Do parents have a right to smack children?

                                                
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Last Updated: 2 November, 2004

Rebel backbench MPs have lost their bid for an all-out ban on smacking in England and Wales.

In a Commons vote, a proposal to change the Children Bill to include an outright ban was defeated by 424 votes to 75.

However a Lords amendment which outlaws smacks that leave marks or cause mental harm was allowed.

Do you think parents should have the right to smack their children? Will the bill reduce abuse? Are children's rights effectively protected by the laws of the country? Send us your views using the form.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have
received so far:

SUGGEST A DEBATE

This topic was suggested by Nat, UK

Why does the government feel it needs to pass a Bill on outlawing smacking of children?

Send us your suggestions for Have Your Say debates

Debra of Southampton reckons "dog training ideas have progressed further than parenting" - yes, but is a dog likely to grow from a petulant and unruly "toddler" into the kind of thug that (bearing in mind the time of year) throws fireworks through letterboxes and smashes windows as a "trick or treat" prank on elderly and infirm people? I have had experience of both within the family during the last week and I know which "species" I'd rather punish by a good slapping!
Graham , Greater Manchester, UK

I am entirely in agreement with most who have submitted their views below, especially one from Mr. Ron Milligan (Gosport, England). If majority of British population does not want this ban, I am indeed amazed why some Labour back-benchers are so keen on total ban. I am sure they have not thought of what a parent should do to curb unruly and anti-social acts of teenagers who may grow with the knowledge that a smack or even a suggestion of one, will make their parents criminal. Yes, I can see a nanny state in support of future nanny state legislations.
Prabhat, UK

If a smack is not a reasoned response by a parent but instead acted out in anger I believe I would class it as abuse.
Kevin, London

Everyone agrees it's not right to hit the elderly, even when they are slow and deaf

Elizabeth, England

Everyone agrees it's not right to hit the elderly, even when they are slow and deaf. It is not right to hit the mentally disabled, even when they refuse to do what they are asked, and cannot seem to understand simple instructions. It is not right to hit someone who works for you, even though they are in your charge. So how can it possibly be right to hit a child? I was beaten by my mother for every infraction of the rules. It taught me one thing only...to get your own way, use violence.
Elizabeth, England

I wasn't smacked often, but my parents exercised their right when necessary, and I wholeheartedly agree with preservation of that right. My worst smacking was when I was very young, for running across the road in front of a car and narrowly avoiding injury or death. A sound smacking meant I never did that again, and so probably saved my life! I'm sure most people would agree that an open-handed slap on the bottom or thigh is perfectly reasonable, but that a closed-fist attack, or an attack on any other part of the body is most definitely wrong.
Corran, Newcastle, UK

The lack of discipline especially in homes but also in schools is partly the reason for the current "yob culture" we have in Britain. The kids know that there is not a lot that can be done to them. If smacking is banned it is just going to get worse and no one will be able to stop the vandalism and general crime because the kids will be out of control.
D. Blake, London

I have never smacked any of my children and never will. My children are not saints but they are respectful and polite because we treat each other with respect in our house. Because of that they know how to respect others. Parents who say there is no other way are lacking in imagination and it is the child who pays for that.
Raymond, Coventry

The phrase mild smacking disguises the inequality children face

Alison Shephard, Cardiff, Wales

Smacking is another name for hitting. The phrase 'mild smacking' disguises the inequality children face. Most adults would not accept that people in authority over them should be allowed to "mildly smack" them. Children deserve exactly the same legal protection from being hit that adults take for granted.
Alison Shephard, Cardiff, Wales

Another law that cannot be enforced, like the ban of fireworks and on the spot fines for Anti-Social Behaviour. Older children already say 'you can't hit me mister, I will get the law on you', as they graffiti your property or steal your belongings.
Kevin, Peterborough

I do not believe that a total ban will make any difference to the children who are systematically abused by their parents. One has only to see what has happened in schools since a total ban on corporate punishment was introduced in terms of unacceptable behaviour. The right to allow mild smacking must be retained.
Roger Haigh, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Parents must retain the right to discipline their children. There is a clear distinction between a controlled smack to punish a wrong doing as opposed to blatant physical abuse. It's just common sense.
Colin Gooding, Lowestoft UK

The people who already abuse children aren't going to stop because a new law has been passed

Jo, Hoddesdon, UK

I was smacked as a child and see absolutely nothing wrong with sensible, rational parents using smacking as a means of chastising a naughty child. There are so many young hooligans out there now, perhaps if they'd been taught the difference between right and wrong at an early age they'd never have developed that way. Besides, banning smacking will only prevent rational parents from using this form of punishment sensibly - the people who already abuse children aren't going to stop because a new law has been passed - what they do is already illegal!
Jo, Hoddesdon, UK

I suspect the next step is to outlaw grounding a child as illegal imprisonment or emotional torture. This is a gross abuse of government power, where it does not belong!
Bill, Essex

Smacking is pointless. At acceptable levels, it doesn't accomplish anything, and at unacceptable levels, it's, well, unacceptable. I'm in favour of a ban, since it may help prevent "some" unacceptable abuse of this 'right'.
Tom Melly, London, UK

I was smacked mildly as a child. I remember being about 7 years old and realising a smack on the bottom didn't hurt anymore, my brother and I ended up laughing about it which caused my mum to laugh and she never smacked us again after that. Some children don't know the rights and wrongs of their actions so I see no wrong in a quick smack for discipline. To ban smacking outright will not going to stop child abuse, it will just mean more child abuse cases reported as the media will add their spin on it.
Lee Cottington, London, England

Normal families know the difference and don't need a law

Janine Clark, UK

Look what has happened since smacking was banned in schools, no respect, no control, children knowing the have the upper hand. If parents cannot smack their children, children they will soon pick up that they can threaten to call the police if they do get a smack. There will be even more disruptive children around. It will not stop child abuse because they do not abide by the laws already in place now. Normal families know the difference and don't need a law.
Janine Clark, UK

How do the government plan to police this? There is a chronic shortage of social workers and I worry this may divert them from children being molested or seriously hurt.
Paula Williams, Portsmouth , Hants

Is everyone that contributes to this page a thug? If you were disagreeing with an adult on something you'd hardly hit them would you? As soon as it's a small child however, that's ok? It seems like a perverse logic to me. Violence leads to violence and it just teaches children that hitting is an acceptable way to settle an argument. Maybe children in the 80's and 90's were hit too much, Mike from High Wycombe - of course smacking should be banned.
Mat, Bristol

Let the government impose some sort of law and see how many people just ignore it. It is a parent's right to punish their child, just as it is their duty to care for them. Look at today's teenagers to see what sort of future we are creating for ourselves. Frankly, judging by what we see of the up and coming generation I'm terrified for the future of this country.
Matt, Bristol, UK

There is a difference between short, sharp, shock and outright abuse

John Lawniczak, Uppingham, UK

Part of today's problems especially with anti-social behaviour is borne out by the fact that the role of parents is constantly being eroded by "do-gooders". They bleat on one day about ASBO's and next day say that parents should not be allowed to smack children. There is a difference between "short, sharp, shock" and outright abuse but sadly these people chose not to recognise this. Yet they will be the first to shout out about the "yob culture" that is gathering pace in this Country.
John Lawniczak, Uppingham, UK

I have two boys aged 10 & 6 and have never smacked them; they are well behaved normal boys. Teaching children that hurting someone enables you to control them is hardly a good lesson for life. The comment about smacking a child to prevent harm - how about moving them out of harms way without the smack?
Paul O'Connor, West Wickham, UK

Yes! But with a loving hand.
Brian M Keith, Ellesmere UK

I set out to be a liberal parent who would use reasoning and example to teach my child. Here's news for non-parents out there - it doesn't work. Now I smack though only if she does something which could endanger her. I discuss with her afterwards why she was smacked. This way she may learn the reasons behind the smack but the smack itself is there to stop potentially harmful behaviour and prevent its reoccurrence. And she is a very happy and safe 3 yr old.
Steve, Glasgow

Politicians should stick to politics, not parenting

Russ, London, UK

You are legally responsible for your children, you hold their passports, you open their bank accounts, and you are punished if they skip school. The State does not perform these functions on your behalf, so why should it tell you how to bring up your kids? Politicians should stick to politics, not parenting.
Russ, London, UK

This government needs to learn how to govern rather than control. It is a subtle difference similar to that between smacking and abuse. One is helpful, the other is a dangerous step backwards.
Glen, Welling, UK

Children legislators and policymakers should concentrate on providing real and quality educational services for children. Leave discipline to the parents. There are already laws in place to prevent and address abuse. All policymakers that are promoting and pushing this bill should be removed from office.
John Ward, Delmar USA

Why do some people think it not right to strike an adult, but OK to hit a defenceless child in your care?
DB, UK

This is the nanny state at its worst. The existing laws against child abuse are already adequate to prevent harm to children. This is pure interference in normal family life. It should be left to the family to decide how to raise their children. It should not be the job of government to impose their own political and social values upon the rest of the country under the dubious argument of child protection.
Paul Cole, UK

I vote for outright ban and for children's rights enshrined by law

Paul Barron, London

It is too easy to smack young children rather than stand back and reflect as a parent on your own actions i.e. why you smack them. I vote for outright ban and for children's rights enshrined by law.
Paul Barron, London

This bill will not stop abusers. You cannot make people righteous by an Act of Parliament. Instead intolerable pressure will be placed on loving parents.
Ray Wiseman, Nottingham, England

You just have to look around you to see the lack of respect that youngster have now, to see that parent discipline is needed. I have two kids, the only way to teach them the rights and wrongs is at times to smack them, as long as it is not hard and aggressive and is a means to teach them what's right and what's wrong. It did me no harm when I was young. Also how are the government going to enforce it?
Ian, Paddock Wood, UK

If we aren't allowed to chastise our children, can you imagine what state our society will be in, in 10 years time? I think parents should have the right to smack their children to prevent a lawless society in the future.
Sarah, Sheffield, UK

As a person who was smacked as a child I do not agree with smacking. No argument for the "right" to smack a child has ever convinced me to change my mind How many parents who smack have looked into all the available options such a positive parenting and alternative forms of discipline and then said "no, smacking is still the way for me"? I suspect hardly any. They are lazy people who are stuck in their ways, no wonder the Swedish call smacking the "English disease"
Anon, UK

We must be allowed to discipline our children when they are young

Linda, Manchester, UK

Yes, parents have the right to smack, not beat, their children. A swat on the backside is not child abuse. We have a generation of spoiled brats running amuck on our streets. We must be allowed to discipline our children when they are young. Starting when they are teens is too late.
Linda, Manchester, UK

The government are going about this in the wrong way. Parents, who have a hard enough time as it is, shouldn't be criminalised but re-educated. Hitting a child (which let's face it, is what "smacking" is) is wrong as it teaches a child that inflicting pain on someone else is acceptable. Should we be surprised if kids who are regularly beaten, end up hitting their peers? Basically parents hit their kids either because they've lost control of the situation (happens to us all, sadly) or they are too lazy to take the time to understand better ways of dealing with bad behaviour.
Declan, Bristol

In our society we have made the correct assumption that a certain percentage of the grown-ups will behave unreasonably despite all the good will from the rest of the society. This is the reason we have a legal system that punishes those that do not follow 'the law'. Those who are against smacking have assumed that children will behave more reasonably than the grown ups and that we should not have the need to punish them in any way. This is obviously naive and in the long term against the interests of the children. The parents and teachers should have the right to smack the children provided that no physical damage is caused and within reason to avoid cruel behaviour.
Costas Foudas, London

I think children need to have a strong boundaries set and enforced and if that involves the occasional smack then GOOD. Most kids these days are rude and its no wonder there is so much juvenile crime. Perhaps the NSPCC and other Children's Charities involved in this campaign have nothing better to do.
Gail Lambert, Portsmouth, Hampshire

NO!! Parents should have no more right to smack children than husbands have to smack wives, or I have to smack you. Ideas about dog training seem to have progressed further than ideas about parenting in this country.
Debra, Southampton, UK

Everyone here is concentrating on whether it is right to smack a child or not, but no-one is asking what the consequences of imprisoning parents might be. Is it really thought to be in the child's best interest that their parent goes to prison over a minor smack? We already have parents in prison over child truancy, and overall I have no reason to believe that this has created better children in consequence, so how will sending parents to prison for smacking help to improve the child's life? Whatever the rights and wrongs of smacking, is it really the greater of the two evil's here?
George, Harpenden, England

Some parents don't seem to mind their kids running riot and causing chaos. Unfortunately we ALL suffer the consequences. ALL parents have a right to discipline their children. Take away that right, and watch society decay even further. It's not to late to reverse the trend.
Steve, Nottingham, UK

One of the most critical of life's lessons is an awareness of consequence

Bill Gribble, Gloucester, UK

One of the most critical of life's lessons, not least in respect for others, is an awareness of consequence. Sometimes the last resort in teaching the error of inappropriate or dangerous behaviour to a child has to be a smack. However I've never come to this point with any of my three children without feeling that I'd already failed as both a human being and parent. To abdicate your responsibility as a parent just because there is no other more palatable resort would be, to my mind, inexcusable. However revolting some musty old Labour rebels might become in the Commons over this matter, the well-being of my children, and in that I maintain that I am the better judge, will always be put first in my mind.
Bill Gribble, Gloucester, UK

Yes of course you should. I have four year old twins that are rarely smacked now but as two and three year olds seemed to have a smack on the hand almost weekly. At that age the smack is very light, but teaches them not to do what they've been asked not to. They are now old enough to reason with and I don't need to smack them as a look is generally sufficient. Look around you, there's no respect for anything anymore simply because we don't apply boundaries for our youngsters. As for assigning a social worker to those parents that smack, that is ludicrous!
Lyndon, Cardiff, Wales

So what are you saying here? If I were to hit an adult it is assault. If I hit my child it is OK under current law. I have 2 children and have never smacked them and I have no intention of starting.
Patrick , London

I absolutely agree with smacking. I don't have any kids but I am a well-adjusted, intelligent and happy guy of 24 who got smacked if I was bad as a child. I particularly remember one time, where I stole a cousins toy and my mum smacked me needless to say I learned a valuable lesson and I never stole another thing in my life. How can that be a bad thing??
Alex, Belfast

Many parents will smack in response to their own anger

Stephen, Liverpool, UK

I don't think that smacking is either good or bad, it's the motivation which drives it which is open to question. Many parents will smack in response to their own anger and this is a dangerous road often leading to abuse. However as many have commented a smack to enforce a lesson learned, often given through love or concern is all together different. The real problem is, how do you legislate something as ephemeral as motivation?
Stephen, Liverpool, UK

My son had a few 'taps' when he was small, now he is 13 and I can reason with him (well most of the time). Our society is already spiralling out of control, teachers often fear students they are unable to control now. Legislation banned hand guns, which did away with legitimate gun clubs but has not taken the guns off the streets. The abusers will continue to abuse and our youngsters will become uncontrollable.
Terri, Hersham, Surrey

Of course parents should have the right to smack their children. Talking simply does not go far enough sometimes. Children must understand when they continually cross the line of disobedience, they will be smacked.
John, London

Most definitely. Kids are running riot in our streets with no fear of consequence. Children do not posses the ability to reason with adults and should be disciplined until they are old enough to recognise acceptable behaviour
Stuart Millar, Aberdeen, Scotland

We need to respect children more and we will have a better society as a result

Helen Baker, London

I'm shocked at how many people have written thinking it's right to smack children. I can't believe they have their own children. I have four and I have never had the need to smack them to discipline them. Twice I have done and both times it was to do with my own tiredness or frustration. It is clearly wrong to hit someone and the smaller the person the more wrong. We need to respect children more and we will have a better society as a result. If it was outlawed it wouldn't result in arrests but it would change attitudes - like wearing seatbelts in cars.
Helen Baker, London

If you're going to compare children to adults, you would have to let kids do as they please, go to bed when they please, go to school only if they want to. If smacking is assault then surely refusing food, or sending them to their room all alone is also violating their rights?
Miles, UK

I am absolutely horrified that so many of you support a parents so called right to smack children. What about the children's rights? Whatever happened to communication and explaining why the behaviour they are committing is wrong? No wonder the youth of today is more antisocial and disrespectful to authority!
Becky, Nottingham

If this ban is instigated it will move the UK closer to the ridiculous litigious society of America

Olivia, Essex

Absolutely, yes. I was smacked as a child, and I think it did me good, though it wasn't particularly pleasant at the time! If this ban is instigated it will move the UK closer to the ridiculous litigious society of America. Parents and people in general should have the right to make some decisions without the government's help.
Olivia, Essex

Here we go again, legislation for society's lowest common denominator. It is no business of some Westminster-bound MP how I bring up my children, so long as they are not abused. I've found it amazing the number of friends who could be described as falling into the yogurt-weaving category, who have changed their minds about that 'little smack' since they have actually had children to bring up. I've yet to hear a solution to stopping a three year old from sticking their hand in the fire when they're having a temper tantrum. Engaging them in debate over their human rights never seems to work.
Gerry, Crewkerne, UK

A smack is not abuse or a beating. It's a short sharp reminder to a young child of who's boss until they're old enough to reason with you. At a time when parents are being blamed for a wide range of discipline-related issues, banning smacking takes another step towards removing all parental authority while leaving them with all the responsibility - a lose-lose situation.
Andrew, Cambridge, UK

I will never ever assault my daughter in that manner and I would prosecute anyone else who did

George Masterton, Sweden

In Sweden smacking is illegal and Sweden has a lower youth offender rate than Britain, as well as lower under age STD rates and pregnancy rates, as well lower delinquency rates. Smacking an adult when they do something wrong is legally defined as assault. The question of whether or not parents should be allowed to smack their children is in fact the question of whether or not they should be allowed to assault them. I was smacked as a child and it has scarred me for life. I will never ever assault my daughter in that manner and I would prosecute anyone else who did.
George Masterton, Sweden (Scot)

How far will this go? Will the government ban parents telling off their children because of the psychological damage it could do? Parents must have means by which they can teach their children what is and what is not acceptable.
Kate, London, UK

Another useless bill wasting everyone's time and money. We already have legislation in place to protect children from serious mental and physical abuse. No one is advocating the right to beat children, just the right to make them know a short sharp shock will happen if they misbehave. Anyone would think we've been nothing but a generation of crippled insecure shells, the way supporters of a ban make out.
Ed, London, UK

Any smack, even light ones, will cause the skin to redden slightly

Ian, Aberdeen

Is this law going to stop abuse - no. Abuse is already against the law and any parent likely to abuse a child will still do so. And what is this nonsense about "skin reddening". Any smack, even light ones, will cause the skin to redden slightly. Are we going to have "redness meters" to determine the level of abuse? What about "OK to smack as long as it's not a punishment! What else are you going to smack a child for - fun? The whole thing is stupid and just contributes to a society where kids think they can get away with anything.
Ian, Aberdeen

I have a 14 month old little girl and I will smack her if need arise - often this is to instil the dangers of a situation in other words aversion therapy. Child abuse won't be stopped by this law, only good parents will suffer under it. It also worries me that we will get an even worse generation of kids/teens than we currently have who will have no discipline and no respect for anything or anyone as they can't be touched. I might end up in court but I also might end up with a good citizen for a kid and I'll take the risk for her sake.
Andy Rouse, St Annes, Lancashire

Teachers should be allowed to smack unruly children

Mike, High Wycombe, UK

The reason why we have so much anti-social behaviour is because kids who were brought up in the 1980s and 1990s were not chastised enough. Not just parents, but also teachers should be allowed to smack unruly children. Caning should be reintroduced in all schools above the infants class.
Mike, High Wycombe, UK

I was smacked on my bottom for disobedience as a child and it hasn't done me any harm. However, I don't believe in smacking children. I believe there is always an alternative way in handling a difficult situation and not having to resort to violence, however minor that may be.
Tom, London

What is the next step? To get a license before becoming a parent? The whole issue is a lot more serious than it appears. Although there are cases where the state should interfere in domestic life, the less it interferes, the better. Imagine how difficult would be for a parent to tell off their child once that child starts to threaten that they will turn to the police.
Maria Aloziou, Athens Greece

I think that giving a naughty child a smack on the bottom is a lot better than standing in the middle of the street, screaming and shouting at children. The children in this country are very undisciplined and are growing up to be hooligans. Parents are inconsiderate and children just plain irritating.
Lesley Burt, Horsham

If you are still smacking at 8 or 9, you have already failed

Simon, Southport UK

A young child is unable to understand complex reasoning, but can link disobedience with pain. Get it right with the under 5's and you only have to give them a stern look later in life. If you are still smacking at 8 or 9, you have already failed.
Simon, Southport UK

Ah the nanny state! What next? Speaking to our children with raised voices to be a criminal offence, because of the mental harm it will cause!
Jon R, Cambridge, UK

The key to successful discipline is consistency and not the use of violence. Violence can be counter-productive because it teaches the use of violence as a means to get your own way. Ideally the smacking of children should be stopped altogether, but I don't think this is achievable yet. Were social services not already overstretched, the best response to a smacker would be to appoint a social worker to keep an eye on the situation, and help the family learn more effective and humane methods of discipline.
Joe Otten, Sheffield, UK

Young children do not understand and cannot be reasoned with

Andy, Brighton, UK

Unfortunately there are no viable alternatives to smacking a child. Young children do not understand and cannot be reasoned with as you would an adult. Their senses of right and wrong are very blurred. The only way you can reinforce good or bad behaviour is reward or punishment. Smacking is one of the only punishments that works effectively. It is not abuse, it is instilling discipline in the child, something which liberal parents do not do anymore.
Andy, Brighton, UK

This law will not stop the few parents who go over the top and injure their children, which is already against the law. The anti-smacking campaigners probably have not suffered from gangs of ill disciplined kids making life a misery for them and their neighbours. The gradual erosion of parents and teachers ability to correct children's behaviour has resulted in the increasing yob culture we suffer from today. Leave parents alone to bring up their children as they see fit, and punish those who go over the top. And return some effective form of punishment to school teachers.
Anon, UK

If you are going to call smacking, beating, you might as well equate hugging with sexual molestation. Those who seek to ban loving discipline in the home should first learn a bit of common sense.
Michael, York, UK

Would the government please stop interfering with every aspect of our life

Craig, Folkestone, UK

Reasoning with a two or three year old about the dangers of running into the road won't ever work. A little bit of pain and a NO! really helps. Rather that than run under a bus. Would the government please stop interfering with every aspect of our life and "govern" the country, not us.
Craig, Folkestone, UK

Regardless of what I think on the matter the wishes of the people are crystal clear on the matter. Those in public office voting to ban smacking have continuously ignored the people - what protection do we have against these people? They should be fired.
William O'Brien, Barbados (Ex UK)

It is ridiculous that I should not be allowed to smack my child. It never did me any harm when I was young.
Chris, Ashford

I don't condone using it as a regular and consistent form of discipline

Wendy, UK

Yes. A smack is a smack. It's not being hit or beaten or whipped or abused. It's a smack. I don't condone using it as a regular and consistent form of discipline, but neither do I condone making criminals out of parents.
Wendy, UK

I'm so sick and tired of hearing the self righteous preach about how wrong it is to smack children. The fact is, kids today are insolent and unruly, and occasionally need to be disciplined. They have no discipline at school, and sometimes the only language they can understand is a sharp smack on the backside. It never did me any harm when I was a kid, and I see myself as secure, polite and friendly. There is, however, the risk of child abuse in this, so there must be some restrictions. Oh, and if I sound old-fashioned, I'm actually only 21.
Stanhoffenski, Edinburgh, Scotland

I would go one stage further - if someone else's screaming kid is giving you a headache in the supermarket, and they are not controlling them, you should be allowed to smack them.
Derek Gogley, Reading, Berkshire

Yes. Speaking as a parent of five children who now have their own children I believe that a little 'pain' at an early age administered with love and forgiveness prevents a lot of real pain later.
Ron Milligan, Gosport, England

There is a world of difference between discipline and abuse

Richard, Sheffield, UK

What a load of nonsense! I was smacked as a child, and I wouldn't change a thing. It hasn't caused any more damage than there would have been if I'd been grounded or had my pocket money stopped instead - quite the opposite. It was over and done with, and I learned my lesson(s). It is only a few minutes of anger instead of weeks of unhappiness leading onto years of resentment. Where's the problem? Too many people confuse smacking with beating - but there is a world of difference between discipline and abuse.
Richard, Sheffield, UK


Yes! It's called discipline. Most of the kids that run riot around town centres, probably come from namby-pamby families that were against smacking.
Rob Watson, Winchester, Hampshire

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