53% of parents back spanking, poll finds



Most parents in the UAE favour striking their children when necessary. However, a minority consider corporal punishment a form of domestic violence, a survey has found.

The poll, conducted for Al Aan TV's Nabd al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) programme and carried out by YouGov Siraj, found that more than half (53pc) of the 770 respondents agreed that parents should have the right to discipline their children - including through physical punishment.

But there was a clear discrepancy between nationalities in the reasoning behind it. More than half of westerners (51pc) favoured corporal punishment, with 48 per cent saying it was the parents' right to discipline their children in the way they saw fit.

While a similar number of Emiratis (50pc) backed spanking, 48 per cent said they did so because they knew what was best for their children. Slightly more Arab expatriates (59pc) supported physical punishment - but in this group the most common reason (51pc) was that big mistakes deserve big punishments.

Of the residents who opposed corporal punishment, most said it caused physical and emotional harm (53pc) to children. Others (43pc) said it had a negative effect on a child's behaviour and delivered the wrong message to the child (44pc).

One in five (21pc) said it was a form of domestic violence, and one in 10 labelled it "backward".

Umm Theyab, from Al Ain, said she did not punish her three children physically. "The right thing is to talk to them - use their brains, don't hit them," she said.

"At the end of the day, they will not understand. Hitting is a form of aggression. Parents should sit with a child and talk to him. He will understand. Hitting them would weaken their personality."

There were striking differences on who should be able to administer the punishment. Eighty-four per cent said teachers could discipline children, and nearly half (44pc) said nannies and maids could do so. But the figure was far lower (16pc) among Emiratis.

Dr Osama al Mossa, a behavioural psychologist, said teachers should have the right to discipline children in extreme cases. But he drew the line at physical punishment.

"The teacher is also a mother," he said. "The teacher is responsible for the child, and in severe cases can give a small punishment, but never hit a child. If the child is out of control, they can tell the parents."

More than half (52pc) of respondents said shouting at children was the best way for a teacher to keep them in line.

One in three (32pc) was happy for a teacher to strike their child, even with an object such as a ruler. Hardly anyone in either group - western or Emirati - thought it acceptable for a teacher to slap a child in the face or swear at them (both 7pc).

Discipline by maids was an entirely different matter, according to Dr al Mossa.

"It is the biggest problem in a lot of families - they let the maids raise the children," he said. "Even if it says 'nanny' on her CV, she cannot be let to discipline children. It is a crime."

Dana Shadid, a producer on Nabd al Arab, said she was surprised by the findings.

"It seems that large numbers of parents do not mind the child being hit or beaten at school - it is a frightening number," she said. "This shows that some parents just want the burden to come off their shoulders. Love and respect start at home, before they go to school."

Ms Theyab said teachers here were too quick to punish children, and recalled an incident when her son, Ahmed, was slapped in the face by a teacher. "He came out crying and it was horrible. It weakened his personality. A child that young, what will a slap teach him?"

Dr al Mossa said children should never be hit on the face or other sensitive areas.

"Parents should not hit a child except in extreme cases - either they did not listen to advice, or they did something bad, or to generate a little fear in the child, but it should only be a small hit on the hand," he said.

"Punishments, like depriving the child of the PlayStation, or other things he likes, would be better."

Elizabeth Tonner, a Scottish mother who lives in Abu Dhabi, said it was natural for views on upbringing to differ between families. "It is up to each individual family ... but it should be the parents' role," she said.

"I think in families that are keen on upbringing, whether [western] expats, Arabs, or the Asian community, they would all in the end have their child's best interest at heart."

* Nabd al Arab airs on Al Aan TV at 8pm tonight

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