Leaders need to earn respect of society

Last updated 05:00 18/01/2014
Derek Harding
Spring Creek vicar Derek Harding

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I spent my secondary education years at a boys' grammar school.

Prefects were allowed to set detentions for minor misdemeanours, such as failing to wear the required uniform cap.

These punishments were severe physical activity designed to create pain and so discourage evil students from repetition of the offence. Failing to attend three consecutive detentions resulted in a head-master's detention on a Saturday morning. This was invariably doing some sort of work around the school. I was a regular performer on Saturday mornings so the prefects' detentions which I simply ignored, and the resulting headmaster's detention, did nothing to modify my rebellious behaviour.

Rules are based on reason first and threat of punishment second - in fact, threat of punishment is rarely the deciding factor in making the choice not to do the wrong. It's the same with developing attitudes - children respond better to reward and understanding the consequences of their behaviour than to the threat of physical punishment.

Smacking is an ineffective punishment, providing relief for the feelings of the parent but has little if any influence on future behaviour of the child. Sadly, the relief of walloping the naughty kid can outweigh a wish for better long-term behaviour.

In my 30 years as a police officer, I saw several results of excessive "smacking".

As a defence against an assault charge, parents were allowed to exert force as "reasonable parental control".

One father punched his son in the face, breaking the boy's cheekbone and damaging one eye (permanently), yet convinced the court it was only intended to be "reasonable".

The huge majority of parents and caregivers never used excessive force but, occasionally, anger or accident was stronger than reason. The rare horrors prompted changes to legislation, such as the "anti-smacking" law.

It was branded a "stupid law" this week by Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. He and other parents still occasionally smacked their children, he said, and his party would call for the anti-smacking law to be reversed if he gets into Parliament.

A law should not be scrapped simply because people continue to offend. Forbidding drug misuse hasn't stopped drug abuse. Enforcing speed limits hasn't stopped people speeding.

However, a prospective leader declaring that because he breaks the law it is a bad law and he will scrap it is showing little respect for either the processes of government or a well ordered society.

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Nothing in my experience as the receiver of physical punishment, as an enforcer of legislation, as a parent, as a youth leader nor as a church minister, has convinced me that physical punishment is necessary to change children's or anyone else's behaviour.

I have learnt that society's leaders need to respect, and win the respect of, the society they would lead.

Derek Harding is the vicar of St Luke's Church, but the opinions expressed in this column are his own.

- The Marlborough Express


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