THE Covid-19 crisis has seen trying times for many parents, not just regarding home schooling, but in managing their children’s behaviour.
Parenting has never been easy and is arguably becoming more difficult with increasing state interference. Wales has become the second UK country after Scotland to pass a Bill removing the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ of children by parents and carers, thus criminalising smacking.
Education Minister of State Michelle Donelan has said that the UK Government has no plans to legislate to ban smacking in England, adding: ‘The Government does not wish to interfere in how loving families bring up their children. Legislation already exists to ban the beating of children by their parents.’
Problem behaviour can begin at home and manifest itself in other areas. Recent reports suggest that schools in parts of England and Wales are trialling or considering giving teachers bodycams to monitor behaviour, and it is not just in secondary schools where there are growing concerns.
One teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that behaviour in primary schools in Wales has worsened over the last ten years, saying: ‘There is a growing lack of respect towards teachers and much attention-seeking behaviour in pupils.
‘I have had parents ask me how to discipline their children and even verbally attacking me for chastising their child. Years ago, there may have been one or two children with behavioural issues in an average class. Now, there are six or seven. I feel sorry for the well-behaved children whose education is disrupted.’
So what is the reason for this worsening behaviour? A survey among children Beth Nawr, 2019, by Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, found many were concerned about not getting enough attention from parents.
Beth Nawr (What Now?) quoted a girl aged ten as saying: ‘I try to talk to my parents, but they’re always busy on their phones.’
Another influence on children’s behaviour could be the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In 2011, Wales made the UNCRC part of its domestic law, which had some bearing on the recent decision regarding the smacking ban.
Schools in Wales have been teaching children these rights, although it has been said that this undermines respect for adults and parents, especially since it does not explicitly promote teaching children their responsibilities alongside their rights.
A group of academics has written to the Welsh Government to voice concerns about the so-called smacking ban. One of these, Professor Ellie Lee, of the University of Kent, believes parents are confused by conflicting information over how best to parent and frustrated in trying to constantly reason with children.
‘We need more adult solidarity with parents and teachers coming together to have a calm, reflective discussion over how to manage children’s behaviour,’ she says.
Another opponent of the Welsh Government’s action is Professor Tommy MacKay, former president of the British Psychological Society. He says: ‘The research evidence does not support the view that smacking is harmful to children and their future development. People who support smacking are not saying that they view it as the first or main option available to them in their parenting.’
Frank Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting, also signed the letter. He feels discipline has almost become a dirty word. ‘Children’s behaviour is less and less contained by adults in general,’ he says. ‘Children need constant interaction and boundaries. We need to adopt policies to affirm adult authority and encourage its exercise.’
Another signatory, Dr Ashley Frawley, senior lecturer in social policy at Swansea University, says no response was received from the Welsh Government. She believes social policy has partly led to current behaviour problems.
‘Parents have become more confused about what they should or shouldn’t do,’ she says. ‘Moreover, the notion of parental authority has come to be looked upon as questionable and this has undermined parental confidence.’
Lowri Turner, of the Be Reasonable Wales campaign against the removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement, believes the ban will consume the already meagre resources of social services and the police.
She believes there is enough help for parents from health visitors, books, online communities and so on, but has found that parents are afraid of speaking out against the ban for fear of being placed under suspicion and even losing their livelihoods.
Freedom of Information requests by the campaign have already established that parents working in health care will be subject to investigation should they be suspected of smacking their children. ‘Loving parents should be trusted to do what’s best for their children and resources dedicated to prevent real cases of abuse,’ says Lowri.
Perhaps Welsh and Scottish Governments should have encouraged a national debate about how we can best manage the behaviour of future generations before weakening parental authority even further. The implications of this lack of adult authority could cost the nations dearly.