No matter where we think we are heading in the future, as the old adage goes, know your history first.
The 1980s were my formative political years. A pretty good time to be the son of a union man and a National stalwart mother. They were an incredible time in NZ politics, with social movements providing some of the biggest pressures on Kiwi politics. There was the Springbok Tour, the later Muldoon years, the Fourth Labour Government and the massive structural and economic transformations from the country all but going broke.
One of the more contested social issues that Parliament championed seemingly against the will of the people was the Homosexual Law Reform Bill. On 24 Sept 1985 the anti-reform petition with a claimed 800,000+ signatures in ninety one boxes (many of which were empty) were presented at the steps of parliament. There were people from all walks of life, but the vast majority were christian and conservatives. The Coalition of Concerned Citizens provided a fervent attack on the bill, employing the services of US preachers and envoking the likes of Billy Bud. The presentation of the petition on the steps has been described by many as resembling NAZI styled rally (fast forward to 2000s NZ and the Destiny Church at Parliament). There was a Christian Polynesian Choir from Porirua sang ‘Onward Christian Solider’, there were banners, there were crosses and there were counter protests.
The petition was organised by four MPs, Geoff Braybrooke, Graeme Lee, Norm Jones and Alan Wallbank, although it was later taken over by two further MPs Keith Hay and Peter Tait.
(Norman Jones speaking against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill).
One of the prevailing threats of the day was “If you don’t sign, you must be a poofter too”, implying that G W Bush approach to politics, ‘you are either with us or for the terrorists’.
Fast forward to New Zealand 2007/8 and the inspired amendment to Section 59 of the Crimes Act, or the so called ‘anti-smacking’ legislation. This piece of legislation was introduced to take away the ‘right’ many parents think they have to use smacking as part of parenting. Of course there is a wide body of opposition to this position the government has taken, from the conservative christians who raise the bible as their guide for disciplining children, through to the classic ‘kiwi battler’ who want’s to keep on with the way things were done – the classic ‘my parents hit me and i’m fine’ attitude.
(Pro smacking banner from Family First web site).
One of the arguments for the right to smack is at the heart of the petition organised to fight for a Citizens Initiated Referendum at the next general election later this year. the question states, “SHOULD A SMACK AS PART OF GOOD PARENTAL CORRECTION BE A CRIMINAL OFFENCE IN NEW ZEALAND?”
Looking at that question I have the hairs on the back of my neck standing up straight away. What good parent would think that raising a hand in violence (there is no love in hitting someone) is something they should do. What person thinks that hitting something or more importantly someone is good parenting. We are rightly appalled when we hear that a horse owner has beaten his/her animals. We stop our kids from hitting other kids and animals, yet these people think that it is OK for the apparently mature more intelligent (and lets face it all powerful) parent to hit a child. Just because our parents did it and the so called studies show that we are alright, is about as intelligent as using the children’s readily used defense “well Sam did it first”.
Some of the other arguments put up (from the New Zealand Herald today 26 Feb) include, “I am apparently totally responsible for her well-being and behaviour, but not to be trusted when it comes to making parenting decisions about how to develop her sense of right and wrong”. True, this is why we have laws preventing the sale and supply of liquor to minors, or tobacco, or the very simple you must buckle your passengers in the car. If one want’s to install a sense of right built around the notion that to get ones attention or way one must beat someone, then your sense of what is right needs correcting. These arguments of course spring from the libertarian right who want all govt. removed from their lives (well to a certain extent anyway, I mean who would police the masses to protect their precious processions), and dogmatic christians. The opinion piece author, Sacha Coburn, complains that sanctions against the child (time out, denial of privileges etc) aren’t effective and only result in a more attention, “She knows that if she screams loudly and for long enough she might not get her way but, by golly, there’ll be a flurry of action around her. In short, she has learnt that behaving badly works.”
What a terrible way to teach a child their way in life. If removing the hitting aspect only results in the spoiling and attention fulfilling needs of the child, nothing is learnt by the child and even worse the parent. As a father of two children under 5, there is no more effective punishment than the removal of the child from the activity that others are doing, or the removal of their toys etc. As the parent who makes the rules, denial of toys and friends without any attention heaped on the offending child is a very effective tool, installing the cause and effect of their actions on the child. If you are punishing the child, ignore them and do not give them the attention they are seeking. Children are simple creatures and can work out pretty quickly that doing something wrong and still getting attention is a good way to get attention. Of course not enough parents talk to their kids. All too often I hear the argument that a 2 year old can’t be reasoned with. What a total load of rubbish. If you take the time to talk to the kid in their language, using the information they know, they will get the message loud and clear.
Children can be reasoned with, children can also be removed from danger without the ‘corrective’ smack. Why if a child is about to run on the road would you hit the child? Grab their arm and stop them from running on the road and talk to the child. If you are that lazy a parent that you resort to hitting a child as opposed to talking to them or taking other actions, you really shouldn’t be in the care of children (possibly the most important job in the world).
Of the 800,000+ signatures collected to protect the institutional bigotry against homosexual people, thankfully only 350,000 were found to be valid. Mickey Mouse it seems was compelled to sign the petition. So concerned at the thought of a gay person engaging in acts behind closed doors in the privacy of one’s home, that one person signed the petition 27 times. But still with the NZ population at only just under 3.5 million it was still 10% of the population (roughly the % of gay population) that signed for the denial of rights for a significant section of the population. In todays terms the apparently 350,000 signatures on this current petition are of course proportionately less than the pervious example. I have heard anecdotally that there are signatures on there that no longer wish to be recorded, as they signed before the passing of the act and have since changed their minds.
My point in a very long winded way is that might is of course not always right. If we allowed to so called moral majority back in the 80s to dictate social policy we would have remained one of the worlds conservative backwaters. Its inconceivable that in this day and age that we would consider denying the rights of people based on sexual orientation, any less than we would race or creed. Yet we are prepared to allowed outdated ideas of parenting based on violence to teach our kids. People complain that this is political correctness gone wrong. However they usually don’t know what they mean when they say that statement. For me Political Correctness is basing ones actions around respect for others. It doesn’t mean that we should condone acts that we as a society deem wrong or inappropriate. It doesn’t mean that we allow our kids to get away with murder. To be PC is to be actively involved in the evolution of ideas and society, rather than dogmatically stuck in the ways of the past, which lets face it haven’t necessarily been proven to be the right way to do things.
To be PC is to be respectful, and in this case, respect is for the child. In not hitting the child you respect them as another living object, you are more actively engaged in their social and moral upbringing, and you are changing the society in which we all live. Just as the govt. changed the national attitudes towards homosexual bigotry, the bill introduced by Sue Bradford aims to change social behavior in protecting our most precious and vulnerable of assets the youth of NZ.
This of course wont fall on the deaf ears of the ‘media frightened’ public whom are glued all day long to the haters and ratings inspired fear mongers that run talk radio in NZ. All day everyday these shows are filled with the concerns of the few about the lives of others, with the presenter either reinforcing the bigoted negative attitudes, or failing to correct the incorrect irrational fears of the listening nation.
If we are to learn anything from history, social attitudes change (thankfully) and that might isn’t always the right way to do things. Lets hope the powers that be don’t listen to the fears and hatred of these people. Sometimes the government has to be in our lives regardless what the libertarians believe, and in this case the issues are bigger than our narrow minded and outdated attitudes.
To hit a kid is feeble, it is bereft of parenting ideas, and is the actions of the weak and lazy. It is not always easy parenting, no one ever said it would be. It is the more powerful and respectful path taken by the parent that doesn’t hit their child. Talk to your fiends about this issue, don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed. Without dialogue we aren’t functioning humans, and without learning that there are other ways to do things we are failing in the role of humans. After all we didn’t stop with the Model T car, why stop at corporal punishment of children.
Do not vote for the repealing of the ‘anti-smacking’ legislation, don’t be so bloody weak as to fall back on outdated habits. Respect yourself and your kids.