Thursday, February 28, 2008

Psychologists making sense

Now Deborah Morris asks us to give the anti-smacking law a chance in the NZ Herald. Notice like all of this law's advocates she insists on using the word 'hit' instead of 'smack'. I have never hit either of my children but I did, very occasionally, smack them or threaten to. I am prepared to concede there may have been alternatives but I am also sure that my children feel loved and secure. Which brings me to a piece which appears in the Dominion Post today but isn't on line. It reviews child psychologist Glen Stenhouse's book, You Don't Need To Smack.

The pleasant surprise is that Mr Stenhouse does not see anti-smacking legislation as an answer.

"Good parents object to the Government telling them how to parent and telling them what they can and can't do with their children in an area where they feel they're not doing anything to harm their children."

He believes that legislation isn't going to make any difference to the very small percentage of people who physically abuse their children.

Interestingly he talks about how parents have become so child-focussed they have created a situation where children are more assertive and challenging. Reading between the lines I think he believes children are over-parented.

"Parenting is not complicated. As long as kids have structure, and love and security and predictability in their lives, they will go with the flow."

Exactly. That's the problem for too many NZ children. They lack each or all of these things.

And speaking of sensible psychologists, the programmme with Nigel Latta about Taffy Hotene screened on TV last night was riveting.

Hotene's upbringing was appalling. The youngest of thirteen he was by all accounts horribly and frequently physically abused by parents and older siblings. He took to sleeping under the house to avoid the beatings.

But Nigel Latta doesn't just follow the psychological development of Hotene. He puts it into a moral context. He says (from memory) "We are right to feel sorry for that small child. But the little boy who went under the house never came out. I have dealt with people who have experienced similar in their lives and they never turned into selfish, calculating predators. There were people who were kind to Hotene along the way. He consciously and deliberately chose to murder Kylie Jones."

Thank goodness for some acknowledgement of self-determination for a change. There were too many people who thought they could change Hotene along the way. Marie Dyberg, for instance, thought that at a certain age there is always hope. A military style training course operator felt he was turning Hotene around until the police intervened. Latta thinks that they were being duped. Hotene could show a maverick and vulnerable side. He could also use that persona to lure victims.

Sadly giving physical expression to that 'hope' ultimately cost the life of a girl who, as Latta put it, was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was always on the cards that Hotene's history of violence would escalate to murder.

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