So what does a Super Dad write about for his first parenting article? Having just assumed this mantle I find that the pressure is now on.
Out of our three children I found that it was relatively easy to convince the 3 year old. I just had to frequently ask the question… “who’s a Super Dad, Rosie?” and after a little prompting she got it right.
My 8 year old, Molly, who has always been quite discerning, had no hesitation in concluding that there was no question I was a Super Dad, especially after I managed to get her into the audience of ‘What Now’ on a recent visit to Christchurch. The problem I have now is that in order to maintain my esteemed position she has produced a list of additional requests that would see me stay on the pedestal should they be accomplished.
Paddy turned 13 last week and in accordance with the rite of passage to becoming a teenager his reaction to his father being a Super Dad was a two word response, namely “Yeah right!” I might add that it was said with a decidedly sly grin so I didn’t taken offence.
So where to begin? Well at the risk of starting off on a somewhat controversial note, it seems timely to comment on a subject I feel passionately about, but one I know divides our country. And that is Sue Bradford’s move to the Repeal of Section 59 Crimes Act currently before Parliament
I feel grateful that New Zealand has people like Sue Bradford who are prepared to stand up and speak for children and their right to be protected. Along the way people like Sue have to suffer the insults and derogatory comments from those opposed to any change in this legislation.
Sadly, the Repeal of Section 59 has become known as the “smacking bill” which is a pity as it certainly is not only about whether it’s okay to smack or not; or even the question of loving parents becoming criminals because they choose to lightly smack their kids now and again. It is simply about removing from our law books an archaic law that currently protects adults and virtually gives them permission to assault children in their care.
Repeal of Section 59 means that tolerating abuse in the name of ‘discipline’ would ultimately be a thing of the past. And heaven knows we have an appalling record when it comes to hurting kids in this country.
The wording in the law as it stands at the moment includes the phrase “force by way of correction towards a child if that force is reasonable”. And that is simply where the problem lies for me. That single word “reasonable”. One parent thinks a slap on the leg is “reasonable” and the parent down the road thinks that belting a child with a horse whip or piece of 4 x 2 is “reasonable”. The current law is on the side of bully who employs a clever defence lawyer to use Section 59 to get them off. The outcome is that the adults in New Zealand who really damage our most vulnerable and frightened kids can get away with it.
And I’m not impressed with National MP, Chester Burrows, who announced recently his suggested alternative wording to ‘reasonable force’ . He wants it changed to ‘causing transitory and trifling discomfort only’. In my book this is just as bad. Again who decides how bad trifling discomfort is for a child? It’s abhorrent to think we have to clarify in law how much pain a child should or should not feel. This National Party alternative is nothing more than a re-working of the present phrase and in fact could be considered worse.
I acknowledge that some parents have an honest fear that if they smack their kids when they see them heading towards a busy road, or catch them poking things into a power point, the Police will come and cart them off to jail. But let’s be honest the Police are not going to be interested.
It’s like the shoving and jostling that goes on in a football match or in a pub. Technically it’s assault but no Police Officer is going to be persuaded to take action unless it clearly goes too far by general standards.
Let’s get over this fear and take a look at the bigger picture. For me it’s about the status of children in this country and the question of whether in this day and age we need a nasty law that, in theory, tells us how we can hurt children.
How is it that we have a law that stops me from whacking my dog, another that stops me from assaulting my wife or the guy next door … but there is no law protecting my children?
You could say that Section 59 singles out children as the only class in our society we are entitled to hit, and that isn’t fair. Kids should have the same protection of the law that adults and animals enjoy.
The opposing argument seems based on the fact that a child is a possession and by denying adults the right to hit, you are denying them the freedom to choose how we treat our possession.
The fact is that any physical punishment of children is unacceptable. As far as I can see it can only compound the image of the big person hitting the small person.
It will take a lot more than someone like me to convince people that this change is necessary but one compelling reason is the long list of very reputable, well known agencies and organisations in New Zealand who work at the coal face, dealing with distressed and abused children everyday. The list of over 140 organisations, from Plunket and Barnardos to the Paediatric Society unanimously believe that Repeal of Section 59 is the only option. These people know what they’re talking about when it comes to kiwi kids and the amount of suffering they endure and I believe they should be listened to.
Most of us know that there are ‘alternatives’ to hitting children. Strategies like ‘Time Out’ and ‘Consequences’ do work. Kids need to learn respect and boundaries and we’ve found that if you start teaching toddlers the family ground rules before their 3rd birthday they’re quickly on the way to understanding how a happy family operates.
I would like to finish with a quote from a well respected New Zealander, Dame Sylvia Cartwright, who sums up the debate for me:
We must ask ourselves whether the right to smack children is so precious a right, so necessary to parenting, that we are willing to sacrifice the James Whakarurus, the Lillybings and the many many children who are assaulted in the name, or using the excuse of discipline and who survive.
All views expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer, Mark Leishman. These are not necessarily the views of Kiwi Families Ltd.