A father’s conviction for smacking his 12-year-old son has been overturned – but experts are warning it is not a green light for parents to smack their kids for bad behaviour.
Other forms of discipline should be used, say social work experts, because despite the Supreme Court ruling, smacking children is never the answer.
The South Australian father’s conviction for aggravated assault was thrown out by Justice David Peek, who says pain caused during discipline does not turn a parent into a criminal, the ABC reports.
Justice Peek says in his judgement that slaps leaving “redness” but no bruise, for the purpose of correcting misbehaviour were “not unreasonable”.
“The suffering of some temporary pain and discomfort by the child will not transform a parent attempting to correct a child into a person committing a criminal offence,” he says.
“Indeed, the very suffering of temporary emotion may be calculated to impress the child and correct the behaviour, just as much as the accompanying physical discomfort.
“Some level of pain is permissible, and in the present case there was little … the mere existence of red marks caused by the punishment does not prove unreasonable correction.
The boy’s mother filed a complaint to police about the incident. The three smacks left redness, but no bruise and did not warrant a guilty verdict, the court found.
The Advertiser reported that the father, an airforce pilot, smacked his son when he threw a tantrum about his food and disrespected his father and step-mother.
Justice Peek described the dad as “a good, loving father” who had “firm boundaries” about bedtimes, TV and computer use, meals and chores.
“The pilot gave evidence that he tried to instil self-discipline in his son and values similar to those of the Air Force including respect, dignity and integrity,” his judgement says.
“(The boy) would become indignant and stubborn … he did not like being corrected … he was quite adamant that he was in the right and his father was in the wrong.”
Justice Peek says that before the smacking incident, the father had tried “time out” and was “genuinely frustrated” by its ineffectiveness.
“While it may be that some children … may be too old for physical parental correction, such an argument does not extend to a 12-year-old boy.
“It is very important that parental conduct which is not considered unreasonable in the Australian community should not be stigmatised as criminal offending in a criminal court.”
But Monash University social work senior lecturer Dr Bernadette Saunders says hitting sends the message that violence is acceptable.
“It is never OK to smack a child. It is not necessary; there are other more positive and respectful ways of responding to children,” she says.
Dr Saunders says often parents smack a child out of frustration.
But time out for children and parents helps things “settle down a bit”.
“Most parents want to be the best parents they possibly can, and there are concerns with increasing evidence of how smacking can be associated with harmful behaviours both in childhood and adulthood,” Dr Saunders tells the ABC.
“For too long it has been considered normal; it needed to be challenged.
“We need to bring in some laws that caution parents against using it and provide them with better ways of responding to children.”
Smacking has been banned in New Zealand and 48 other countries.
Babyology covered the controversial topic of smacking last year when we asked if it’s time for Australia to outlaw smacking children?