Please Vote Yes

If you’ll forgive a diversion from my usual geekly rantings for a moment, I have a polite request to make of you.

In New Zealand, during July, you will be asked to vote in a referendum on the following question:
[quote]Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?[/quote]
I’m not going to into the maddening semantics of this question, but I am going to ask you to think very hard about your response before you vote. It’s very easy to look at that question and come to a conclusion quickly. It’s very easy to get worked up about the premise and become irritated at the thought of the government intruding on your perceived human rights.

It’s also very easy to get frustrated, annoyed, and irritated at your child and then hit them. Is that “good parental correction”? In my opinion it is not.

There should be no “reasonable force” defence for assault against a child. Please Vote Yes.

If it helps, before you vote, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • As a 30 year old, would you expect your father to hit you if he doesn’t like your opinions?
  • Would you permit another child to hit your child if he didn’t like the game he was playing?
  • Would you push your child over – repeatedly – if he refused to play rugby?

If you want to leave a comment, please be respectful. Vigorous debate is part of a democracy. For the record: I am a father of a happy, intelligent, and polite 5 year old.  I expect him to say please and thank you (and he does), I expect him to respect appropriate authority and question inappropriate authority (and boy does he ever).

I have never smacked him.

Join the Conversation


  1. I am a firm believer that smacking is a cop out. It’s much harder to work out a solution that it is to smack a child, who’s basically helpless and defenseless.

    Believe me, my 2.5yo daughter can drive me crazy. But when I think hard about it, who’s the one that needs training? ME. As a father, I am setting the tone for my childs life. Do I want her to hit others in order to get her way or get something accomplished? Definitely not.

    Some may say “hitting is a last resort”. I say hitting is out of the question. You said it best, “As a 30 year old, would you expect your father to hit you if he doesn’t like your opinions?”.

    Others say, “I was smacked, so it’s okay.” These people need to get off the retribution gravy train immediately and seek professional help. Good parenting means taking care of your issues so you don’t pass them on to your kids.

  2. That’s a really good point Nathaniel. My father was smacked repeatedly. He smacked me a couple of times. The logical next step is that I should eradicate it completely right?

  3. I have to wholeheartedly disagree with you. While I did answer No to all three of the ‘helpful’ questions, I can’t see why we need the government’s help to educate our children. You have a nice kid that respects you and doesn’t give you trouble? Good for you. I know of at least 2 ‘problem’ kids that simply won’t listen to their parents, no matter how kind (or how severe) their tones are. I know I was a PITA to my mom, and she did employ the occasional smacking as a lesson. I grew out of it and now I can see that she was right, and I was just being annoying.

    Bear in mind, though, that child abuse or family violence is NOT something that even needs discussing. It’s a crime and that’s that.

    It just seems like this referendum is pointless if people were taught common sense instead. Lots of other countries don’t have issues with this. Is NZ running out of interesting things to decide on?

  4. Thanks for the opinion @magu. Like I say, debate is a very important part of democracy.

    It does bother me that “I was just being annoying” is grounds for a smack (I realise you’re probably understating). Also, I’d argue that my nice, respectful kid is due to decent parenting without smacking, not some fluke of nature.

  5. @Nathaniel Flick
    It took me a while to write my post, so there was no one to answer to. I don’t think it’s a cop-out or a last-resort.

    I would say it’s probably got to do with what I call the ‘patience level’ of the person.

    And regarding the ‘retribution gravy train’, I agree with you that some parents probably lash out at their kids because of their own issues, but that doesn’t mean that ALL of the parents do it because of that. I don’t make an association between my parents doing it and me doing it, but I can’t say I don’t agree with my mom when I look back at my younger self and see the stupid crap she had to put up with.

  6. I found a light smack worked wonders on SERIOUS occasions (kid runs out onto the road etc) to get the point home. However once a child is of any kind of age that you can reason with them, i see no point at all to continue with that.
    The key part of the phrase is “as part of good parental correction” and a persons interpretation.

    The whole point of the law was to stop child abuse, and the kind of people whom abuse their children, are not the kind of person who give a damn about the law. So IMHO i think this is epic fail, lawfully they could have just charged parents under the current abuse laws that apply to everyone.

    Stop spending money on silly laws, large protests, and wasting peoples times, and start spending it on re-education, more police to enforce it, and a better (more educated) CYPFS.

  7. I debated long and hard on even commenting on this article, especially after Nathaniel’s comment that I need to ‘seek professional help’, but I do believe it’s ok in certain situations.

    I believe I’ve turned out OK, I’m 20 years old, finished school, graduated from further studies and started my own business, which has had a pretty successful first year. I’ve never hit anyone to try and get my own way or make them side with me. I’ve never been in trouble with any sort of authorities, be it school or the police etc — and yet I was smacked as a child.

    I really do believe that my parents were great parents and gave me the best possible up-bringing I could have hoped for, and I also believe that smacking, in certain situations, was the most effective way to get me to understand what I had done.

    Will all that said though, it’s very easy to cross the line when it comes to smacking your child and I guess that’s where the problem lies. It’s near impossible to police, so are we better off removing it all together? I don’t have an answer to that as I’m not sure. I guess what I just wanted to say is that I do believe that it can be a valid parenting technique (in a parents large arsenal) and I don’t think people should be berated or need to ‘seek professional help’ if they feel that way too..

  8. @Ben
    Indeed, it wasn’t just me being annoying, as I know my parents were very, very patient with me.

    I also wouldn’t say good kids or ‘bad kids’ (for the sake of argument here, not a real term) are genetically different. It all depends on many variables: pregnancy, environment, the ‘patience level’, etc. But there are families that have different combinations of these variables and the results are… well, you get the picture.

    Hitting for the sake of making the kid listen to you is never good parenting. My mom hit me a few times. My dad hit me once. Who do you think made me start paying attention more?

    And the next step you mentioned is a valid thing, and I support everyone to start doing that. But making it a crime is a bit of a stretch. Each family should stop smacking on its own terms.

  9. Good point @Ben Lilley.

    The question here is where the line is. I have enough common sense (or at least I like to think I do) to know what is and is not smacking, but if most of the population can’t tell one from the other, then I guess government interference is necessary.

  10. I should have mentioned that my main concern is the amount of equivocation and justification around what entails a light smack or good correction.

    Surely it would be less harmful to make everyone think twice about hitting (and perhaps put a couple of good parents through the courts) than to allow one single abuser to use a reasonable force defence?

  11. Hmm another thought. Good kids and bad kids (well, peoples perception of them) is really a direct result of how much time a parent puts into them. If you don’t play with your kids, and don’t encourage them to do well, and make sure they feel important, then they wont do well. It doesn’t have much to do with smacking at all.
    I smacked my children when they were young, they are now 10 11 and 13, and all straight A students at the top of their class.
    I know people who never spanked, but also never spent time one on one with their children, who are similar ages, and already have had problems with the law among other things. The smacking really doesn’t have anything to do with how well your children turn out.

  12. Back in 1991 I was pregnant with my daughter, the horror news was the abuse of little Delcelia Whittiker – I decided there and then that I would never use physical discipline on my child.

    Family and friends laughed at me saying there was nothing wrong with smacking a child but I was determined. It was far more demanding to parent without the use of physical force but I am so pleased with the outcome.

    My daughter learned how to control her own behaviour and that is what we want as parents. She is the most well mannered, well disciplined young woman that I know. I couldn’t be more proud of the way she has turned out and I put that down to her upbringing.

    Just the other day I listened to her debate this very subject with an elderly Karitane nurse who believes smacking shouldn’t be outlawed.

    I know that my daughter will not physically discipline her children, instead she will get off her arse and simply deal with the situations as they arise.

    Delcelia changed a generation of lives – RIP.

  13. Ben, you have nothing to worry about – according to David Farrar’s NBR post: “Parliament has actually ignored the result of every single referendum held under the CIR legislation.” and: “…[John Key] has said he will only change the law if there is proof it is not working and criminalizing good parents. He never said he will follow the results of the referendum.”
    I’ll be voting “yes” but it looks like it won’t matter anyway.

  14. @stuartm Thats a good point indeed, I’ve heard that repeatedly. However then again, if enough people care to make a point about it, it would be like the 92a thing where pressure made things happen.

    How about everyone making their AV red for something? (we’ve done green and black already!)

  15. Children don’t have the same rights as adults. It’s appropriate to treat children a bit differently to how we treat adults, their brains don’t work nearly as well, not only are they stupid, but they’re often unreasonable.

    It’s assault to pick up an adult in your arms and carry him kicking and screaming to another room (or out of the supermarket and to the car). It’s not assault (or is it, today?) to do the same to a child having a tantrum.

    I don’t have children, but I wasn’t really smacked (few and far between, and only when my behaviour was absolutely over the line) so I don’t think I’m likely to be a smacker, but does that mean that I have any right to tell another parent to how to raise her children? I don’t think it does.

    Should children be routinely beaten? No. Should it be mandatory for you, Ben, to smack your kids? No of course not. But if some other parent, in some other context, entirely removed from our own, thinks that a smack might sometimes be appropriate for her children, I think she should be able to do that without any interference from us.

    (Granted that I don’t feel the same way about jug cords, or wooden spoons, or punches in the face – anyone using any implement, or using anything beyond the very lightest of force is quite clearly using terrible judgement. Defining this distinction is incredibly easy.)

    And yet, all of this said, I have to vote yes on the referendum, simply because I don’t want to associate myself with any of the loopy moonbats that kicked the whole retarded thing off.

    If you knew what I know about Sue Bradford’s home life, and how her children were raised, you would be raising an eyebrow at the irony of the whole situation. You would not believe the noise (screaming, shouted abuse, incredible sounds of rage) that came out of her house. It’s all very well for her to tell us how to raise our children now that her’s are grown.

  16. It seems the argument has centered around “It’s OK to hit young kids but once they grow up we shouldn’t need to anymore” … if anything, the wrong way around (NO, not advocating hitting of older kids just that if one was to argue for anything it would be the other way).

    “Hit” – I don’t wish to hide behind some politically correct term such as “smack”

  17. Perhaps it’s a bit strawman-y, but is it not better that a couple of “good” parents be questioned about the assaultyness of their “correction”, rather than one wanker get off an assault charge with a reasonable force defence?

    Honestly, if we’re to allow smacking, it sounds like the only practical solution is to describe a smack in detail in the law. “Open hand, less than x velocity for kids under x age”. It just makes me cringe, given that I’m almost brought to tears by the very idea of smacking a kid.

  18. @morgan very well said on #17 .
    @MikeR we are talking about a “smack” not a “hit”, to confused the two makes this an entirely different conversation. I have a huge problem with anyone who hits a child, in any way with a closed fist.
    However in saying that, often when playing with my kids, we will be rolling around the floor ticking each other or giving each other dead arms, does this make me a bad parent for lightly punching them in the arm (or for them to do it back to me?).

    Again, we need to spend less time arguing laws which don’t stop anyone seriously abusing their children, and more time actively doing something about it.
    Making a law doesn’t stop people from beating up children or child abuse.

  19. There are a number of things that bother me about this whole debate. The foremost is the level of dishonesty I perceive from the organisers. By the letter of the law a smack is illegal, but then it always was, but there was a much more clearly prescribed defense provided should if come to court. The law has not changed arresting behaviour for the police – especially as they have specifically been prescribed discretionary powers in the act.

    Also there is debate as to whether smacking as ‘correction’ is even prohibited by the act – in part it reads:

    Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the child is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of—
    – preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or
    – preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or
    – preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or
    – performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.

    It could very easily be argued that in most instances of corrective smacking as part of good parenting, that it would be in one of those cases, especially that 3rd and 4th.

    I don’t think it’s good practice to have specific exemptions and defenses iterated in law.

    The larger problem is that if they get the high ‘No’ response they expect, and were somehow able to convince the government to follow that – what exactly would be the legislation involved? How does one codify ‘Good parenting’ or even a ‘smack’ for that matter. Friends of mine used to be on the receiving end of a wooden spoon, a belt or even a shoe.

    I’m voting yes despite the fact that I don’t really want to see people prosecuted for reasonable smacking – mainly because I don’t believe the current law has that effect, no matter what Family First says (and seriously, pushing a kid over repeatedly because he doesn’t want to play rugby isn’t even remotely connected to this, and is a shitty thing to do).

  20. Was reminded of another thing – the mixed messages…

    Two instances I’ve witnessed on separate occasions at the same place – the playground at the local mall.

    The first was a little girl who got a little over-excited and hit another little girl. Not very hard, but the other girl was surprised and cried. Her dad stormed in and gave her a pretty decent smack on the bum and told her quite sternly that it wasn’t okay to hit people. The irony seemed thick there.

    The second, same place, months later, a little boy seemingly took exception with the behaviour of another child and smack the other child on the bum. His parents didn’t seem to notice, but the smackee’s did and came to rescue their kid and asked the boy what he was doing – the boy said that the other kid had been naughty so he smacked him. I was pretty shocked by that one.

    We’ve never smacked our kids. And despite this sparing the rod, we are frequently told how well behaved our four-year-old is. And he is. I was never smacked by my parents and have never had any problems with understanding right and wrong.

  21. When I got the mass mailout about the referendum, I laughed at how stupid and pointless the question is, and decided I’d just boycott the whole thing.

    But then my son wanted to know what it was all about, so I held it up for him to read and asked him “how would you answer this question?”

    He didn’t have to think about it. “Yes, of course,” he said.

    So I decided I would vote after all, and I’m voting on his behalf.

    Of course, we really do need to overhaul the Citizens’ Initiated Referendum legislation too – so questions are actually relevant and meaningful. The correct question really would be “should the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 be repealed?” It would then be up to the various campaigners to explain what a yes or no vote would mean.

    Instead we’re spending a lot of time, money and emotional energy on a totally pointless exercise that will succeed only in muddying the waters and obscuring the issues even more than occured in 2007. But I guess the “culture wars” aren’t about achieving workable policy; there are other agendas in play…

    Anyway, good post, Ben – and I can honestly confirm that both your parenting and your son are a joy to behold. 🙂

  22. Thanks Dylan for so eloquently summing up why I am boycotting this referendum. The loaded (and yet ambiguous) framing of the question, the factions lining up on either side of the “debate” and the fact that the outcome is looking increasingly irrelevant to actual law change, all give me the uneasy feeling our democracy has been hijacked.

    I can count the number of times I was smacked as a child on my thumbs, but both times the mostly symbolic smack (it was not remotely painful) was an incredibly powerful signal that the message my mother was giving me was literally life-or-death-important. When it comes to road or water safety (to use my own examples) I completely believe a smack must be kept in reserve as a last resort when reasoning with an unreasonable child just isn’t possible or practical.

  23. “As a 30 year old, would you expect your father to hit you if he doesn’t like your opinions?”

    I don’t think it’s relevant. As a (almost) 30 year old my father is not legally responsible for me or for my welfare… while he was legally responsible when I was a child.

    At the end of the day this referendum is inane and boring and will do nothing to change the existing law – nor will it do anything to change NZ’s child abuse epidemic. Now that’s something to get worked up about!!!

  24. it is indeed an issue but one that should never have needed to be raised, but since it has been, then a decision should be entered into.

    i will myself be voting ‘no’ to the question but only because of the ‘criminal’ aspect, not the ‘smacking’ acpect.
    to clarify, i have never in my life struck another human being, child or adult, but have, as a child, as were my three siblings, been soundly beaten by both my parents.
    i’ve never committed a crime, or acted unsocially and consider myself a very moral person.
    my cousins, however, were never ever smacked as children and were always treated with respect and allowed their freedoms. two of the three have been arrested on drug offences and all have been at some point rebellious and anti-social.

    i believe ultimately a parent is a better judge of how to raise their children even if that judgment is flawed.

    also ben, i believe your three examples are misdirection and invalid for the arguement, but’s that’s just me.

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