When Does Discipline Cross the Line to Abuse?

It can be a confusing distinction for parents: when does disciple become abuse? Even star athletes fall victim to the confusion. Just look at the recent case involving NFL star Adrienne Peterson and his son.1

Each state has its own definition of what constitutes child abuse, but a story in the Boston Globe states that generally, “any intentional physical contact that causes bodily injury or extreme physical pain to a child can be prosecuted as a criminal act.” 2

The Globe article cites law professor Scott McCown, director of the Children’s Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law as saying, “Police won’t arrest a parent who spanks a child, but if an injury requires medical treatment or leaves a mark, that could indicate a parent used too much force” and broke the law.

Doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, counselors, childcare providers, medical examiners, police officers, and other professionals are required by law to report incidents of actual or suspected child abuse. 3

Rather than using the physical discipline methods that were popular in past generations, parents should consider adopting long-term, more-effective methods of disciplining children. In fact, the word “discipline” actually means self-control. 4

According to an article published by the National Institute of Health, effective discipline should be “given by an adult with an affective bond to the child; consistent, close to the behavior needing change; perceived as ‘fair’ by the child; developmentally and temperamentally appropriate; and self-enhancing, i.e., ultimately leading to self-discipline.” 4

There are many website and local parenting class offerings that can help parents learn better ways to manage their child’s behavior; Google “effective parenting techniques” or “local parenting classes.” Ultimately, the goal of any effective method should be to teach the child to control their own behavior with skills, rather than fear.

Source Articles

1“Adrienne Peterson takes plea deal in child abuse case”:
3“Mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect”:
4“Effective discipline for Children”:

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