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When Does Discipline Cross the Line to Child Abuse?

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When Does Discipline Cross the Line to Child Abuse?
In this report, I concentrated my research on the fine line between physical discipline and child abuse, with emphasis on spanking vs. not spanking and its effects on children. Included are research from statistics, opposing views and arguments, advocates’ and Department of Children and Families’ position. The use of corporal punishment, or spanking, as a form of parental discipline is a controversial topic. Adults who remember being spanking by a parent for misbehaving may carry on this behavior as an acceptable form of punishment for their own children. Others believe spanking to be an outdated punishment that is cruel and can cross the line to physical abuse.
NATIONAL ABUSE STATISTICS - - ( nearly five children die every day in America from abuse and neglect. In 2010, an estimated 1,560 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States. Nearly 80% of reported child fatalities as a result of abuse and neglect were caused by one or more of the child victim's parents.
Children Welfare League of America ( In 2010, Connecticut had 45,313 total referrals for child abuse and neglect. Of those, 25,777 reports were referred for investigation and in 2010, 4 children in Connecticut died as a result of abuse or neglect.11 In 29 countries1 around the world, it is illegal for a parent, teacher, or anyone else to spank a child, and 113 countries prohibit corporal punishment in schools. Yet in all of North America, physical punishment by a parent, as long as it is not severe, is still seen by many as necessary discipline.

Proponents of Parental Physical Discipline
Proponents of spanking as a form of discipline argue that for some wrongdoings, children experience natural consequences, but when they don’t, a parent may use spanking as a means to impart a negative association with the behavior. Proponents also believe spanking allows a parent to immediately stop a dangerous action, and, as a traditional form a discipline, may be necessary to communicate a message about negative behavior to young children who may not understand verbal explanations. Some of the staunchest supporters of spanking are fundamentalist religious groups. For example, pro-spanking Christians believe spanking is a necessary form of punishment and cite biblical passages that refer to a rod being used to discipline a child ( Some adults, who remember spankings they received as children from their own parents, advocate spanking the next generation as well, rationalizing that since they turned out fine, so should their children. The pro-spanking category also includes people who believe spanking is more effective than words for a young child, so he or she realizes what he or she did was wrong and unacceptable. Advocates of physical punishment may argue their children are better behaved than children whose parents do not believe in spanking and that talking through a discipline issue only goes so far, while spanking drives a point home. In Connecticut, corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed since 1989 and spanking advocates believe this is directly related to the increase in discipline problems and violence on school campuses.
Opponents of Physical Discipline
Opponents of spanking believe the practice indicates a loss of parental control and is never necessary. Some even believe spanking or corporal punishment can lead to an increase in violence and result in child abuse. From this point of view, a child’s self-esteem may suffer owing to the humiliation of the spanking and, in addition to possibly losing respect for a parent who spanks; the child will merely avoid situations or behaviors that result in punishment without grasping the concept of right and wrong. Many family advocacy groups, psychologists, and health professionals that I had researched, consider spanking to be inappropriate and recommend against its use. The following list reinforces the argument against using spanking as a form of punishment.

• Hitting children teaches them to hit. Research is available to support a link between corporal punishment in childhood and aggressive behavior in teenage and adult years. (
• This type of punishment distracts the child from learning how to resolve conflict effectively and humanely. In the words of educator John Holt: “When we make a child afraid, we stop learning dead in its tracks.” (
• Corporal punishment interferes with the parent-child bond, as it is not human nature to feel loving toward someone who hurts us.(
• Spanking on the buttocks, an erogenous zone in childhood, can create in the child's mind an association between pain and sexual pleasure, and lead to difficulties in adulthood.(
• Even relatively moderate spanking can be physically dangerous, as blows to the lower end of the spinal column send shockwaves along the length of the spine and may cause injury. (
• Because children learn through parental modeling, physical punishment gives the message that hitting is an appropriate way to express feelings and solve problems. (
• Spanking is not respectful of the child and can humiliate and harm the child both emotionally and physically. (
• Spanking can be contradictory and confusing for a child, especially if used as punishment for a child who was hitting.(

Notable Organizations’ and Individuals’ Stances on Physical Discipline is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing violence by educating the public on negative effects of corporal punishment and promoting scientifically accepted developmentally appropriate positive discipline.
Dr. Vincent J. Felitti, MD, Co-Principle Researcher ACE Study, Kaiser and CDC-“While spanking or hitting relieves parental tension and sometimes immediately changes behavior, it does so by creating anxiety and fear. Creating anxiety and fear damages trust, attachment, and warmth between parent and child
Ann Landers - "Parents who hit their children teach them to hit others. And please tell me, when does hitting end and beating begin? And who decides where the line is? If you read the history of the most violent criminals, you will find that almost without exception, they were physically abused throughout their childhood."
American Academy of Pediatrics- encourages parents to avoid spanking, and believes spanking teaches children that it's OK to hit when they're angry. Spanking can also physically harm children. And rather than teaching children how to change their behavior, spanking makes them fearful of their parents and teaches them merely to avoid getting caught. Department of Children and Families’ Stance
According to the DCF website, physical abuse is described as any physical injury inflicted other than by accidental means, any injury at variance with the history given of them, or a child’s condition which is the result of maltreatment such as malnutrition, deprivation of necessities, or cruel punishment. . Examples of injuries which may result from physical abuse include: head injuries, bruises, cuts, lacerations, internal injuries, burns, scalds, reddening or blistering of the tissue through application of heat by fire, chemical substances, cigarettes, matches, electricity, scalding water, friction, etc. Injuries to bone, muscle, cartilage, ligaments fractures, dislocations, sprains, strains, displacements, hematomas, and death

When Does Discipline Turn Into Abuse? / My opinion
Those parents who choose to physically discipline their children yet still wonder when it crosses the line to abuse. I believe drawing the line between the two comes down to a question of harm. If the action causes the child physical or emotional harm, it almost certainly is child abuse. Questioning yourself about crossing the line is a good indicator that physical punishment may go too far in your hands. Based on the statistics and commentary I read for this paper, I believe it is difficult to determine where discipline turns into abuse. Since it is so hard to determine, it’s a good idea to implement discipline styles that cannot be taken too far. For example, there are other methods of discipline that can be effective and much less extreme: Time-outs, temporary isolation, verbal reprimands, ignoring some behaviors when appropriate, loss of privileges and tasking a child with additional chores are just a few that are worth putting into practice. I believe it's important to discipline children for doing wrong; it's also equally important to use positive reinforcement. When you catch your children making the right choices, praise and encourage them. I feel that enforcing positive behavior is often the best way to reduce negative behaviors before they occur. As a parent, one needs to consider what’s best for the child and family, and that involves forms of discipline that will ensure the safety and happiness of your child. If one does choose spanking, it’s important to remember to never spank a child in anger, never spank a child in front of others or try to humiliate or embarrass the child, avoid multiple spankings, reserve the punishment for serious offenses and most importantly make sure the child understands clearly his or her wrong behavior.

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