5:00AM Tuesday May 01, 2007
Dr Robert Larzelere has been brought to New Zealand by groups opposed to Sue Bradford's bill.
One of the world's leading experts on disciplining children says parents need smacking as a "back-up" for other forms of discipline for children aged from 2 to 6.
Dr Robert Larzelere, an American who says he has written three of the six main reviews of the scientific literature on smacking, has been brought to New Zealand by lobby groups opposing Green MP Sue Bradford's bill to repeal the law allowing parents to use reasonable force to discipline their children.
He will be in Wellington today for a meeting with National MPs convened by Whanganui MP Chester Borrows, whose amendment defining reasonable force will be voted on in Parliament tomorrow.
Dr Larzelere will meet Sue Bradford tomorrow. He will also meet two New Zealand First MPs who support her bill, Doug Woolerton and Brian Donnelly, and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, whose party will discuss the Bradford bill today.
In the debates in the scientific literature, Dr Larzelere has been the leading proponent of smacking.
Canadian Joan Durrant, who was brought to New Zealand by the Government last year, has led the opposing argument that smacking produces a more violent society, citing Sweden as a model of a society where a smacking ban has reduced violence.
Dr Larzelere, 62, attends a Baptist Church near the university where he works in Oklahoma, but he rejects Dr Durrant's allegation that this makes him biased.
He says he smacked his two now-adult children "occasionally".
"When they were small, I would use a warning count one to three," he said yesterday. "In almost all cases I'd get action just as I got to three, so I only had to smack them a few times."
His research over 20 years showed that the best way to stop young children misbehaving was to use reasoning backed up by punishment - initially non-physical punishment such as time out, but with a smack if the children refused to co-operate.
"To me, it seems like today we polarise all arguments to ridiculous extremes and we don't do so well at finding the balance in the middle.
"So I have tried to be as scientific as possible to inform this debate, rather than having the people choose between the two polarised positions."
His research showed that to be effective, smacking should be used only as a "conditional" back-up, not as a primary form of discipline.
"The best way to use it is this back-up smacking - non-abusive, two swats with an open hand to the rear end, on 2- to 6-year-old children," Dr Larzelere said.
He would support a ban on smacking babies, and in one published paper said smacking could be counter-productive for children of 7 or over when they were old enough to "internalise" the rules of good behaviour.
Yesterday he stopped short of supporting a ban on smacking children over 6 because of one study that found that physical punishment of 13-year-old African-Americans made them less aggressive three years later.
"So although I think it should be phased out as quickly as possible [as a child gets older], I see exceptions that suggest it shouldn't be an absolute rule."
He said colleagues who had worked in parenting education in Norway, where smacking is banned at all ages, reported that Norwegian parents were "immobilised" by not knowing how to control their children.
"So their children run wild, according to newspaper reports," he said.
Similarly in Sweden, where the legal defence of using force to discipline children was abolished in 1957, criminal assaults by under-15-year-olds against other 7- to 14-year-olds had increased by 519 per cent in the period from 1981 to 1994.
Dr Durrant argued this was because of more reporting of assaults by children against other children.
But Dr Larzelere said that did not explain why the assault rate rose more in the younger age groups than in older age groups, which he sees as evidence that youthful misbehaviour has worsened since the ban on smacking.