I sometimes still replay the scene in my head: A mother dragging her crying son across the parking lot to their car. She hits the boy a couple of times, as he cowers and wails louder. I witness this, but I don’t do anything. I just stop and stare.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen an adult slap a kid, but for some reason this instance stands out in my mind as being particularly violent. Maybe it’s the look of fear in the boy’s eyes that haunts me—a look no kid should have. Perhaps it’s my own guilt that keeps it so firmly planted in my memory—I should have said something. I don’t know that it would have made any difference in the end, but if I’d witnessed a man hitting a woman, I probably would have stepped up. For some reason, society is conditioned to think it’s OK for parents to hit their kids. And it’s time we stop thinking that way.
I think spanking is the one instance that the mantra “whatever works for your family” shouldn’t really apply. Generally, it’s not appropriate to criticize or judge other people’s parenting choices, but if I see you hit your kid, I will judge you. I don’t care if you’ve had a bad day or you’ve reached your last nerve or your kid has been rude. I don’t care if you were spanked as a kid and still “turned out fine.” Hitting (which is what spanking is, whether you call it swatting or slapping) someone smaller and weaker than you is never the best way to handle a situation.
I’m joining author and mom-of-three Samantha Ettus in judging people who hit their kids. She wrote a piece for Today earlier this month in which she shared her breaking point after witnessing a woman slap her toddler in an airport gift shop. When she approached the mom and said, “That is no way to treat a human being,” the woman told her it was none of her business. Ettus now borrows a line her husband came up with to respond to that comment: “Children are everybody’s business.”
I’m not interested in a debate on whether spanking is a good parenting technique. To me, there is no debate—hitting kids is counterintuitive to good parenting. Even the science agrees. Many studies have shown that kids who are spanked have more aggressive tendencies, anti-social behaviours and mood disorders. It’s simply not an effective discipline technique, even if it seems to sometimes “work” in the short term. Back in 2012, the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) called on the federal government to make spanking a kid a criminal offence. Currently, Section 43 of the Criminal Code in Canada says that parents are “justified in using force” to correct a child if “the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.” The CMAJ wants Section 43, often referred to as the “spanking law,” to be removed from the Code by the Supreme Court of Canada.
I’m not a perfect parent. I’ve been ashamed of my actions towards my kid many times. I empathize with people who are overwrought and sometimes feel like spanking is their last resort. But I’m not OK with it. The next time I see someone hit their kid in public, I will not just stand by. Maybe I’ll ask the parent if they need a moment to collect themselves, or if there’s anything I can do to help. But more than likely, I’ll just tell them to stop. Because children are everyone’s business, and violence is never the answer.