parents parented me compared to my own parenting approach. An hour long conversation allowed me a reflective trip down memory lane and the realization that the way in which I was parented is worlds apart compared to the approach my husband and I decided on.

What stood out most of all was not just how differently I parent when compared to the way I was raised, but how differently most parents are disciplining their children today. I think that most parents, despite whether they were exposed to corporal punishment or not, understand that spanking and intimidation do not work well, especially if one hopes to have a healthy relationship with ones child as they grow into adulthood.

Most of the parents that I talk to about changing their style of discipline to one that encourages mutual respect and collaboration, say that they mostly employ more of an authoritarian approach because that’s the way in which they were raised, or because they don’t know what else to do. I acknowledge to them that yes, hitting a child may yield immediate so called positive results – ie the child stops the behaviour. However, it also explains why the child finds ways to assert his or her power at another time, or on a regular basis, as a way of seeking revenge. And why the child may feel powerless, undermined and treated with disrespect.

A few days after the discussion with my daughter, she sent me a picture of a page in her How Children Develop textbook (Worth Publishers, USA 2018). It was titled “Should parents spank their children?” The article cited a study which showed that “the percentage of parents that spank their children has dropped significantly over the last several decades.” The study involved parents in the United States and Canada. However, it went on to say that a study in 2012, found that “the majority of parents still spank their children at some point.” The text continued by stating that the following conclusions were now clear:

  • Spanking does not improve children’s behaviour
  • Spanking increases children’s risk for a range of negative outcomes
  • Spanking is linked with negative outcomes equally across cultural groups

In 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of a Child, “declared that spanking and physical punishment are forms of violence against children that violate their human rights to protection from violence.” In response to this, 50 countries have banned all physical punishment of children, including that by parents (Global initiative to end All Corporal Punishment of Children, 2016)

Unfortunately, despite strong scrutiny by Children’s Aid Societies and the law in Canada, as well as professionals such as myself having the duty to report any concern about a child being mistreated, Canada is not one of these countries.

On November 20, 2018, National Child Day in Canada, I spoke to family lawyer, Diana Isaac, at Shulman Law firm in Toronto. They had recently circulated a press release titled “Spanking children is legal in Canada but is outdated and has no place in Canadian society.”

They are one of many advocates in Canada that have called for the repeal of section 43 of the Criminal Code. Isaac says that this section permits exceptions for spanking such as when a “school teacher, a parent, or a person standing in place of a parent is justified in using some force by way of correcting a child and is based on not exceeding what is reasonable.”

Although “this type of correction is highly scrutinized in our courts and is not encouraged” and although there are some parameters within which this force can be applied, she is concerned that that the words “correction” and “reasonable” are too ambiguous and about it being a “slippery slope”.

My hope is that, along with Canada joining with the other countries in banning any and all forms of physical punishment towards children, that there comes an end to the phrase “don’t treat me like a child”. Because really, why should a child be spoken to or treated in any less of a respectful manner than any other person deserving of mutual respect.