I can absolutely hit my kid (Can’t I?)

I practice law in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world. There are people here from every corner of our planet- and they bring with them traditions and customs that make up the wonderfully colorful fabric of our vibrant city.  Corporal punishment of children has always existed and if we talk to our parents or grandparents, we would definitely hear stories about being hit with a belt…or anything else a parent could get a hold of, as a means to discipline disobedient, disrespectful or otherwise unruly children.

When I started my career working in child welfare law, I repeatedly encountered parents or “persons legally responsible”  (adults who under the law are viewed as responsible for the care of a child) who had a neglect or abuse action filed against them for excessive corporal punishment.  Many of these adults, especially those who emigrated from another country,  did not understand (or quite possibly feigned a lack of understanding ) of what they did wrong.

An important caveat:  not every foreign born parent hits their kids, and it really depends on a lot of complicated factors (and I bet you could find plenty of scholarship on this issue). The most salient factor, in my opinion, is the lack of legislation on the books and enforced on behalf of children who are neglected or abused in many countries throughout the world.  If there are no laws, then how are parents to know their actions are wrong?  If there are laws but they are not enforced,  how can you stop a parent from doing what is wrong?  If there are no consequences, then where will it end?  In sum, people have to be educated in order to be and do better.  Period. And sadly, not everyone has the same access to education in this world.

Getting back to our mainland, and after a neglect or abuse petition is filed against them, adults learn rather quickly that the United States does not allow for this and that you can also be criminally charged– not to mention the possible removal of children from their parents’ care.

A second caveat: I am not excluding the American born parent…they are also guilty of using excessive force when disciplining their children and they should know better considering they grew up here.  However, when you grow up in a home where you were disciplined in that fashion or if you have an inability to control your temper, your native-born status is of no help to you. You suffer from a lack of education too.

My lawyer turned layman definition of  Excessive Corporal Punishment is,  any type of force used against a child that leaves bruising, breaks the skin, causes bleeding, a  fracture of a bone (or bones) or any other type of serious injury to a child. It can be caused by a hand, or possibly a hand balled into a fist, a belt, a wire, a piece of wood, or any appendage that is connected to your hand that should never be used to hit a child and was not created to do so.  Also,  feet and the human body can also cause injury defined as excessive corporal punishment-kicking, shoving, stomping,  body slamming…just to name a few.

An incident of excessive corporal punishment can happen once,  sporadically or it can be systematic (a routine occurrence) in the life of that child. I can’t tell you which one is worse. I don’t think one is “better” than the other.  All of them can leave physical and emotional scars on a child that last a lifetime.

What is permissible? Corporal punishment in the home. It is legal in all 50 states. With a bare hand. That leaves no marks or bruising. Every jurisdiction has  different laws so checking with your local child protection agency is a good idea.

Raising children is not easy.  It does not get any easier as they become older, and develop minds and mouths of their own. If you can’t cope, talk to someone.  If you need help with your children, ask for it.  If you feel like you are about to explode, take a breath and walk away. The alternative remedies offer a momentary release, but is not a long-term solution by any means.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child?” I like “Spare the rod and heal a child”  better.

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