Max Pemberton and smacking


Dear Simon Stevens

Did any of your staff over the last week draw your attention to Dr Max Pemberton’s words on smacking children? I would hope as CEO of the NHS you would be concerned that one of your psychiatrists is advocating, in the world’s most read English language newspaper, a practice that has a proven negative impact on mental health.

On the 5th of August Pemberton implored parents to smack their children in order to punish bad behaviour. There are three reasons this should be dealt with in a serious manner;

1- In order to bolster his opinion he cited a study from 2013 that has several times been disproved in other comprehensive longitudinal studies since.

It is alarming that a Doctor in the NHS would lean on the one study that proves his point in a plethora of studies that consistently support the opposite stance. I am not a doctor, but I do have a masters in Social Policy from the London School of economics. One of the key things I learnt was to how to work with the literature provided by the scientific community, and one thing you certainly don’t do is to cherry pick the one study that seems to support your stance.

We need to be able to trust our doctors to give us unbiased information that best represent what the scientific community understands. And when it comes to smacking the evidence is, save the 2013 Ferguson study, uncontested:

“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” says Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”  Gershoff & Grogan-taylor 2016

2- In even the most basic child development text book, The Developing Child by D.Boyd and H.Bee, the text book administered to any students of child health, the evidence piles high against smacking:
Teenagers who were smacked as a form of discipline in childhood:
less popular
lower self esteem
more emotional instability
higher rates of depression
higher rates of delinquency
in late teens, higher rates of criminality

Adults who were smacked as a form of discipline in childhood:
higher rates of depression
higher rates of unemployment
higher rates of divorce
higher rates of domestic violence
higher rates of criminality

We should have moved beyond smacking as a form of discipline years and years ago. We should be at a stage where our experts in mental health are guiding people in ways of raising children that support our mental well being.

Dr Max Pemberton’s role here is not to pull out long disregarded bits of research to prop up an archaic view on children, but to share the behaviours and attitudes that lead to emotional intelligence and resilience. Dr Max Pemberton is completely failing at his job!

3- Smacking children is a violation of their human rights. It contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which the UK has ratified. The UN, and several commissioners for children have warned us that we are breaking international law until we ban smacking.

Pemberton shows a total ignorance of the ways in which the whole world is moving towards human rights and away from violence. For someone in such an influential position it is disturbing that he can show such a lack of awareness about the values we hold in 2017.

In what way does smacking children differ from smacking spouses? It doesn’t! It is violence from one human in a position of power against another. It is domestic violence and should be illegal, reportable, absolutely not advocated for by medical professionals employed by the National Heath Service.

Simon Stevens, there is a precedent for coming down heavily on NHS employees when they have abused their position of influence in order to push an agenda that violates human rights (example used: the sacking of NHS trust director for speaking out against gay adoption.

I urge you to stand Dr Max Pemberton down from his position of junior psychiatrist in the NHS until he can recognise the damaging effects of smacking children. At least that way when he is abusing his position for click-bait for the Daily Mail he won’t be doing it in the name of the National Health Service. Pemberton could use his break from the NHS to do some further learning on physical violence in childhood, perhaps at a neuroscience unit where the evidence against smacking fills the cabinets.

Do it in the assurance that you will be protecting the mental health of many thousands of children, young people and adults – saving the NHS many hundreds of thousands of hours of labour and freeing up some of the budget.


Lucy AitkenRead, Msc
Child rights advocate

Max Pemberton and smacking

UPDATE: This is now a petition. Please sign and share widely.

12/8/17 Edited to change “sacking” to “suspension” in the spirit of the empathetic actions Parent Allies advocate for. 


  • Elizabeth Mowlem August 11, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Lucy where was Dr Pemberton’s comment published please? Is there a link?

    • admin August 11, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      It’s in his column in the Daily Mail which I really don’t want to link to.

    • PJ August 12, 2017 at 5:26 am

      You can easily find it on google x

  • Charlene August 11, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    I’ve just read the article Lucy, it is shameful that a supposed academic put these words in print. He already knows he’ll get hate mail all for abit of attention. It will never be alright to hit a child or anyone else no matter what the behaviour. The boy he saw may well have had other things going on, to assume violence will fix it is so very wrong.

  • Carla August 11, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    Thanks for writing this important letter. Much of the advice from NHS health visitors advocating CIO for babies remains equally outdated and cruel.

  • Nina Mayhara August 11, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    Fabulous letter Lucy. I hope it is revered and taken heed of. I wasn’t aware smacking was still even legal in the UK! Max Pemberton’s stance is embarrassing and backwards and may it and his role in this position be short lived.

  • PJ August 12, 2017 at 5:25 am

    I’ve just found the article to read – the man is an imbecile!

  • Zoë August 12, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Where is the petition and how do I sign it?

  • Montse Sarrión August 14, 2017 at 4:38 am

    I would like to sign your petition, but is not available for me as long I don’t live in UK (I guess, it says my postcode was not available to sign -.-).
    Is it possible, thinking in the future, to find the way for having a worldwide campaign that could be supported for anyone who wants?
    Thank you very much for every single effort you do 😉

    • admin August 14, 2017 at 8:32 am

      hello! Thank you for your encouragement. In this instance I felt it would be more legitimate if it was signed by people who are users of the NHS but I could be wrong! I am hoping people who can’t sign will see their role as one to share it arond 😀

  • Elspeth September 5, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    I went to sign your petition and find it has been ‘disabled due to inapprpriate content’. (There is an additional message to the effect that you can fix the problem by logging into the petition.) Were you aware of this? I would still like to sign it.

    • admin September 10, 2017 at 2:16 am

      Thanks Elspeth, I am still trying to work with them to get it back online! v difficult 🙁


Leave a Comment