Bring back the smack?

While modern parenting gurus like Supernanny promote reasoning with children and using incentives to encourage good behaviour, one Australian mother is advocating bringing back the smack.
Smacking should be a ‘first resort’, says Sue Edgerley in her new self-published book, 5 Keys Parenting: The No-Nonsense Guide to What Really Works! ‘Even a one-year-old understands the message that a smack sends,’ says Edgerley.

The notion is sending ripples around the parenting world. But is it right? And is it even legal? After all, corporal punishment has been outlawed in South African schools, so are parents are allowed to physically discipline their children at home?

The SA Children’s Act defines abuse as assaulting or afflicting deliberate injury on a child, so the red-hot question is whether smacking would fall under this description.

There is currently no legal precedent of a child suing parents over a smack, but what would happen if an angry tween or teen got it together to actually take their parents to court?
According to attorney and mother Carmel Mustard-Botha, parents would have a common law defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’. This would legally allow parents to physically discipline a child for misconduct, ‘provided that this is not done in a manner offensive to general good morals. Further, the chastisement must be within reason in respect of the offensive behaviour, and must not result in harm to the child.’
What’s reasonable?

But who decides whether a smack is ‘moderate and reasonable’? I daresay the smacker and the smackee would probably disagree, at least at the time of the incident. If the case made it to court, says Mustard-Botha, the judge would have to take various factors into account, including the reason for the punishment, the degree of force applied, the object used to smack, the motivation of the smacker, and the age, sex, build and mental condition of the child.

Hitting the mark

‘But you need to draw a line between legality and morality,’ concludes Mustard-Botha. ‘Just because there may be a legal loophole does not make an action right or okay – or even effective!’
There are plenty of other ways of disciplining a child, she notes, including time-outs, confiscating toys, or grounding if the child is old enough. In addition to ways of discouraging negative behaviour, parents can pro-actively encourage positive conduct through good role-modeling, star chart or reward systems, and praising positive behaviour.

Punishment VS Discipline

South African children’s rights organization Childline draws a distinction between punishing a child (for example, smacking) and disciplining them (for example, removal of privileges). While punishment is based on a belief that suffering will deter bad behaviour, discipline involves a child understanding consequences and taking responsibility for their actions.

While there are plenty of alternatives to smacking – and even laws to protect children from physical harm – there are still mothers like Edgerley who consider smacking to be ‘the most effective early training system available to parents’.

In a world where 25 countries have banned corporal punishment in the home, is South Africa still a barbaric backwater or hanging on to the last vestiges of parental authority?

Should smacking be illegal in South African homes?

An alternate view: parenting expert Anne Cawood.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 802 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 9216 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 1084 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.