Many of us — the author included — were spanked by our parents growing up. It wasn’t uncommon for mom or dad to spank us with whatever they could get their hands on — belts, wooden spoons, switches.
Times have changed, however, and corporal punishment is not as acceptable as it used to be. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a policy statement advising parents against ever spanking their children, which begs the question:
The short answer is no — spanking is not illegal as long as it is reasonable discipline. In Texas, the law gives parents, stepparents, grandparents and legal guardians leeway in disciplining their children, but it must be “reasonable” and not cross the line into abuse. Problem is, sometimes that line is blurred. (If you were looking for spanking of a more adult variety, you’re looking for our article on the legality of BDSM.)
The Line Between Reasonable Discipline and Child Abuse – At what point does physical punishment end and abuse begin? We must use common sense and look to the law for guidance.
Depending on the age of the child, abuse could fall under two categories: injury to a child or assault bodily injury family violence. Individuals accused of abusing a child under age 15 could face a charge of injury to a child, while those accused of abusing a kid over age 15 could face a charge of assault bodily injury family violence. Here’s a look at two statues that make it illegal to spank a child in Texas:
Under Section 22.04 of the Texas Penal Code, a person commits injury to a child if, through act or omission of an act, he intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes a child:
Under Section 22.01 (a)(1) of the Texas Penal Code and section 71.003 of the Texas Family Code, a person commits assault bodily injury family violence if they:
Clearly, spanking a child causes pain, which under both of these statutes would
constitute bodily injury and a law violation. However, there is a defense – called the Reasonable Discipline Defense — which allows parents and guardians to use force on children for disciplinary purposes.
Children suffering from malnourishment, broken bones, and head injuries are often obvious cases of child abuse. But what about spanking a child with a belt for misbehaving or popping them in the mouth for cursing?
The fact is that Texas allows for reasonable discipline. Section 9.61 of the Texas Penal Code says that a parent’s use of force, but not deadly force, against a child younger than 18 will be justified if the parents or guardian “reasonably believes the force is necessary to discipline a child or to safeguard or promote his welfare.”
So what is “reasonable belief?” The law defines it as a “belief that would be held by an ordinary and prudent man in the same circumstance as the actor.”
The Texas Attorney General has offered some guidelines on its website to help parents and guardians identify potential abusive actions. and when it may be illegal to spank a child in Texas. They include:
Despite the laws on the books and the Texas Attorney General’s guidelines, the line between abuse and discipline is not always clear cut. In many instances, a judge or jury will be the ones to have the final say. Here’s a look at some recent real-life examples of disciplinary actions that led to criminal charges and the outcomes:
Spanking or physically disciplining children is legal in Texas as long it’s reasonable and doesn’t cross the line into abuse. If you are under investigation or have been charged in connection with disciplining a child, give us a call. We can help.
If you or a loved one is facing a charge stemming from punishing your child, call us at (817) 203-2220 for a complimentary strategy session. Our team of former prosecutors and Board Certified Criminal Lawyers can help. During this call we will: