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Child Spanking In the Modern Age

Doctor Spock was a pediatrician famous for his book on child care. He once said “If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children is a good place to start.”

It often feels like every person has a strong opinion on child spanking. Words like “abuse”, “discipline”, or “firm hand” appear when magazines discuss “proper” parenting. The reasons behind spanking range from biblical to stating that the parents were once spanked and they turned out fine, so what is the harm?

Child spanking creates discourse everywhere, from talk shows to the dinner table. But what is absent from the discussion is what the law says about spanking.

Entering the Home

From the beginning of the American legal system, lawmakers did not want laws that affected how a man runs his home.  Spanking

But things have changed over the years. A woman may work, own property, vote, and is no longer considered her husband or father’s property. Children have gained some rights in school and can be removed from the home due to abuse. These changes came about after a long period of time and hard work from those who advocated for it. But the courts’ hesitation remains.

Abuse is Determined On a Case By Case Basis

In a recent decision by the California Court of Appeals, the Court decided that spanking a child was not abuse by the mother. They examined the mother’s motive, the necessity of her punishment, and the reasonableness of the severity.

The mother hit her children on their behind with her bare hand or a sandal. The spanking did not leave any bruise, welts, or lasting pain and discomfort. So the Court decided that the spanking was not “serious physical harm” and not abuse.

The Court stated that a parent has a right to “reasonably discipline” their child and “give reasonable punishment.” But where did this right come from?

The Legal Status and Rights of Children

Children, or minors, often live in a legal limbo. Their status as a minor protects them from entering bad contracts, being tried as an adult, and protected from sexual predators. The policies come from the judicial view that minors do not understand the consequence of their actions and cannot make the right choices. However, minors vary in maturity, intellect, emotional strength, and life experience. So it can result in a wide variety of outcomes for similar cases.

Parents or legal guardians of the minors are responsible for their minors’ actions. When parents/guardians assume legal responsibility they also decide how to raise their child. Parents and guardians make decisions about housing, dress, diet, and schooling. They can also decide how to discipline and what kind of healthcare should be provided.

While the ability to make these choices for their children make sense at the moment, the truth is that children will grow up. They will reach the age of majority and will make decisions for themselves. But sometimes the choices made by their guardians affect them into adulthood. This reality is why parenting is one of the most difficult tasks a person can undertake.

Should the Law Revisit Child Spanking?

There are things the legal system cannot regulate and decide. The government entrusts parents and guardians to raise future citizens in a safe and protected environment.

The legal system’s view on child spanking is simple: parents can spank their children. But they do not ask why or question the morality of spanking. They do not look at psychological research or studies on the benefits or damages of spanking. Instead, they base their view on the fact that parents have spanked their children for years. So they have the right to continue to do so.

The legal system does not exist to offer parenting advice. But it does exist to protect its citizens and this includes minors. The question still remains if spanking hurts children in the long term. It is a question the legal system is hesitant to decide.

But when hitting a dog is animal abuse, then how does hitting a child turn into spanking and a parent’s right? There are inconsistencies in the law that must be addressed despite the legal system’s fear of entering the home.


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