Scotland bans smacking children. Would you arrest Toya Graham?

Scotland is banning smacking children. It is a contentious issue. Sensible parenting would suggest spanking is done as an absolute last resort. Germany has banned it since 2000. Of course, preventing child abuse is a no-brainer. Recall single mum Toya Graham who shot to fame after slapping her son when she found he disobeying her direct order to stay away from the Baltimore protests. She gave her son a schooling which was widely praised in the media. Call it tough love or whatever but her son literally didn’t know what hit him. How anyone could see it as anything other than unconditional love for her ‘only’ son is beyond words? Even the media were calling her “Mom of the year”.

Yet in this powder-puff world, more laws are being put in place to wrap kids in cotton wool and cage parents behind barbed wire. Is it any wonder we have so many unadjusted millennials who need safe spaces, trigger warnings to prevent micro-aggressions? Why not ban rugby and football for kids because by the same token, contact sports are inherently violent and would only reinforce the many studies which have tried to link those kids who are on the receiving end of corporal punishment to being “more” likely to be aggressive.

As a statistician though, collecting enough credible data on this is incredibly hard to do. For one, kids stepping out of line is not only random in terms of time and severity but age and a whole host of factors. Can one honestly say that a kid who was smacked twice a year is likely to be twice as prone to anxiety in later life than one smacked once a year? Can we honestly link the event of a father smacking his 7yo who stole money from his mother’s purse to buy candy was directly related to his PTSD in later life? Indeed if there is serious and continuous child abuse then that is a whole different story. What is next? Will the government use a stern telling off by a parent as ‘verbal abuse’ of children? Who  determines the line of what constitutes parenting and abuse?

Perhaps we should look at the incidence of single parent households around the world. Maybe parent responsibility (or rather lack thereof) is a far bigger factor in causing ‘problems’ in later life than a smack for insolence. Starting with America – the top 10 counties where kids are in households raised by one parent is over 70% with the ironically named Loving County in Texas the top at almost 100%. In Japan single parent households are now 25% of all families up from 15% in 1990. In Scotland, 25% of families (170,000) are single parent. As a statistician it is far easier to draw a link between growing single parent households and maladjusted kids. The bottom line is that there is a large body of literature showing that children of single parents are more likely to commit crimes than children who grow up with their married parents.

From the report ‘The Real Root Causes of Violent Crime: The Breakdown of Marriage, Family, and Community

“Most delinquents are children who have been abandoned by their fathers. They are often deprived also of the love and affection they need from their mother. Inconsistent parenting, family turmoil, and multiple other stresses (such as economic hardship and psychiatric illnesses) that flow from these disagreements compound the rejection of these children by these parents, many of whom became criminals during childhood. With all these factors working against the child’s normal development, by age five the future criminal already will tend to be aggressive, hostile, and hyperactive. Four-fifths of children destined to be criminals will be “antisocial” by 11 years of age, and fully two-thirds of antisocial five-year-olds will be delinquent by age 15.”

Maybe the Scots should make getting divorce much harder more than preventing corporal punishment? After all single parent benefits are so easy to get making the decision to split so much easier. In Japan divorces sky-rocketed when the government entitled women to 50% of their spouse’s pension. Policy matters.

Before those that want to point at poverty as a factor in crime they might want to know that the Chinese in San Francisco in the mid-1960s had the lowest family income of any ethnic group (less than $4,000 per year) but next to no crime: only 5 Chinese in all of California were then in prison.

How many parents today use iPhones or iPads as modern day pacifiers to naughty kids as a substitute for good parenting? Easier to stuff an iPhone in their face after they’ve stepped out of line than spend 5 minutes looking eye to eye to explain right and wrong. Instead threats like “wait til I tell your father when he gets home” have been replaced by WiFi password changes, temporary confiscations of devices and the cruelest of all – denial of the charger. Different families have different views about discipline. Yet, kids are continuous learners – they quickly learn what they can and can’t get away with. They are sponges. Who could forget this video of a 3yo kid obviously copying his father saying to his mother, “Linda, Linda, Honey! Listen!” Little Kevin worked out that Grandma was a far softer target.

I’m sure most kids from my generation have had a smack from a parent which was thoroughly deserved. I am sure most of you have made it without safe spaces or trigger warnings. So before the Scots declare a huge victory over banning smacking kids, perhaps society needs a deeper hard look at these other issues.

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