California Court Rules That Beating Child With Wooden Spoon Is Not Form Of Child Abuse

220px-Conrad,_Giorgio_(1827-1889)_-_n._202aThere is an interesting ruling out of the Sixth District Court of Appeal in California where a unanimous state appellate panel ruled that beating a child with a wooden spoon is not child abuse, even if it leaves bruises. The mother, Veronica Gonzalez, was reported for possible child abuse of her 12-year-old daughter. The daughter says that a friend “tricked” her into going to school officials about the beating. The case is Gonzalez v. Santa Clara County Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 802.

Here is the facts found by the court:

Prior to the events giving rise to this matter, Mother and her husband (Father) had become gravely concerned about Daughter’s declining academic performance and alarming social tendencies. As Father put it, Daughter “had decided that she did not have to do her school or home work, repeatedly lied to both of us, [and] started showing interest in gang culture.”1 Mother declared that Daughter had become “boy crazy and started to mingle with a new type of crowd,” and that they had found pictures and text messages on her mobile phone “in reference to gangs.” They “had many discussions” with Daughter about these developments, but to no avail: “She would hear us yet continued to go down this road . . . . [S]he began saying that her favorite color is red . . . . [S]he was not doing many of her school and homework assignments and even her teachers expressed . . . annoyance with her disregard for her work. We also discovered that [Daughter] had been lying to us about completing assignments and had been hiding test[s] with low scores that were supposed to have gotten signed by us.” Daughter’s older sister (Sister) also declared that Daughter’s “interest in gangs seemed to be growing.” She “started to become very irresponsible in school by being late to classes, having really bad grades because she was doing hardly any of her school and homework, was lying to my parents about lots of things, and started hanging around wanna-be gangster kids at school.” Daughter herself declared, “I have to admit, for a long time, starting in 6th grade, I was always getting to class late, not doing my school assignments, and lying to my parents.” She acknowledged that milder disciplinary measures had failed to influence her: “When I first started doing all this, my parents grounded me many times, by taking away all my fun stuff like my iPod, my T.V., my cell phone, and I was not allowed to hang out with friends. I don’t know why that stuff didn’t work on me, but I continued to not do what I was supposed to.”

Mother described in more detail the failure of these less stringent methods of discipline: “[A]fter a few weeks of grounding when [Daughter] would get off of restriction she would do better for a short time, but then revert back to the same behavior, over and over. We would go through several sessions of groundings over several months, hoping it would finally make the difference, but grounding proved to be ineffective at setting [Daughter] back on the right path. At this point, we did not know what else to do to help [Daughter]. We talked again, and felt that the only other option out there, would be to try spanking. So the weekend before the incident in question, my husband and I sat [Daughter] down and explained to her that, since she kept lying to us repeatedly about completing assignments, she now needed to get her agenda signed by each teacher so we could be sure she was really doing all of her work. We also informed her that if she continued with this irresponsible behavior, [such as] not doing her assignments, being late to class and lying to us, she would start to receive one spank on the bottom for each thing not done. She understood the new consequences. but still chose to continue the bad behavior.”

According to the Mother, on each of the first three days of the new regime Daughter came home without having “complet[ed] her tasks.” This resulting in her being spanked by Father “with his hand, only on the buttocks, fully clothed, and in a calm manner.” (Capitalization removed.) When Mother picked Daughter up at school on Thursday, April 29, 2010, she had again failed to comply with her parents’ directives. She [*6] gave implausible excuses, a further violation of parental orders. Mother called Father “and told him that [Daughter] still wasn’t doing her work and was late again, and that he needed to come home and deal with this. He told me he wouldn’t be home until late that evening and that I needed to handle it, or else [Daughter] would not respect me or take me seriously as a parent. Because of my hand condition, he said I should just use a wooden spoon. I told him that I’d rather he just spank her when he gets home from work, but he insisted that I should handle it. I finally agreed and told [Daughter] that I would have to be the one to spank her this day and that I was going to use a wooden spoon because my hands hurt.” Father also declared that the idea of using a spoon had been his, and had arisen from the exigency of his not coming home until “very late that evening.”

Mother declared that upon arriving home, she retrieved a wooden spoon and “gave [Daughter] around five or six spanks on the bottom, one for each thing not done and for making excuses. [Daughter] was fully clothed during the spanking. She was not crying or screaming during the spanking.” (Capitalization removed.) Family members [*7] declared unanimously that spankings had been a rarity in the family, that they had only been given in response to misbehavior, that they were never given in the heat of anger, and that they were almost always given by Father, and always with an open hand.

On the next day Daughter disclosed to some friends that she had been spanked with a wooden spoon. One of them reported, or “tricked” Daughter into reporting, the matter to school authorities. An unnamed “mandated child abuse reporter[]”—manifestly a school employee—filled out a “suspected child abuse report.” (Emphasis omitted.) Under “[i]ncident [i]nformation,” the reporter wrote, “Victim says she gets ‘smack’ by parents when she is not doing what parents are expecting from her. She said Mom hits her with a wooden spoon and Dad hits her with his hand. Last time she was hit was on 4/29/10 on her botto[m] / picture was taken.”

That fact pattern set up a clear record for the court to decide whether parents can still use spoons or other objects to discipline their students. The case turned on the state definitions of abuse, which are extremely vague. Under state law, a report is “‘[s]ubstantiated'” if the conduct reported is “determined by the investigator who conducted the investigation to constitute child abuse or neglect . . . , based upon evidence that makes it more likely than not that child abuse . . . occurred.” Since neglect was not alleged, the case turned to two definitions of abuse. First is the “‘willful harming or injuring of a child,” is defined as “willfully caus[ing] or permit[ting] any child to suffer, or inflict[ing] thereon, unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.” (Pen. Code, § 11165.3.) Second is the “‘unlawful corporal punishment or injury,'” is defined as “willfully inflict[ing] upon any child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or injury resulting in a traumatic condition.” (Pen. Code, § 11165.4.) There is a privilege recognized in California state however when “a reasonable person would find that punishment was necessary under the circumstances and that the . . . physical force used . . . was reasonable.” (CALCRIM No. 3405).

The panel faulted the trial court for refusing to consider such defenses by the mother. The panel held:

As we have said, a successful assertion of the parental disciplinary privilege requires three elements: (1) a genuine disciplinary motive; (2) a reasonable occasion for discipline; and (3) a disciplinary measure reasonable in kind and degree. . . .
The only question presenting any difficulty is whether the measure actually applied—spanking with a wooden spoon, with resulting bruises—was reasonable in kind and degree. To overlook as harmless the trial court’s failure to entertain the reasonable discipline privilege, it would have to appear as a matter of law either that a wooden spoon was an unreasonable means to administer the spanking, or that it was applied with excessive force.

We cannot say that the use of a wooden spoon to administer a spanking necessarily exceeds the bounds of reasonable parental discipline. Although no published California decision addresses this issue, the Attorney General has concluded that “[i]t is not unlawful for a parent to spank a child for disciplinary purposes with an object other than the hand,” provided that “the punishment [is] necessary and not excessive in relation to the individual circumstances.” . . .

Nor do we think that the infliction of visible bruises automatically requires a finding that the limits of reasonable discipline were exceeded. Certainly the presence of lasting bruises or other marks may support a finding that a parent crossed the line between permissible discipline and reportable abuse. . . . However, such effects alone [do not compel a finding of child abuse.

In some countries, any corporal punishment is treated as presumptively abusive. With four kids, I have yet to spank any of them though I consider spanking to be an option. I simply have never found it necessary. Not because my kids are angels. They can at times be close to feral, but I have found other alternative forms of punishment like taking away electronics (which is akin to an amputation for kids today). I grew up in a house where spanking occurred but not very often. My father (who was abused as a child) rarely spanked the kids and refused (unlike many of the fathers in our building in Chicago) to use a belt or a switch or any object. He used his bare hand and the kid was left fully clothed (despite my putting a magazine in my pants on one occasion). He would only briefly spank us — generally at the suggestion of my mother for severely bad conduct. Indeed, if you said you were sorry or cried, he would stop. (I would generally start to wail upon approaching my father and achieved a record low level of spanking — an early recognition of the value of throwing oneself on the mercy of the court. My next older brother — Christopher — on the other hand was a hard case and would refuse to cry or ask forgiveness.). With five kids, my parents found the threat of corporal punishment to be useful, even if rarely used. They are viewed (by us) as highly progressive because it was common for friends to be beaten by belts or sticks when we were growing up.

What do you think? Should any corporal punishment be viewed as abuse today?

Source: Mercury News

111 thoughts on “California Court Rules That Beating Child With Wooden Spoon Is Not Form Of Child Abuse”

  1. Back in the 50s and 60s nearly every family used a belt, whip or some sort of paddle on their kids. And it was most common to spank your kids naked. In my middle school gym class, I saw someone with welts nearly every day. One day my best friend had belt marks on his bottom, legs and penis. I asked him what happened and he said he got the belt with his clothes off for coming home late. Back then no one thought nothing of it, and kids were much better behaved.

  2. If spankings dont work after the age of 8 then its useless, and those who spank-paddle high school kids are prev erts in my book, and ya know darn well that many teachers get thier rocks off spanking older boys & girls, hell being a teacher is a pedophile dream come true, with no worry about getting put in jail, v ery good example, go out in the street and beat a cat or a dog with a stick and you go to jail real fast, but its ok to do that to a human being,a kid? come on now. something is really messed up in minds today.

  3. Nope, not a crime, and especially not in these circumstances. This is a 12 year old who was clearly and accurately informed of the punishment and why it was being given. They had withheld privileges. She fully understood what was expected of her and she defiantly continued ignoring.

    So, not a crime, but I will say I would have handled this completely differently. An snotty defiant toddler can really be straightened up by a whack on the backside, especially if it is followed up with further long-term consequences (never just spank and let that be the end of it… they will soon learn to trade that temporary sting for the joy of doing whatever the heck they want and making you mad)

    But for a 12 year old???
    I probably would have removed the iPhone, TV, cellphone, and other luxuries PERMANENTLY after the 2nd repeat offense. If she wants those things, she will have to work to buy her own, including paying for the cable or cell monthly service. Next, you clamp down on clothing, all luxuries, time out of the house, allowing friends over, and so on. And this has to go on for months, not just a few weeks. A 12 year old who is on this path has to really live the consequences for an extended period and be forced to “earn back” everything that is taken away.

    Losing something for a few weeks is one thing. Losing it forever is quite another. Take away that phone, all internet access, and the TV in September, and by December, she’ll realize that life before wasn’t all so bad, now, was it? Doing a little homework and showing up for school will seem pretty light duty in exchange for those luxuries.

  4. Thanks for the reply, David. I don’t know statistically which is more likely between sexually abusive spanking and abduction, but there’s no reason children can’t be warned about both dangers. This would do a lot to counter the targeting of children by predators who use disciplinary pretexts combined with their position of authority. (If a teacher at your school when you were a kid had ordered you to take down your pants for a paddling, would you have refused? If so, on what grounds?)

    What happened with your daughter’s math teacher actually reminds me of this Canadian school principal:

    The Gazette (Montreal), October 31, 2000

    Principal fooled everyone– How Wadsworth hid his pedophilia

    Amanda Green was being a naughty 7-year-old and knew it on that day 13 years ago when she played with the water and climbed on the toilets in the girls’ bathroom at Greendale elementary school in Pierrefonds.

    She and her girlfriend were caught by their teacher, and Amanda knew she was in for it when she was sent to the principal’s office.

    David Wadsworth, principal of the school, immediately said he would see the girls individually. When it was Amanda’s turn, the Grade 2 student nervously entered Wadsworth’s office.

    What she had done was wrong, Wadsworth told her, and now he was going to let her pick one of two choices for a punishment: either he would tell her parents and teachers what she had done and take away certain privileges, such as recess and gym; or she could take off her pants and panties and let him spank her as he would his own child, and no one need ever know what had happened.

    “Can’t I leave my underwear on?” asked Amanda. No, she vividly remembers Wadsworth telling her, embarrassment is part of the punishment.

    Amanda, a feisty child, knew she shouldn’t have to remove her clothes. She didn’t like either punishment, she told him, defiantly. Perhaps taken aback by someone willing to stand up to him, Wadsworth told her to leave his office and never again brought up the incident.

    Amanda’s friend chose the spanking.

    Wadsworth has pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography – pictures and videos of children being spanked – as well as to sexual assault and gross indecency against eight former students at a Pincourt elementary school. Amanda Green, now a Concordia University student, finds herself haunted by how many other children might have chosen to be spanked on a bare bottom by a man everyone believed was a sweetheart principal and a terrific teacher. . .

  5. This is far from being child abuse.

    However, you will never beat a kid into behaving nor does it appear to be helping this situation out.

    Not sure what the parents should do, but it seems they are loosing control fast, plus, the more you try to stop a kid from doing the things all the other kids do, the more they will want to do them.
    A parent is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    I know I don’t know the whole story here, but these parents need to get control back with their daughter and help her understand why she needs to be doing her school work.

    As far as grounding her, I totally agree with that, she shouldn’t be allowed to do anything but go to school and come home, until grades and such improve.

    Grounding and taking away all privileges goes a lot further then a spanking does.

    A kid will get used to a spanking but will never get used to sitting in their rooms all summer long with no video games/computer access, while their friends are out having fun.

    1. Tom Johnson – Yes, you are probably right that a child familiar with the discipline of spanking might not have as much objection to it. I was spanked by teachers in middle school. They hung their paddles on the wall of the classroom and kept the class in order with them. My parents spanked me, but my father used a belt and had me pull my pants down when it was warranted. I understood the paddle system and did not have any objection to it. I needed it sometimes.

      I have five daughters, but I have not really addressed specifically the issue of others wanting to spank them for wrong reasons. I consider it a higher risk that someone might want to abduct them or someone might want to seduce them for sex. One of my daughters actually lost her math teacher when they found child porn on his computer at home, and another daughter lost a teacher when he was caught being involved sexually with another girl. I instill in them the understanding that not everybody in the world is as nice as their parents. There are some evil men out there. Whenever the news brings up an example, I tend to ask them, “did you hear about …” so they understand how evil people are in the world. I emphasize to them the concept of the buddy system. I tell them not to hesitate to call me on their cell phone if they ever find themselves in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. All they have to do is call and say they need me, and I will come pick them up immediately no questions asked. Those are the types of steps I take to help protect them from the unknown evil people in the world.

  6. “I don’t take too well to being ordered around by anyone. The implication is clear. You are attempting to call me a liar. That is over the top and totally unacceptable under any circumstances.”

    It strikes me that you must be very insecure.

  7. The BJS Survey of State Prison Inmates in 1991 showed that many in prison who molested children were themselves molested as children. The study will be available on the Bureau of Justice Service website ( when service resumes, unless the republiclowns succeed in destroying the entire US government and economy.

    Those who show great entusiasm and glee for violently abusing and assaulting children under the false term of “spanking and discipline” remind me very much of pedophiles. They were likely as not abused as kids themselves, and now they want to take out their sociopathic tendencies on their or others’ children. Such individuals need monitoring and therapy, and should be prevented from interacting with or having any kids.

    I would name names, but that would be deemed “name calling” and my comment removed. It’s also fairly obvious who those individuals are based on their comments.

  8. David,
    You seem to be having difficulty understanding your own sentences. These are two declarative sentences, which make a demand:

    “OS – what is the name of your NYT bestselling author friend? Did she have only one book make the NYT bestselling author list?”


    I don’t take too well to being ordered around by anyone. The implication is clear. You are attempting to call me a liar. That is over the top and totally unacceptable under any circumstances.

    1. OS wrote: “You seem to be having difficulty understanding your own sentences.”

      I am having difficulty with understanding how you see these questions as demands which accuse you of lying. Still don’t see it. The second question hints at my motivation, which is the question of how this author you know is not doing so well financially.

  9. “Skinner’s opinions later in life depart from some of his experimental results.”


    Really? You do realize, of course, that you can only make a statement like that if–and only if–you are familiar with his entire body of work. And that of his students which he supervised.

    Here is Dr. Skinner’s bibliography. This does not include all those studies done in his lab on which his name does not appear. Now if you can tell me with a straight face that you are thoroughly familiar with all these works, you may then tell me that his opinions later in life are not based on research, either his or the research he supervised. So here it is, B. F. Skinner’s bibliography, all 63 pages of it.

  10. With regard to the charge that he “ignore[s] cogent arguments,” I’d say Davidm routinely addresses the arguments raised in the blog and the comments.

  11. Davidm,

    Your history of comments on this blog highly suggest that you, “ignore cogent arguments,” despite your protestations of not doing so. Your method is to argue from hypotheticals that you invent in the moment.

    As to:

    “The primary reason I joined the Republican party is because I find them to be nicer and smarter than Democrats. They actually form opinions based in logic, facts and reality rather than emotion and superficial fantasies about programs that cannot work. Democrats seem to be among the nastiest people I have ever encountered. Just look at the volume of posts that have been directed with vile toward me. I never see Republicans do this, even when I disagree with them.”

    “Superficial fantasies”
    Much like your hypothetical arguments?

    “Just look at the volume of posts that have been directed with vile toward me.”
    It’s possible that these are responses to your numerous posts directed with vile towards others.

    “I never see Republicans do this [produce vile, I assume], even when I disagree with them.”
    We are all guilty of not recognizing our failures, but you take the cake, David.

  12. Like saying anecdotes are “possibly true.” That’s the fav of one person here and a great passive aggressive move. Hall of Famer!

  13. Mike,
    Regarding David wanting to know the name of my friend. His demand for me to prove I know the author is a transparent passive-aggressive way of calling me a liar. Just like his passive-aggressive way of calling B. F. Skinner a liar about the way he summarized his life’s work in the book. I suppose because Skinner did not dwell on his early experiments with the boxes, and dismiss his later seminal work in the field.

    As one of my professors always said when somebody asked an inane question, “Once you have that information, what are you going to do with it?”

    1. OS wrote: “Regarding David wanting to know the name of my friend. His demand for me to prove I know the author is a transparent passive-aggressive way of calling me a liar.”

      I never DEMANDED you PROVE that you knew the author. You mentioned knowing an author who was a NYT bestseller, and I wanted to know the name so I could look up their works, to see their sales volume, etc. It had to do with looking at data concerning your assertion. I never doubted in the least that you knew such a person. If you think it is inappropriate to tell me the person’s name, that’s the end of it. I don’t care. I just can’t dig in deeper on your assertion. There was probably not anything there anyway.

      OS wrote: “Just like his passive-aggressive way of calling B. F. Skinner a liar about the way he summarized his life’s work in the book.”

      Dr., for a psychologist, you really should be doing better than this. You are way out of the ballpark here. I NEVER called Skinner a liar. I highly respect the man. He did real science, and he was meticulous in recording results. His work has formed a huge basis in animal behavior and learning. His contribution is incalculable.

      Nonetheless, this does not make him God, nor does it make every opinion he has the absolute truth. There are many valid criticisms about how he applies his work to human behavior. As you know, he worked primarily with rats and pigeons. His experimental results are certainly applicable to humans, but humans also have cognitive abilities that far surpass animals. Skinner, for the most part, tends to ignore that, and his analysis of behavior is more rooted in the genetic basis for human behavior and does not adequately address the cognitive issues unique in humans.

      Skinner’s opinions later in life depart from some of his experimental results. He has some valid reasons for some of it. For example, he is right when he says that punishment is deficient when compared to positive reinforcement in that it only tells the person what not to do. The person can still be left wondering what he is suppose to be doing. Skinner took the view that we should just focus on telling the person what to do and reinforcing that, so that we can get the behavior we want. In one sense, he is kind of treating humans like animals, and arguing for a preferred method of training to manipulate people to do what is desired. Skinner is certainly entitled to that viewpoint, but for you to take that opinion and give it greater weight, claiming that he PROVED punishment does not work is ridiculous. Going back to his experimental studies, Skinner proved punishment DOES work. It was his later opinions where he influenced people toward not using punishment at all, which was based more upon them being unnecessary, not that they did not work. He sometimes also tossed in the concept of negatives of punishment which result when too much punishment is done or when it is done incorrectly. Notably lacking from his opinion are the problems caused by too much positive reinforcement without any punishment. They exist too, but Skinner is silent about them. He obviously had a bias. You choose to think his opinion is based solely on his experimental models. I think there are other factors at play because his experimental models proved that punishment works.

      For a common sense perspective, you might consider the training of dogs. Some dogs are abused with punishment, and they show obvious signs of abuse in their psychology. They walk around cowering with their tail between their legs, sometimes whimpering. They are afraid to be touched with the hand, pulling back or lowering the head when a human extends their hand toward the dog. Other dogs are trained with both positive reinforcement and proper punishment, such as a scold or a tap on the nose. These dogs are very well adjusted.

      I suggest you look at the following page where an animal trainer uses Skinner to argue why punishment must be part of training a dog, and warns not to believe the humanists who claim punishment does not work.

      And see this link where he defends the notion that punishment works, despite the number of behaviorists who argue punishment does not work:

Comments are closed.