New York Court: Spanking Not Form Of Child Neglect or Abuse


There is a new ruling out today that is relevant to the interesting piece written by Kimberly Dienes this weekend on child punishments. The New York appellate court has ruled that a Long Island father is not guilty of neglect for spanking his eight-year-old son for swearing. This issue is coming before the courts with greater frequency as spanking becomes less common in society and child abuse laws become more strict.

The incident occurred at a party when the boy swore and the father responded on the spot. According to County social services officials, the father used an open hand and then used a belt on the boy’s buttocks, legs and arms after they got home. A Suffolk County Family Court judge found the man in neglect, but the Appellate Division “did not constitute excessive corporal punishment” and that there was insufficient evidence to support the charge.

The court found that parents can spank as a punishment. The use of the belt is an important element here. As I mentioned earlier, I was in a spanking household growing up in Chicago but it was rare and my father never used anything but his hand. He would only give a few good spanks and then consider the point made. It was only for heinous offenses of one type or another. We have not disavowed spanking with my kids but I have never felt the need. Thankfully electronics give parents the ultimate punishment. My kids would prefer a spanking that “no screens” as a punishment. There have been times that I have come close but I have never seen the need. However, I do not rule it out.

These cases represent a collision point between expanding child welfare laws and inherent parental control over the rearing of their children. It is becoming the subject of formal legislation. It is a difficult line in some cases but, like other cases that we have discussed, this case comes down in favor of parental rights.

35 thoughts on “New York Court: Spanking Not Form Of Child Neglect or Abuse”

  1. Spanking? I thought the dad beat him with a belt. Sounds like the dad has a major anger management problem. A counselor one told me that a quick spank of a small child for doing something like running in the street was appropriate but slaps on the face and hitting with implements was abusive. I adopted that position and did give my three year old the quick spank when he ran in the street. That was a long time ago and I don’t think I would do that today as I have more information.

  2. Amy and Annie, ditto to you and thanks Amy for the excellent link. Spanking leads to negative outcomes in ways the child or the adult who who was once that child most often cannot see and he/she carries the effects over into adulthood for the most part and the beat-ing goes on. It is a way to ensure deformation of the child’s personality and well-being. There is always another way. It ensures the continuation of violence within society. It is always a bad idea.

    1. Theo – one of the problems with the study is that ADHD kids are often the ones spanked. ADHD is going to have more of an effect on these children than the spanking. The other problem is that most of these studies have a small population which skews the study.
      What they did to do is find a group of several hundred children and apply a variety of corporal punishments to them in a 50 year longitudinal study. If you design the study correctly, you can get almost any answer you are looking for.

  3. Some people seem to require an ” expert ” and/or a “study” to inform them on issues of right and wrong, big or small. It is part of the denominational struggle between Christians and the New Church of the PC. I tend to go with the tried and true.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  4. The real neglect was of the child by the state for bringing his/her parents into the system for something like this. Surely this caused an upset and disruption in the family and child’s life.

    Despite what people might hold as proper whether or not parents should spank their children it does not give in my view the right of the state to inject themselves into the lives of ordinary people for something like this.

    In my view the prosecution was just as bad as punishments can be. Making a parent go through all this over a spanking and risk removing the child from the home to a foster care, what was worse for the child?

    Sometimes I think Child Protective Service has nothing better to do than prosecute individuals for just being parents.

  5. Heeeeeeeeey, I was ‘spanked’… punched and hit with household implements…. and beaten with my father’s wide leather belt…. Look how well I turned out!

  6. Amy Alkon, thanks for the link to the article, I can agree with his conclusion that spanking isn’t effective in changing behavior and may only make it worse, with escalation in bad behavior by child and intensity of spanking by parent.

  7. This is still more of the government wanting to interfere in the home. I am sure that the father here did not represent himself, so he had to pay for an attorney to protect him against the state for something that is not the state’s business.

  8. “They had played a similar trick with the instinct of parenthood. The family could not actually be abolished, and, indeed, people were encouraged to be fond of their children, in almost the old-fashioned way. The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately.” -Orwell 1984

    As we keep shifting power from parents to children the family will look more and more like what Orwell envisioned.

  9. I have never applied corporal punishment to my child. I have always seeked to reward positive behavior and point out how poor behavior does not serve anyone particularly well. I feel my son has always demonstrated an emotional intelligence beyond his years and is gentle almost to a fault. That said, I have seen many examples over the years where the initial shock of a physical correction had been very useful–or, should have been useful. However, like most things, it seems most of the time any physical confrontation is created by the anger of the parent. I have a friend who was admittedly a “high-energy” child and was spanked now and then by his father. The way he explains it, he felt it was effective because of the consistent process his father used to apply It.The episode was done as a “shaming” process, which he remembers much more than the physical contact. And it was not done routinely. I would state that some high-energy, very visceral children may benefit from calculated and applied corporal punishment (not out of an emotional response).

  10. JT, Correction: You’re welcome. I’m a horrible proofreader. My secretary was incredibly good. She also would have picked up another typo, “Of” should be “our.”

  11. Most everything in politics is a pendulum. We have seen the pendulum swing vis a vis rape prosecutions. When I worked for the prosecutors office in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the victim had few protections. It was wrong and ugly. The pendulum has swung and now we see defendants being victims of lying “victims” and overzealous, evil prosecutors, the Duke lacrosse team being a prime example.

    Prior to working as an investigator w/ the Jackson County prosecutors office[Kansas City], I was a juvenile probation office for the Jackson County Juvenile Court. I dealt mostly w/ juvenile lawbreakers but did handle some cases of abuse/neglect. It should come as no surprise that there is crossover between the two. My supervisor was a wise old timer. He told me when he started working @ the Juvenile Court in the 50’s there was not a statute to cover abuse or neglect of children. They had to prosecute parents/guardians under the cruelty to animal statute. The pendulum has swung in the other direction regarding abuse. Having dealt w/ abuse and seen some horrific cases that haunt me to this day, I understand the pendulum swing. But, being an investigator, I know as much as we would like to codify actions as statutory abuse, that is fraught w/ danger. “Spanking” can be within normal limits and it also can be abuse. It MUST be taken on a case by case basis. And, a person who has dealt w/ abuse cases will tell you the same as Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, said regarding pornography. “I know it when I see it.”

  12. While they are not making yardsticks to be as substantial as they were back in the ’40’s I think their use today could still be quite possibly abusive. The technology of a kinder and gentler spanking IMO includes a somber bedroom talk, an inspection of the tool, a few really hard whacks on the bed making certain to break the yardstick and the admonition that next time….well let’s make sure there is not a next time. Take the child with when selecting the replacement yardstick*!*

  13. The reality is, spanking is counterproductive. The parenting expert I respect most (as a science-based radio host and newspaper columnist) is researcher Dr. Alan Kazdin, head of the Yale Parenting Center. It is not his Yale affiliation that impresses me, but his research and thinking and the scientific support for it. Here’s a piece that references his researcher (that is available to all — not subscription like scientific journals):

  14. Yes, it does come down to parental rights in the context of realizing that parents can be liable for bad things their kids do.

    But on the other hand, “it takes a village to raise a child” is part of the equation too.

    It is a balancing dynamic where both culture and individuals play a part.

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