Experts have renewed calls to ban parents from smacking their children, with new research showing it can double rates of anxiety and depression in young people.
Smacking has been banned in 65 countries across the globe. But Australia still allows it within reasonable limits.
The research, led by the Australian Catholic University’s Professor Daryl Higgins, found six in 10 people aged between 16 and 24 experienced four or more incidents of smacking in childhood.
“It almost doubled their risk of mental health issues in young adulthood such as anxiety and depression,” Higgins told 9 News.
It also found those over 65 were more than twice as likely to use physical force than their younger counterparts.
Experts say parents that do resort to smacking their children can feel shame and say there needs to be more parenting support and education in the community.
“I think that’s a problem with society that we haven’t actually showed them a better way, showed them a way that is more effective, that’s safe and that works,” Higgins said.
Professor Higgins said the federal government should lead the way.
“This is a public health issue,” he said. “We just need to have leadership.”
“Research clearly shows that physical punishment doesn’t have any positive associations, other than immediate compliance with a parent’s desires, so it is quite shocking that so many young people experienced this form of discipline on multiple occasions during childhood.”
Professor Sophie Havighurst from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Psychiatry says Australian children should have the same right to protection as adults.
“If it’s illegal to hit your neighbour, their child or their dog, why is it legal to hit your child?” Prof Havighurst said.
“Smacking acts as a model that those closest to you can hit you if they don’t like what you do.
“What does that mean for a child when they grow up?”
Positive parenting tips
Professor Higgins teamed up with child psychologist Professor Sophie Havighurst to publish some general guidelines for positive parenting.
- Make your expectations clear to your child, and try to be consistent.
- If your child crosses a line, pause before you react.
- When you don’t manage situations well, make amends.
- Validate your child’s emotions and explore the feelings behind their behaviour.
- Talk through problems when everyone is calm, rather than in the heat of the moment.
- Support children to take responsibility, and help them to contribute to problem-solving.
- When your child breaks rules and things go wrong, explore the natural consequences.