MSNBC News, January 10, 1999

Discipline vs. abuse

Many times, child abuse occurs when parents are disciplining their children. How much is too much?

There are wide-ranging definitions of abuse. What some consider discipline, others consider abuse, and spanking is often one of the most controversial issues.

When asked if spanking was abuse, parent Lochelle Powell said, “Yes, I do, because it occurred in my family when I was growing up.” Yet another parent cited the same reason, in defense of spanking as a form of discipline.

Some cases, however, are clear-cut. Little Michael Scott died at the hands of his father after being whipped with a frayed belt. His father was later convicted. Prosecutors say they often hear defendants talk of discipline that got out of hand.

Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Ted Hunt says, “As a prosecutor’s office, definitely if we have severe bruising, or if we have broken bones, fractures, things of that nature, that’s probably going to be a fileable state case of child abuse or neglect.”

But as Prosecutor Ted Hunt and many others know, there are many different forms of abuse. Sister Roberta Sailer of Operation Breakthrough at St. Vincent’s says, “I think one of the most serious kinds of child abuse, but is un-provable, and is very detrimental is emotional abuse, where children grow up feeling they are not worth anything, and they’re useless people, and no one cares about them. And I think that does an equal amount as physical abuse, and maybe more long-lasting damage.” Definitions of abuse often depend on childhood experiences, but when it comes to kids, experts suggest a couple of things.

Never discipline a child when you are angry. If you injure a child, you have gone too far. And just because your parents did it, it doesn’t mean that is the way it should be done.

If you do feel like you are in a situation where abuse may occur, and need some help or advice, call Parents Anonymous at 1-800-844-0192. They offer parent education classes, crisis intervention, and a number of other services to parents.

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