Texas officials discuss whether spanking is child abuse
By Lynsey Bradley, Midland Reporter-Telegram, April 24, 2007

Spare the rod?

Child Protective Services officials say spanking is not abuse if it is handled correctly

An age-old question continues to loom above the heads of many parents when it comes to disciplining their children: To spank or not to spank, is it abuse?

Child Protective Services officials say it's not, but it can become abuse if not handled correctly.

"We don't consider spanking abuse, but we do encourage some parents to use alternative methods," said Marleigh Meisner, public information officer for CPS. "If a very young child has been spanked and it results in an injury, that can be considered abuse."

Though parents and guardians are legally allowed to spank their children, the CPS officials reported they are not allowed to cause bruises, marks or other injuries to children when doing so, according to the CPS Web site.

Many experts disagree on the topic of spanking children. Some say, combined with other methods of discipline, mild spanking of a small child is harmless and effective. Others say spanking is no more effective than other forms of discipline, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's Web site.

"Communication is the key to disciplining a child," Meisner explained. Some methods Meisner suggested as alternatives include "time out" and "choices and consequences."

While the first is self-explanatory, the "choices and consequences" option, as Meisner explained, revolves around the idea for every wrong choice the child makes, there is a consequence. Consequences Meisner offered are additional chores, time out or taking something away.

Some people believe spanking is wrong, period, so when they see it happening, they feel compelled to call the police. But Deputy Chief Price Robinson of the Midland Police Department said he doesn't think that happens too often.

"I would say we don't get a lot of calls on that," he said. "If someone does call, an officer will make contact with the complainant and find out if they witnessed it. Then they would make contact with the suspect and see the child and get their side of the story," he said.

But even if they think the call may not have any merit, Robinson said they still send an officer to check on the situation.

"On any type of call, we go check it out regardless because you never know."

Meisner said spankings may not always go the way a parent intended.

"I've had well-intentioned parents who have spanked their child and because they may have the child by one arm and the child is jumping away from the belt, they may strike the child on the back," she said.

But the bottom line is it is up to the parents to determine how their child should be disciplined, she said.

"We're not telling parents that they can't spank their children, we are trying to show parents that there are alternative forms for disciplining their children," she explained. "There are alternatives that work very well."

According to the Texas Attorney General's Web site:

  • Striking a child above the waist is more likely to be considered abusive; disciplinary spanking is usually confined to the buttocks.

  • Spanking with the bare, open hand is least likely to be abusive; the use of an instrument is cause for concern. Belts and hair brushes are accepted by many as legitimate disciplinary "tools," and their use is not likely to be considered abusive, as long as injury does not occur. Electrical or phone cords, boards, yardsticks, ropes, shoes, and wires are likely to be considered instruments of abuse.

  • It is best not to hit a child in anger. Abusive punishment is most likely to occur when the parent is out of control.

  • Finally, and most important, punishment is abusive if it causes injury. A blow that causes a red mark that fades in an hour is not likely to be judged abusive. On the other hand, a blow that leaves a bruise, welt or swelling, or requires medical attention, probably would be judged abusive.


Child Abuse in Schools

It's great that parents who hit a child with a wooden board and cause bruises can be held liable for child abuse, as this is abuse. Now let's turn our sights to the educators in the state of Texas who are beating children black and blue with paddles in schools, and are allowed to abuse children. We need to speak in one language. Hitting a child with an implement and causing injury should be called child abuse, no matter where this abuse occurs. Child abuse in the living room or kitchen should be defined the same as child abuse in the principal's office or the educator's classroom. In fact, because educators are licensed by the state, and are mandated reporters of child abuse, they should be held to the highest of standards. Texas leads the nation in the number of children beaten with wooden boards at school. According to the last Office of Civil Right's data, over 57,000 children were struck at school by educators, accounting for over 19% of all corporal punishment in schools in the nation. Why?

Peggy Dean

Peggy Dean is a member of the Board of Directors of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE). Contact her at pdean10925@aol.com.



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