Spare the rod and spoil the child? Coronation Street has courted controversy with a storyline which, for some, has simply lost the plot, but for others well and truly hit home.
Thousands have expressed outrage at a scene featuring troubled 10-year-old Faye being hit by her adoptive mother’s boyfriend Owen Armstrong.
The builder, played by Ian Puleston-Davies, was shown slapping the back of her legs after she owned up to deliberately poisoning the fish in his pond.
Most have registered protests via social network and blogging sites, rather than through TV regulators Ofcom, or direct to ITV.
Yet we found little support for critics of the show on the streets of Blackpool although it became evident – from the numbers of parents unwilling to be identified or pictured – that many continue to see smacking as taboo, even if they do own up to smacking their own children.
Most also confessed to being in the dark as to whether such chastisement was considered illegal, or an infringement of a child’s human rights. Since the Children’s Act came into effect in January 2005, parents are legally allowed to smack their children.
But use of ‘excessive force’, which causes visible bruising, graze, scratches, minor swellings or cuts, could result in assault charges – with up to five years’ imprisonment.
We quizzed parents outside two local primary schools in Blackpool, and, of the 20 interviewed, only two said they never ever slapped their offspring.
But most objected to the Corrie storyline for one reason – Owen was disciplining another parent’s child.
In a fractured society, where family life is no longer as simple, or as stable, as it was in the Fifties or Sixties, it’s no longer a given that children will live with their own mum and dad – let alone that their parents will be married.
One single dad was taking three children to school, his own six-year-old by his former partner, and her eight-year-old, then walking his new partner’s 11-year-old daughter to her nearby high school.
“I was with the mother of my little boy until last year. Her husband walked out on her after their baby was born, so he sees me as dad. My little lad lives with his mum and loves his half brother. I don’t want to split them up. They often have weekends with me – but I only have a flat.
“I take them to school, as I don’t work. The oldest boy is hyper and a bit of a bully. He also bites other kids at school. Physically, he’s a lot bigger than my lad. He’s a handful, and the one we have to discipline most, and sometimes it takes a smack, just a smack, to bring him back in line. It’s never hard, but it’s often public – as he plays up more outside the home. I think he’s more humiliated than hurt. Because I moved in with his mum when he was little, his mum always allowed me to treat him as I would my own. My new partner has older children. I leave her discipline entirely to her mum, but back her mum up if she’s overstepping the line. We withdraw privileges, such as going out with her mates, or having a sleepover.
Some of her friends run wild, but she’s a pretty good kid. I felt sorry for Owen on Corrie. I felt he’d been pushed too far – but he went too far himself.”
Actor Puleston-Davies pointed out: “‘I think any controversial subject handled in the right way is good controversy, not bad controversy.”
Many mums to whom we spoke locally deploy TV Super Nanny techniques, such as time out on the naughty step after tantrums. But one added: “It works with two, but the third, the youngest, plays up all the time and yes, I do slap her, and quite hard, at times.”
“Yes, mummy, it hurts,” chirps up the youngest. “But why do I have to do it?” asks her mum. “Because I might get run over by a car or taken by a bad man,” says the little girl.
The mother explains: “I’ve told her getting run over by a car or lost to mummy in some other way would hurt a lot more. She only gets slapped when she puts herself, or the others, at risk, or in danger.” Two children, aged six and five, accompanying their mum to school, admitted they were smacked sometimes but it “didn’t really hurt.” “Mummy just taps us,” said the six-year-old. “I smack my dollies when they are being naughty. That’s if they run off or pull each other’s hair or bite each other – like my sister does.”
“It’s nothing to the good hidings I used to get,” concludes mum.
“It didn’t do me any harm, but I think parents were far more heavy-handed then and learned from their parents too. It doesn’t make it right though.”