Do you ever get that feeling when you think ‘okay, that’s enough serious talk, let’s write about something that won’t provoke discussion for once’, and then something mildly controversial creeps into your skull and won’t leave until you’ve had a rant about it?
I have had one of those feelings.
Of all the topics that are likely to get people launching at you in an uncontrollable rage, there is no more of a violent-confrontation-inducing talking point than whether or not we should hit our kids. I’m not exaggerating. There’s a kind of religious zealotry around people’s defence of their ‘right’ to strike their children. I am justifiably terrified to be writing about it.
So I’m going to come right out with where I stand on the issue – do not hit your kids.
Before everyone dogpiles on me with their reasons why I am absolutely definitely wrong, please allow me to explain myself.
I was ‘smacked’ as a child. It wasn’t a frequent form of discipline, but nonetheless it happened on the odd occasion. Normally it was when things had escalated out of control to the point where I was rolling around on the floor screaming and kicking and smacking random objects across my room. Had we had my diagnosis at that point, we could probably have categorised these as extreme meltdowns due to explosive emotional and sensory overload. But we didn’t have my diagnosis. And it would get to a point where my mum would be so cross with this (what appeared to be) willfully disobedient child that she would smack me across the leg.
This is incredibly difficult for me to write. Because I absolutely adore my mum. My mum is wonderful. And I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression of who she is and how lucky I am to have her as a mother. But I have to be honest to get across what I’m trying to express.
I’ve spoken before about how I have a lot of bits missing from my childhood memories. But this is something I definitely do remember. I remember that smacking me didn’t do anything. If anything it made it worse. To have someone hitting me on top of the already unbearable overload (sensory and emotional) just pushed me further over the edge. I felt angry. I felt betrayed. I felt like it was unfair (and you all know how furious I can get about a lack of equity – I was the same way as a small me too). It threw me into a spiral of everything angry and upset and bad.
This isn’t fair. Why did you hit me. Stop hitting me.
And as I got older, I began to incorporate the smacking as a form of desperately unhealthy stim. When I found myself boiling over, I would start smacking myself about the legs, taking out my frustrations and punishing myself first so someone else didn’t have to do it for me. It became an unconscious, natural response to those feelings of rage, frustration, and despair.
I’m 26 now, and I still smack myself in the legs when the world gets too much (or I’m particularly cross with myself for not being able to cope with that world). I don’t know if my mum ever made the connection as to why I do that. And I don’t want her to feel guilt for it.I was a handful. I was infuriating. It wasn’t on purpose. She didn’t know.
But nonetheless here we are.
A lot of people with similar experiences to mine will talk about how it ‘taught them respect’ and ‘did them no harm’. And I say good for those people. But that is not my experience. For one, it wasn’t harmless, and for two, I learned everything I know about being a good and respectful person from my mum when she wasn’t smacking me (and the majority of the time she didn’t smack me).
Those moments when the meltdown had burnt itself out into gentle sobs, and I’d be able to crawl into my mum’s lap and cry with her arms around me, and tell her how much I loved her and how sorry I was, and she would the same. Those were the moments that taught me the most important things. Those were the moments that made me who I am today.
Now, I know the argument will be made that I am an ‘anomaly’. My case isn’t the same as that of a neurotypical child, they will say. It’s different.
But as far as anyone knew, I was a neurotypical child. The whole ‘autism’ thing didn’t even flash on our radar until I was in my early twenties.
Do you really want to take that risk?
When someone is pregnant, they will often cut out alcohol altogether at even the slimmest chance of the child having lasting damage. Statistically, a few glasses here or there isn’t going to cause your child any harm. And yet still people stop. Just in case.
So the majority of people who were smacked as children don’t have any obvious long term damage. But who is to say that your child won‘t be the one who does have lingering harm? Shouldn’t we take the same view we took before they were born – and stop doing it just in case?
(This may be a mildly off topic but nonetheless interesting observation, but I notice that a lot of those who argue that they should be allowed to smack kids are the same people that get really upset if you advocate for punching fascists. And I know people who won’t vaccinate their children but will smack them. Why is that?)
In addition to my own personal experiences, I would beg of adults (parents, guardians or otherwise) to read some of the extensive studies that have been done on the long term potential effects of spanking as opposed to other methods of discipline (methods that focus on teaching and growth rather than punishment).
My worry is that there are kids out there, like me, undiagnosed autistic or otherwise neurodiverse, who are being smacked for no good reason and who will feel the long term effects as they get older.
And even if those kids aren’t autistic or neurodiverse, they’re still being hit in a way that makes no sense to me. And I hate it when things don’t make sense. I hate it when there’s a double standard – particularly if it’s an imbalance that the rest of the world seems to just accept because that’s just ‘the way things are done’.
I want to raise a generation of kids, particularly autistic kids, who will be able to question authority rather than be cowed by it – who will be able to stand up and call something out rather than sit in submission – a generation who will know that respect has to be earned in both directions, and that organic respect is worth so much more than respect gained through fear.
So I just want everyone to open their minds for a moment and read about my experience. Read what happened. Read what could be happening locked away in the heads of others. Read the studies. Read the solutions.
And please don’t hit your kids.