Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Child Discipline Act and The Referendum

Last week I received information in my letter box about the upcoming referendum to take place in New Zealand. The infamous “Anti-Smacking Debate” has reared its ugly head again.

As a teacher of young children, I thought it my duty to respond to this debate – which will no longer be labeled the “Anti-Smacking Debate” on my blog.

Did you know that as of June 2007, the law does not prohibit parents from smacking their children. There are 5 clauses in the Crimes Act that justifies the use of force for good parenting. (I can’t believe I’m admitting that – but it is a fact). The 2007 change in the Crimes Act prohibits parents from smacking their children for the purposes of ‘correcting’ behaviour. You can read the wording of section 59 Parent Control, No 43 of the Crimes Act

I believe that the tragedy of the current debate is the wording of the up-coming referendum question.

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offense in New Zealand?

This is irresponsibly misleading. New Zealanders are paying $9mil on this referendum and the question has been written poorly and with bias. That alone is criminal!! I do believe it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the wording of a referendum is unbiased, well worded, and fairly executed.

It is important to understand that:
  • The law is not about an incidental light ‘smack’.
    And therefore the referendum question is immediately flawed.
  • The law is not about ‘good parental’ practices.
    And therefore the referendum question is flawed.
The law is aimed at parents who hit their children hard enough to end up in court*. It is to prevent those parents from using the purposes of ‘correction’ as a defense.

Rewording the Referendum - my thoughts:
Should parents be legally permitted to use force for the purposes of correcting behaviour?
The term ‘correcting’ and the word 'force' should be defined.

How do you think it should be worded?

How would you define ‘correcting’?

Debating the Bill leads to debating discipline.
What I do love about the bill and the referendum, is that discipline is up for debate again. It means we get the chance to talk about the ‘discipline’ of children, and we get to advocate for a better way.

As teachers, we are not permitted to hit children.

What would happen if a teacher were to ‘smack’ a child?
  • They would be disciplined (not smacked!)
  • They would probably loose their job.
  • Parents would be irate.
  • The teacher would loose the respect of families and colleagues.

  • Because there is a better way to teach children, and as professionals we should know better.

How much more then, should families learn a better way to help their children make good decisions. Smacking is lazy. Smacking is more about the adults coping mechanism than teaching children. And would it be fair to say, that left unchecked smacking can be abusive?

The definition of Discipline is “the practice of training people to obey rules”.

As teachers we are taught to respect children - (crazy to have to write that). Children naturally deserve respect. Children are capable of thinking, of problem solving, and of empathy. They are competent learners, especially young children who learn so much in the first few years of their lives. It is not so amazing to discover, that when you look for a new way to support your children’s learning, your relationships with your children grow.

Anke Richter (a German Journalist) wrote an article To Smock is to Love (2007) - an outsiders look at the ‘Child Discipline Bill’. It’s a great read, along with the discussion that follows at the end of the article. Essentially she suggests that by legislating against hitting our children, we begin to implement social change – smacking becomes ‘un-cool’. I believe that when smacking becomes un-cool (and it is so un-cool for many wonderful parents with whom I am associated), parents build richer relationships with their children. ‘Disciplining’ without smacking takes time, patience, and heaps of reflection. And time, patience and reflective thinking is the kind of modeling we need to be sharing with our children.

The citizen initiated referendum takes place in the month of August 2009. It is flawed before it even begins – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote. Educate yourself about No 43 Crimes Act, about the referendum, and about the debate.

* Parental Control Crimes Act explained - pdf download
• NZ Referendum on Child Discipline 2009 - the yes vote


Jane Nicholls said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful and well articulated post on the ridiculous referendum. We need more voices like this calling for parents to understand this law is not to punish them but to protect children.

Tarnz said...

It would be interesting to talk to people who have smacked their children to find out if they think it has proved successful. Personally I have never believed in "smacking" but have people I know who have used this as a "punishment" - I have always noticed (with the children/families I know well) that this punishment has never proved successful and that there are probably way better ways - including everything you have mentioned - to discipline children and teach them the basic values and principles of behaving. It is ridiculous that so much money is being spent on this - and yes, lets hope it makes alot of people think and reflect on their strategies as parents - unfortunately for those parents who do use "force" with their children, i don't think this referendum will make much difference...

Treehouse Dwellers said...

@Jane - Thanks for the thumbs-up. I really think blogging is a great way for teachers to have a voice about important issues... imagine if we filled the bloggersphere with like-minded blog posts - might be as effective as a hikoi.

@Tania - the more I have looked into it and reflected on it, the more I am baffled that anyone could think a smack is anything but a scare tactic. Would be good to talk with reflective parents on the issue. (Not sure about those that just get hot headed about their 'rights' as parents). Thanks for your sharing your experience - and what stunning children you have too!!!! Has Kesia seen herself on the Manaia blog? What stars they were on Friday.

Jane Nicholls said...

Here is a confession of a parent who has smacked her children. I was a member of a pentecostal church where we were told that smacking was an important way of showing our children we loved them through 'correcting' them. Here is what I subjected my youngest child to:

Together we went shopping to find a wooden spoon. We brought it home and painted it together and named it 'Mr Spoono'. Mr Spoono was going to help my son learn how to manage his behaviour and we would smack him with it because we loved him.

After going through this process (I think we used it once), which did not sit well with us, we realised it was barbaric! What a terrible thing to do!! I am lucky my son is now a lovely 17 year old well adjusted boy after going through something like that. Why on earth would you be hurt because someone loved you?

Needless to say neither of my other children have ever been 'corrected' with violence, not even a little smack.

Treehouse Dwellers said...

Wow Jane - thanks so much for sharing that. I too was bought up in a Christian home and was smacked about 5 times in my first 12years (once with the wooden spoon). I don't begrudge my parents and I turned out ok - but that doesn't mean that it was right, or that there isn't a better way. As you say, it doesn't make sense that you have to hurt someone to show them you love them! Good on you guys for being great reflective parents and looking for and finding a better way.

Manaia Kindergarten said...

I have many vivid happy memories of childhood but I do remember being smacked with a hairbrush (and I would say it was the only time I was every smacked!), I wonder if I remember because it was the only time or whether I was really hurt that my father could do this to me... luckily i love him dearly and have never held it against him:-) Does your son remember Mr Spoono Jane?

Jane Nicholls said...

LOL Mr Spoono is often mentioned in our house. My eldest son reckons he paved the way for my other two children and often plays up being 'beaten' so they could be spared :). But in all seriousness I think he does not really remember and it is more us, as adults who bare the scars of embarrassment of our first faltering parental steps.

Hides said...

I do totally agree that the referendum is worded with bias and it is definitely wasteful of NZ Tax payer's money. There is little point presenting a referendum when the 'answer' is already in the question, it is part of being a good parent.

That is not to say that parents who do hit their children are bad parents or even uneducated parents. Some parents are aware of many ways to manage behaviour and choose smacking because it is rather efficient in the moment.

It is really important though that we continue to send the message that it's not okay to use force with a child. It really does shape the way they interact with others at the time and in the future.

Treehouse Dwellers said...

Hi Hides - I completely agree that the question has the answer in it already and is very misleading. I thought I heard recently that there is a "Stop the Referendum" campaign starting... will have to look out for it. Maybe even create a "Stop the Referendum" blogger's badge (when I have time!!)

Hides said...

I'm not from NZ but I would definitely display that badge =)

NCLEX rn review said...

Parliament granted children protection from assault by their parents. The law is working well but is under threat from an unnecessary and expensive referendum.

Ozy Mandias said...

Cant agree with the majority of comments on this post. Do you people have your heads in the sand. Although the issue is old, the wording of the referendum was applying the re written law as it was written.

Under the new law I cant correct my child. That is what the law says. If you believe the question is worded wrong you must agree the actual law is worded wrong.

Anonymous said...

It is extremely interesting for me to read the blog. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

Treehouse Dwellers said...

Hi Ozy - thanks for your comment. Under the new law you definitely CAN correct your child - just not with physical force. Children are competent and capable of learning without the use of force. There ARE other ways which the law requires us to use.

Hi Anonymous - I'm sorry you didn't sign your name. It is always interesting to know who is behind a comment. Thanks for your encouragement. Due to illness and a new job position I have not had the time to think. Very frustrating. I hope to be back to blogging soon.