To: An open letter to all responsible politicians.
According to recent newspaper reports, the British Government is planning to adopt in March 2000 legislation that would forbid parents beating their children with implements and on the head, but otherwise would allow smacking and slapping them without any limits of age. This information urges me to write you this letter because hitting children has serious political consequences, although these consequences are rarely recognized.
At the dawn of the new millennium, probably no one will claim that we should maltreat or humiliate our children. But almost everybody still seems to recommend spanking as an effective and harmless means of raising them.
The widely represented idea that you can “teach children the difference between right and wrong” by spanking them is as old as our culture but is nevertheless highly misleading, as new research proves. Hitting children is always a humiliation and a practice of slavery. It is also educationally ineffective because it induces fear – and nobody can learn an appropriate behavior in a state of fear.
However, children learn from examples. Thus, when we spank them, we teach them exactly what we don’t want to teach: we teach them violence, ignorance, and hypocrisy. They learn quickly to do the same as we once did: first to submit to the more powerful person, to obey out of fear, and to hide the pain of being humiliated. Then, about 20 years later, they cover their own weakness with violence, are unable to act peacefully, and maintain that smacking children is the right thing to do. They resist all logical arguments by calling them “coddling”, and go on to spank their own children (or to hurt themselves) without a second’s thought, and without the slightest remorse. Their effort not to feel the suffering of their own childhood hinders them from recognizing that spanking children in every age is a humiliation – unless a new law that would clearly forbid parents to spank their children in any way will open their eyes.
If you ask grownup people why they were spanked in their childhood they will say something like: “I was a naughty boy or girl and drove my parents crazy, they were really overloaded by the way I was”. These people may rarely recall any concrete incidents or constructive lessons because they were too scared to learn them. But now, against any logical way of thinking, they expect to teach their three-year-olds lessons by hitting them. Unfortunately, many politicians of the most powerful countries succumb to this error. They do reject slavery in theory but they still do not realize that children must absolutely be protected by law.
Our parents and grandparents are not to blame for having passed on to us misleading messages because, at that time, they had no better information at their disposal. But we do have them today. We can’t claim the same innocence when the next generation blames us for having rejected information that was available to us and was easy to understand. Parents of today can no longer claim the unlimited freedom to be ignorant nor can a responsible government do it. It must take into account the most recent scientific discoveries. Damages in the brain structure of beaten children can already be seen on the screens of computers. Violence to children produces a violent and ill society. True authority dismisses humiliation. Its discipline is based on listening and talking, on trust, respect and protection of the weaker. It gives children the assistance they need to become responsible adults who will not turn to vengeful actions like wars and dictatorships, because they will simply return to others what they once received and what they learned by example: protection and respect.
Alice Miller, Virago Press, London