Is it time for Australia to outlaw smacking children?


It’s a common theory that we were smacked as children, we turned out just fine, so what’s the harm? Research indicates that the harm can actually span generations – contributing to domestic violence and aggression in adults. But is Australia ready to ban smacking children?

While smacking children is illegal in 45 countries, Australia is yet to ban the form of discipline. A leading paediatrician is calling on his profession to teach parents alternative ways of disciplining children, but he believes Australia is still not ready to outlaw the practice.

Last week’s Royal Australasian College of Physicians Congress heard from Emeritus Professor Kim Oates, Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at Sydney University. He’s been a vocal advocate of phasing out smacking as a form of childhood punishment – drawing on decades of research. Professor Oates recently told ABC Radio National that while all children need discipline, physical punishment can be counter-productive.

“It teaches them ‘I better not do this in front of my parents’. It doesn’t teach them not to do it, it just teaches them not to do it when I’ll get caught. More importantly, it teaches children, ‘One way I can impose my will onto other people is to hit them’…It also teaches them that this is the way a parent disciplines a child, which is why it goes from generation to generation,” he says.

While the Professor admits smacking has a temporary impact on stopping the behaviour, the long-term impacts are damning. He says the evidence indicates children who are regularly smacked are more aggressive, and “there’s a clear link that some people who have been smacked a lot as children are more aggressive as adults, and a link with domestic violence.”

Professor Oates says the countries that imposed the anti-smacking law successfully have been those which have created support networks for parents, rather than punishment.

“Sweden was the first country in 1979. They said we’re going to have a law, and we’re going to accompany it by education and support for parents about more effective discipline…The emphasis has to be, I think, helping parents do a better job. People who think legislation is about locking people up have got the wrong idea.”


Despite his push for banning smacking in Australia, Professor Oates says this country isn’t yet prepared to impose such laws.

“I really don’t think Australia is ready for a law yet. I’d like to see one, but I don’t think we’re at that stage yet.”

Professor Oates advocates alternative approaches to discipline, including:

  • Giving children clear, consistent rules
  • Making sure your expectations of your children are realistic for their age
  • Withdrawal of privileges
  • Time out for children younger than five
  • Distraction
  • Reinforcing good behaviour.

(via ABC Radio National)

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