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How Hard Can You Spank a Child?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Sparing the rod may spoil the child, the old saying goes. It may also stave off allegations of child abuse. But in this age of politically correct parenting, how hard can you spank a child, if at all?

A recent study may make parents think twice about spanking. Kids who are spanked or otherwise physically punished are more likely to suffer from mental disorders, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse as adults, according to the journal Pediatrics.

As far as state laws are concerned, however, parental punishment like spanking may be considered criminal battery or abuse, depending on the circumstances.

In general, state laws allow a parent, guardian, or caretaker (like a grandparent or babysitter) to spank a misbehaving child using a reasonable amount of force. Deadly force is definitely forbidden.

So how hard can you spank a child? Laws don't explicitly say, other than using words like "reasonable" and "appropriate." But some states, like Texas, offer a few guidelines:

  • "Disciplinary spanking is usually confined to the buttocks," Texas' attorney general's office states on its website. "Striking a child above the waist is more likely to be considered abusive."
  • Using a bare, open hand is least likely to be considered abusive.
  • Using an instrument like a belt may be OK "as long as injury does not occur." But the use of phone cords, yardsticks, ropes, and shoes are more likely to be considered abuse.
  • Parental punishment that causes physical injury may be abusive, especially if a child is bruised or requires medical attention. Red marks that fade after a short time are less likely to be considered abuse.

As you can see, there's no bright-line rule about how hard you can spank a child. An experienced local criminal defense attorney can help stand up for your rights if this ever becomes an issue.

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