Many Aussie parents still hold firmly to their right to discipline their kids with smacking, but families expert Dr Justin Coulson, author of 9 Ways To A Resilient Child, says that new research should put the argument to bed.
In a passionate and frank interview with Hope 103.2, the parenting and family relationships researcher said that the more a child is smacked, the increased likelihood of antisocial behaviour, defiance of parents, aggression and mental health problems. These are the findings from 50 years of research with 160 000 children by the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan.
Smacking is now illegal in about 50 countries, and with decades of research proving its negative impacts, Dr Coulson believes banning it in Australia should be a no-brainer.
“I don’t know why we’re still having this conversation,” he told mornings presenter Katrina Roe. “I’m not allowed to hit you, it’s called assault. If you were my wife, it would be called domestic violence. But I’m allowed to hit my kids by law in every single state.”
Dr Coulson said the argument that ‘If more parents smacked their kids there’d be no-one in jail’, does not wash.
The Negative Outcomes of Smacking
“More than 50 years of research and analysis after analysis after analysis, shows us that smacking doesn’t even give us short term compliance. It gives us ratbag kids,” Dr Coulson said.
He writes on his blog that “children who are hit by their parents show significantly greater rates of ‘externalising’ behaviour – that is, acting out, being aggressive, and being oppositional”. And while many parents use smacking to “teach their children respect”, research shows that it in fact undermines that respect.
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“Discipline means teach, and violence is a really lousy teacher,” Dr Coulson told Hope 103.2. “Some people say it’s not really violence if you’re just giving them a tap. But the research tells us that we barely even get short term compliance.”
“Discipline means teach, and violence is a really lousy teacher.” ~ Dr Justin Coulson
The results of smacking, he says, include broken relationships, feelings of insecurity and unworthiness in children, deceitful behaviour as children try to evade their parents, and a greater chance of mental illness and cognitive deficits in adulthood.
“We keep on seeing these negative impacts socially and emotionally, cognitively, psychologically,” Dr Coulson said. “If kids are smacked they are at greater risk of having negative effects in their lives and there are no benefits. It only teaches them that might is right and ultimately you can bully anybody if you’re bigger than them.”
Finding Better Solutions
He said parents need to learn more patient, effective forms of discipline and correction.
“If you pretend that your children are your neighbour’s children, you won’t hit them because you’re not allowed to,” he said. “We already know how to work with kids that are being difficult without smacking them. I think that’s what we need to do with our own kids.”