Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

An open letter to Rt Hon Tony Blair, MP concerning the new law on smacking children


As a former psychoanalyst and an author of nine books concerning the influence of childhood on society I take the liberty of writing to you and asking you to give some attention to the problem of smacking children. As you might know: Children learn the appropriate behaviour only by examples and nobody can learn it in a state of fear and terror.

The idea that you can "teach children the difference between right and wrong" by smacking them, the idea widely represented, is so old as our culture but is nevertheless highly misleading as the new research proves.

When we smack children we teach them only violence, ignorance and hypocrisy. They learn quickly to do the same as we once did: firstly to submit to the more powerful, to obey out of fear, not to feel the pain of being humiliated, then, about 20 years later, to cover the own weakness (the inability to act peacefully) with the help of violence, to maintain that smacking children is a right thing to do, to resist to all logical arguments by calling them "nannying", and to go on to smack their own children (or to hurt themselves) without a second's thought, without the slightest remorse.

If you ask grownup people why they were smacked in their childhood they will say something like: "I was a nasty boy or girl and drove my parents crazy, they were really overloaded by the way I was". These people may rarely recall any concrete incidents or constructive lessons because they were too scared to learn them. But now, against any logical way of thinking, they expect from their 3 year olds that they will learn the lessons their parents want to teach them by smacking them. Unfortunately, also politicians of the largest countries in Europe succumb to this error.

Our parents and grandparents are not to blame for having passed on to us the wrong messages because, at that time, they had no better information to their disposal. But we do. We can't claim the same innocence when the next generation will blame us for not having used or having even rejected information that was available to us and was easy to understand, by allowing a law, which contradicts with our knowledge.

A responsible government will not ignore the most recent scientific discoveries. If it really wishes a peaceful future it can't encourage parents to teach their children violence. It should instead give them, at the dawn of the new millennium, a clear message that smacking always causes serious harm, it disrespects the dignity of another person (the child) and is never educational. Citizens need to learn from the Laws of their responsible governments how hostility is learned in childhood and how it can be avoided by learning a new way of communicating with our children, without violence. By smacking children we teach them destructive lessons and the whole of society will pay the bill.

Sincerely yours,
Alice Miller, Virago Press