8 Jul 2010

People are twice as worried about parents not knowing where their children are after 9pm at night than they are about the potentially damaging effects of slapping, new research from The Children’s Society reveals. 

Read the results of our Public attitudes to safeguarding children survey.


Slapping was put last in a list of people’s safety concerns about the parenting of children in the UK in a special GfK NOP study commissioned by the charity. The Children’s Society’s pioneering study follows heated public debate about the kind of risks children are exposed to by their parents. Little research has been done in the UK on these issues.

Over 2,000 people were asked to identify the biggest risks for children aged six to 15 years of age inherent in a number of different ‘scenarios’.

  • 77% said children were exposed to a high level of risk when parents did not know their whereabouts in the evening (Girls were more likely to be considered to be at high risk (82%) than boys (73%))
  • The same number were very alarmed about parents who failed to arrange medical help for children when they needed it (e.g. no trip to the dentist for those with persistent toothache)
  • Six out of ten said children ridiculed by parents were at risk of emotional trauma (e.g. called ‘stupid’ by their parents)
  • Half those surveyed worried about parents who ignored the emotional needs of their children, when they were upset by their friends
  • 47% thought isolating children and keeping them away from friends represented a high risk of harm
  • Being slapped by parents as a standard punishment was only seen as a high risk by 33% (14% said it was ‘very high risk’)

The survey shows that people weigh up the risks associated with slapping children very differently from other threats to their safety. Thirty-two per cent think slapping has little impact on children and young people, while another third remain divided on the issue. Unusually, teenagers are thought to be at more risk of physical punishment than younger children (36% rated secondary school age children at high risk compared to 29% of primary age children).

Far more older people (over 65) - 46% - think slapping presents a low level of physical and emotional risk for children. This finding may point to a generational shift in opinions about acceptable parenting.

Letting a child play outdoors after 9pm on a summer’s evening without knowing where they are was seen as the highest risk in the survey, with 50% of respondents rating it as the highest possible level of risk. Only one per cent saw this lack of supervision as ‘no risk at all’ as opposed to 16% who said the same about slapping.

Despite this, all the statistical evidence shows that children are hurt more in a family setting than outside the home. [See (5) Notes to Editor]. Acute fears about young people’s safety outside the home could possibly be exaggerated, The Children’s Society says.

“Children must be safeguarded from harm but this should also be balanced with the freedom to be themselves and to take some risks,” said Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society. “It is a question of balance. Young people consistently tell us that they need to be able to develop friendships, have fun and to play without adult supervision,”

“Physical violence is something children definitely need to be protected from. The survey revealed a worrying lack of concern by one third of people surveyed about parents slapping children. Children are the only group of people in this country who can be legally hit on a regular basis by others, with little protection in law.”

The UK is one of five EU countries holding out against an all-out ban on slapping. It has been criticised on multiple occasions for contravening Article 19 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. The Children's Society is now calling on the new Government to fall in line with our European neighbours and ban the slapping of children completely.


For more detailed information about the research, spokespeople or case studies, please contact Rafi Cooper in The Children's Society’s media team: rafi.cooper@childsoc.org.uk, Office: 020 7841 4526, Mobile: 07810 796 508.


  1. The research: The survey was administered by GfK NOP in April 2010 to a sample of 2,047 adults in England, Scotland and Wales. The survey participants were asked to assess the risk of harm to children and young person in six scenarios. Risk was rated on a nine point scale where 1 represented ‘no risk at all’ and 9 represented ‘a lot of risk’. The age and gender of the child or young person in each scenario was randomly varied to make it possible to explore how attitudes differed according to these characteristics. The scenarios examined supervisory, medical, emotional and physical punishment issues. NB. In the survey ‘slapping’ was defined as ‘a slap on the legs with an open hand as a standard punishment’.
  2. GfK NOP provides insight through cutting-edge quantitative and qualitative research surveys. Their market research experts cover both UK and international markets, offering specialist knowledge and insight on: Automotive, Business, Consumer Services, Consumer Products & Retail, Financial, Healthcare, Media, Social Research & Public Sector, Technology
  3. The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children can be children, childhood is respected and every child is valued for who they are. Our approach is driven by our Christian values and by the voices of children and young people, who are at the heart of all we do. In 2009 The Children’s Society published The Good Childhood Inquiry, the UK's first independent national inquiry into childhood. Its aims were to renew society's understanding of modern childhood and to inform, improve and inspire all our relationships with children. The Children's Society is continuing to improve this understanding of issues affecting children through all of its ongoing work.
  4. The Children’s Society will be releasing further new research into ‘safeguarding’ issues on 20 July. An Executive Summary report will be available shortly. The study focuses on the under-researched issue of the maltreatment – the neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse – of young people aged 11 to 17 in England. It involved a three year study undertaken by The Children’s Society, NSPCC and the University of York with funding from the Big Lottery Research Grants Programme.
  5. Of the quarter (25%) of children who had experienced some degree of physical violence during childhood, for the majority it happened at home (78%). Source: Cawson. P et al. (2000). Child maltreatment in the UK: a study of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect. NSPCC.
  6. The Children’s Society is part of the Children are Unbeatable! Alliance, which campaigns to give children the same legal protection from violence that adults have. The Children’s Society believes the arguments against slapping are compelling:
  • Children are the only group of people in UK society who can be legally hit and hurt by others. (Removing the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' from the Children Act 2004 would simply mean children would have the same protection in criminal law as adults.)
  • Children are still being hit, Research commissioned by the DCSF (IPSOS MORI 2008, Sherbert Research 2007) shows this.
  • A ban is becoming 'inevitable' as study after study points to the likely damaging effects of slapping on children. (Sir Roger Singleton's 2010 report recommendations to ban physical punishment in schools was accepted by the previous Government).
  • Research evidence suggests children smacked for disobedience could become more aggressive as they get older. (A recent University of Tulane study in New Orleans found that three year olds smacked for disobedience were more likely to be aggressive by the age of five).
  • Children themselves are against it and fear parents who slap because they think they are 'out of control'. (The Government’s Central Office of Information’s own Children and Young People survey of 64 four to 16 year olds – 2007 – revealed two thirds had been smacked.) (Save the Children and the National Children’s Bureau polled 76 children in in 1999 and found 19 had been smacked on the head, face or cheek.)
  • Slapping contravenes Article 19 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (the UK has been criticised 3 times for its failure to protect children. (In 2006, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reminded all signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the UK, that equal protection for children is ‘an immediate and unqualified obligation’.)