Over the last five decades, Australia has experienced a cultural transformation due to increased migration. Migration brings with it some serious challenges. Family dynamics and gender roles change. You lose social networks and cultural identity. Then there’s the difficulty of interpreting and negotiating a new legal system.
Yet one of the biggest challenges, that indeed divides Australian society, is that of parenting and parenting rules.
Parenting in the new culture brings with it many intergenerational conflicts, simply because family values differ across cultures. Traditional parenting practices used in the home country may not be the norm in the new one.
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A seven-year-old girl in the UK was asked about children being smacked by their parents. She replied:
“… if they changed the law then …people will realise what they had done to their child and they would probably… be happy that the law was changed. If they don’t change the law they will think ‘oh well, the child doesn’t mind so we can keep on doing it’. But if they realise that children have been talking to adults about it then I think they will definitely realise that it hurts their child and they will be very upset with themselves.”
Are we upset with ourselves? Right now it seems for many Australian parents, the answer is “no”.
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To smack or not to smack? There are few questions more hotly contested in the world of parenting. Nothing has the power to stop a barbecue in its tracks more than the casual admission that you give your kids the occasional clip behind the ear – or conversely, the solemn declaration that you would never lay a hand on your child, which brings with it the explosive suggestion that any parent who does so must be some kind of psychotic thug.
The conversation becomes even more heated when members of the older generation are present, and quickly descends into anecdotes about how they were thrashed repeatedly as kids and turned out OK, and how walking 10 miles to school and 12 miles home wasn’t child abuse but character-building.
In recent weeks we have seen a few events which have thrown light on the issues of child rearing and corporal punishment. I read several pieces which sheeted home the London riots on the fact that a whole generation of youngsters has avoided discipline, with the end result of this life without behavioural consequence being an unprecedented collective act of mass theft and vandalism by people with no political agenda.
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