Part 7 Do State Laws Define Allowable vs. Prohibited Physical Punishment?
By Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D.
There is no national legal consensus on how to distinguish legally accepted physical punishment from dangerous physical assault for which a parent can be criminally liable for child abuse. Rather, states have their own definitions of physical child abuse, some of which also mention physical punishment.
Many states directly or indirectly reflect an understanding that physical abuse can result from physical punishment. Several states use a variety of adjectives to describe punishment that is considered to be physical abuse , including “unreasonable,” “excessive,” “cruel,” and “inappropriate.”
With regard to what is allowable, many states require that physical punishment be “reasonable” or “moderate,” but they do not define what behaviors meet this standard.
Thus the laws of many states that include mention of physical punishment in their definitions of physical abuse make it clear that physical punishment and illegal physical abuse or assault of children are inherently connected.
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