Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you probably heard about the case involving NFL running back Adrian Peterson. In September 2014, Peterson was indicted for striking his four-year-old son with a tree branch – something Peterson referred to as a “switch.”
The case caused significant controversy and discussion, with some people saying it’s never okay to strike a child and others claiming the law has gone too far in policing parental discipline.
The case also caused many people to wonder just how is too far when it comes to correcting a child’s behavior? What exactly does the law say about spanking and other forms of discipline? Is it a crime to spank your child? The short answer is no, but as with most areas of law, the more comprehensive answer is: “it depends.”
When Does Discipline Cross the Line?
Time reports that spanking your child is legal in all 50 states. Furthermore, data gathered by market research company Harris Interactive reveals that four out of five Americans believe that spanking a child is an appropriate form of discipline on occasion.
Like many other states, Indiana permits parents to engage in “reasonable discipline” of a child. Although the statute itself is somewhat vague, many courts have interpreted this to mean that parental privilege gives a parent authority to use reasonable, appropriate force to correct a child’s inappropriate or unreasonable behavior.
In Willis v. State (2008), the Indiana Supreme Court used a list of factors from the Restatement (Second) of Torts to determine whether a parent’s discipline crossed the line from reasonable to unreasonable. The factors include:
- Whether the adult doling out the discipline is the child’s parent
- The child’s age, gender, and physical and mental condition
- The child’s offense
- The influence of the disciplining moment as an example for other children in the family
- Whether the discipline is reasonably necessary and appropriate to compel the child’s obedience
- Whether the discipline is disproportionate to the offense
- Whether the discipline is unnecessarily degrading or likely to cause the child serious or permanent harm
Clearly, these factors are subject to interpretation depending on the unique circumstances involved in a case. Every family and every child is different. In some cases, schools, health care workers, and others are quick to report suspected cases of abuse. If this happens to you, don’t wait to speak to an attorney. Protect your rights by getting help right away.