SARAH VINE: Making smacking illegal is unnecessary

SARAH VINE: Making smacking illegal is unnecessary… and it won’t help abused children

Only once can I remember my mother smacking me, and it was after I almost killed my little brother. I must have been about nine or ten, he four or five.

We were holding hands and running, and for some reason I decided to cross the road. Because he was so much smaller, he stumbled and fell. Luckily the car stopped in time, but if it hadn’t, God only knows.

My mother was so upset she lost her customary cool and smacked me across the legs — just once, but it was enough.

It was the shock as much as the smack itself that made me realise I had done something really wrong. My mother was not someone who used physical violence. And so I understood completely the gravity of what I had done.

The incident came to mind this week when I read a report on a new study by researchers at UCL, which concluded that physically punishing children does not improve their behaviour — indeed, it may even make it worse.

Only once can I remember my mother smacking me, and it was after I almost killed my little brother. I must have been about nine or ten, he four or five (stock image)

The study analysed more than 20 years of data and identified a ‘definitive link between physical punishment and behavioural problems such as aggression and antisocial behaviour’.

Inevitably, the publication of the report has resulted in renewed calls to make smacking a criminal offence in England, following a change in the law in 2020 in Scotland and, from next year, Wales.

Yesterday the schools minister, Nick Gibb, said he was not in favour of a ban, adding that the law — which currently allows for ‘reasonable chastisement’ — is fine as it is, and that ‘these are matters for parents’. Home Secretary Priti Patel, by contrast, said she found the thought of smacking a child ‘incomprehensible’, and appeared to support a ban.

I have to say, I think I’m with Gibb on this one. It’s not that I’m in favour of corporal punishment for children. On the contrary, I was brought up to believe you should never pick on someone who’s smaller than you.

It’s just that a) there is a difference between a single smack, administered more as a means of shocking than inflicting pain, and sustained or persistent violence; and b) legislation will not make a blind bit to difference to parents who regularly physically abuse their children — but it may well land an otherwise loving but perhaps rather harried parent in jail for a momentary lapse of reason.

A ban on smacking may please the virtue-signallers. But it’s only a sticking plaster for a much bigger problem

And that is why I think making smacking illegal is unnecessary. It is the parental equivalent of pulling the emergency brake on a speeding train. A good parent never wants to do it. But sometimes they have no choice.

It’s when it becomes a habit, a go-to reaction to bad behaviour, that it’s a problem. Parents who regularly punish their children in this way may think they’ve got the upper hand, but all they are demonstrating is that they have lost control — of their emotions and of the situation in general.

They lack the intelligence, experience or patience to establish clear boundaries in a constructive way, and so they resort to violence.

That may achieve the desired result in the short term; but over time, all it does is de-sensitise and brutalise. Hence researchers identifying an increase in aggression and antisocial behaviour among youngsters who have been physically punished.

Banning smacking won’t tackle these people. The real abusers will just end up retreating behind closed doors; while the mother who unthinkingly raps her child on the wrist to stop it from hurting itself could find herself in jail.

The truth is, the current legislation is perfectly adequate.

Parents can administer a smack as long as it employs ‘reasonable’ force — that is to say, does not leave a mark. Anything more could land them in hot water, and that is as it should be.

If campaigners really want to protect children, they should focus on eradicating the true causes of violence in families: substance abuse, social deprivation, mental health issues and so on.

A ban on smacking may please the virtue-signallers. But it’s only a sticking plaster for a much bigger problem.

The England fans were in fine voice after the team’s win against Germany; in other news, still no singing allowed at weddings.

Have you noticed how all the blokes pose perfectly normally in their publicity shots, while the girls all preen and pout (see Faye Winter, pictured) and fondle themselves as though they were starring in an Ann Summers shoot? 

What’s love got to do with it? 

Now then: Love Island. Have you noticed how all the blokes pose perfectly normally in their publicity shots, while the girls all preen and pout (see Faye Winter, left) and fondle themselves as though they were starring in an Ann Summers shoot (actually, what am I saying: an Ann Summers shoot would seem classy by comparison). Well done, ITV: you have managed to make the most demeaning show on television even more demeaning.

Not every boy has to like football, and when I saw Prince George’s face at the start of the match last night, I thought he might be more of a cricket fan. But by the end he looked as ecstatic as everyone else — though I’m afraid he might be King before England wins a World Cup.

French cuisine is racist, or at least it is according to Mathilde Cohen from Connecticut University.

Ms Cohen has delivered a lecture suggesting that French eating habits reinforce the ‘dominance’ of white people over ethnic minorities.

Apparently, ‘the whiteness of French food is all the more powerful in that it is unnamed, enabling the racial majority to benefit from food privileges without having to acknowledge their racial origin’.

I didn’t really swallow her argument, I must say. Nothing will keep me from white asparagus in beurre blanc.

Winston Marshall, the guitarist and banjo player with Mumford & Sons, who has quit the band to spare his bandmates from abuse, after he endorsed a book the Twitter-mob disapproved of

Who’ll stand up to the social media Mafia?

Growing up in Italy, it was a well known fact that if you got on the wrong side of the Mob, it wasn’t you they would hurt, but your family and friends.

Like all criminals, they know the best way to get to someone is through their loved ones. Now it seems another type of Mob, namely the one that runs social media, has decided to adopt similar tactics in order to take down anyone who fails to toe their line. Their latest target: Winston Marshall, the guitarist and banjo player with Mumford & Sons, who has quit the band to spare his bandmates from abuse, after he endorsed a book the Twitter-mob disapproved of.

‘They went for my friends,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘And that’s not fair on them.’

Fair play to him; but when is someone going to stand up to these digital gangsters?

The problem with banning mobile phones in schools, as the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested, is that they are so embedded in the lives of pupils it’s hard to see how they would manage without them.

Most now use them to do homework and access school resources — and it’s certainly the case that many pupils would not have been able to manage without them during lockdown.

Much as I agree that they are a distraction, not to mention a tool for cyberbullies and other online ills, I fear this is rather a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

That video of England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty being monstered by a group of grinning thugs as he walked through a London park made my blood boil

A witless attack on Whitty

That video of England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty being monstered by a group of grinning thugs as he walked through a London park made my blood boil.

I know only too well what it does to a person to be ambushed like that in the street, since it’s happened to my family on a number of occasions — although never as physical as that, more verbal.

I was once told by a teacher in front of my two children — then quite young — that ‘people like you’ shouldn’t be allowed to have kids. Every time it happens, a little piece of you dies.

It’s an odd combination of embarrassment and fear — and utter helplessness, as you realise that the mob in question does not see you as a human being, but a legitimate target for mockery and abuse.

As an experience, it’s deeply dehumanising, and it can leave a person really shaken — as I think the look in Professor Whitty’s eyes shows. I hope he’s OK.  

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