Spanking is a form of child punishment with a long history. Many of today’s parents were spanked as children, and some still believe that spanking has a place in proper child-rearing.
Controversy over spanking children runs high. Several European countries have banned spanking, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for an end to all physical discipline of children, including any form of corporal punishment.
Nonetheless, many U.S. parents believe spanking is a legitimate form of discipline, whether or not parents use it themselves. While some states have outlawed spanking in schools and daycares, many U.S. families still use it at home.
There are limits to a parent’s “right to spank,” however, even in the United States. Generally speaking, parents are allowed to use corporal punishment if they do so in moderation and without causing physical injuries. A spanking that causes bruises or other injuries, however, could lead to criminal consequences in many states.
Some states even specify how “legal” spanking can be carried out. California, for instance, specifies that “reasonable and age-appropriate spanking to the buttocks” is permitted, as long as serious physical injuries do not result.
In some situations, though, spanking crosses the line into abuse. Determining whether corporal punishment is abusive is often done on a case by case basis. However, spanking is more likely to be treated as a criminal offense when:
- It causes injuries, not just momentary discomfort
- The amount of force used is unreasonable, or
- The purpose was something other than correcting inappropriate or dangerous behavior in the moment.
In addition to facing criminal consequences in situations like these, a parent’s parental rights may be limited or terminated, depending on the specific facts of the situation.
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