Now that the Scots have banned people from smacking kids — both their own and, presumably, those that belong to other people — I suppose we will dutifully follow suit and another one of life’s harmless little pleasures will have bitten the dust. Fair enough, we can still say horrible, frightening things to them in order to exert a bit of discipline. But the immense satisfaction of hearing them howl in pain from a sharp slap to the leg, or a nasty pinch to the upper arm, will be gone for good.
Not many parents do hit their kids any more. It is already a vanishing art. Smacking unruly brats has been de trop for ages, especially among the middle classes. These days we are expected merely to smile indulgently as they shriek their little lungs out in a restaurant or on an aeroplane (where they shouldn’t be in the first place, which of course is why they’re shrieking their little lungs out).
It hasn’t made the kids any happier, though. A recent Unicef report discovered that British brats were the least happy in the western world. Rates of depression and anxiety among children have reportedly increased by 70 per cent in the last 25 years, and the number turning up in A&E wards reporting psychiatric conditions has doubled since 2009. In a 2016 survey for Parent Zone, 91 per cent of teachers reported seeing more mental illness among their charges. A year later it was reported that suicides among teenagers had reached a 14-year high. Whatever way you look at it, we are not bringing up our children terribly well. Something is wrong — perhaps many things are.
The mental illness issue is evident from our universities. The safe-spaces stuff, the terror of encountering an opinion which differs from their own or which might offend their sensibilities, is surely evidence of a profound derangement.
I asked the classics professor Mary Beard where she thought this uber-sensitivity had come from and she replied: ‘Health and safety.’