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Spank On: Florida Court Says One Smack Isn’t Child Abuse, But No Limit Set

| September 19, 2011

In Florida, some forms of violence toward children remain legal.

It was a Thursday evening last February. K.C., 14 years old, was being disagreeable around dinner time. Her father called her defiant. She described herself as merely sarcastic. As she continued to talk back, her father had her stand up. He grabbed her arm and spanked her once on her butt. The girl didn’t notice marks left on her butt, though there were marks on her arm. She called her older sister, who called her mother, who called the police.

The parents of the 14 year old are divorced. The ex-wife filed an injunction against her ex-husband, charging domestic violence. Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee granted it, saying state law doesn’t make exceptions for parental discipline in case of domestic violence. State law defines domestic violence as meaning “any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.”

The question was whether a single-smack spanking fit any of those definitions. Last week, a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee said no. Common law, the court ruled, recognizes a parent’s right to discipline his or her child in a “reasonable manner,” while corporal punishment “by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.” One smack did not amount to abuse, the court ruled. But it left unsaid what would amount to abuse.

The court relied mostly on a 2002 precedent, a unanimous decision by the Florida Supreme Court, which found that parental rights did not have “absolute immunity” from charge abuse charges, but that a line could be drawn against child abuse charges as long as the force used was “reasonable” or “non-excessive.” In that case, a man was charged with aggravated child abuse by repeatedly hitting his girlfriend’s 8-year-old child with a belt. The court found the violence excessive, and the man’s conviction on a felony abuse charge was upheld.


“Courts and legislative bodies have repeatedly recognized the difficulty in delineating a precise line between permissible corporal punishment and prohibited child abuse,” the court said in 2002. “However, we conclude that this difficult task is principally a legislative function,better left to the Legislature. As the Fourth District has previously observed: ‘Cases like this should stand as a warning to those, parents and others alike, who quickly turn to corporal punishment as a solution to child discipline problems. It is apparent that there is a serious risk of ‘going too far’ every time physical punishment is administered.’”

“In the case under review, however,” the appeal court ruled regarding the February incident, “looking at the facts most favorable to K.C., we conclude that, as a matter of law, the father’s conduct constituted reasonable parental discipline and not domestic violence.”

The court did not make a distinction in the ages of victims being spanked. Studies have been divided on spanking, with some finding that spanking led children to be more antisocial, to lie, to cheat and to bully other children more, while others found that children would get in fewer fights. Researchers have routinely found that up to 90 percent of parents spanked their children at least occasionally, but pediatricians have cautioned against spanking children younger than 2 or spanking adolescents, in whom spanking could lead to aggression and dysfunction.

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8 Responses for “Spank On: Florida Court Says One Smack Isn’t Child Abuse, But No Limit Set”

  1. nina says:

    I think our country has gone too far in criminalizing parental discipline. Parents whose rebellious children threaten them with calling the police, can no longer discipline effectively. Occasionally it’s necessary to spank, and nothing else will work for some children. We are raising a generation of kids who don’t have respect for authority in school or at home, and it should be criminal to allow kids to grow up this way. Kids discover early on in our permissive society, that it’s OK to talk back to their parents or teachers. A kid needs to be told ‘No’. and there has to be consequences for disobedience and disrespect. These same children will grow into disrespectful, self-centered adults. How will they learn to obey laws if as kids they were taught there is no painful consequence for disobedience and rebellion? I think it’s cruel to raise children without discipline.

    • Pete V says:

      Physical abuse never gets goods results. I have 6 children and have never had to physically hit my kids to be obedient. I have had a great relationship with my kids, not perfect but still good. As all children do, the misbehave and when they did, and this is where most parents fail, you must address the first time it happens. You must pull the child to the side and speak to them firmly. Ask the child questions to see if the understand. Kids will respond to your words more so than spanking. After a while spanking get them knumb and they just dont feel physical pain, just emotional. If you as a parent allowed them to be disobedient at home, than you have yourself to blame when the do it in public.

      • Bob says:

        Pete,
        Just be grateful you have children that resond to your kind of parenting. Six is quite a few to think you have a good “experimental group” to observe. But I will tell you, there are children who will not listen, who will not mind, and who will spit in your face when you try to talk to them. Swatting them once on the behind, not for pain, but to get their attention, is the only thing some children will respond to. I have never abused my children, but giving them a swat on the behind lets them know I am serious and has worked with my children.

        • William says:

          “there are children who will not listen, who will not mind, and who will spit in your face when you try to talk to them. Swatting them once on the behind, not for pain, but to get their attention, is the only thing some children will respond to’

          Bob. That’s blatantly incorrect. No child REQUIRES physical pain to correct their behavior…even if studies reveal some benefits to physical discipline—NO STUDY ON THE PLANET ASSERTS THAT ANY ONE CHILD EVER REQUIRED/REQUIRES PHYSICAL PAIN TO CORRECT THEIR BEHAVIOR.

          it is a quick and LAZY alternative to REAL parenting.

          real parenting takes PATIENCE.

          I cant believe people still justify the idea that having your child attach physical pain to misbehaving is a good thing.
          My children attach negativity to misbehaving—you better believe—-but never do they think I will cross their boundaries and inflict pain on them merely for my own selfish desires. (because its a terrible lesson of boundaries as well)

          the only time physical violence becomes necessary is when a parent cares more about the “good” behavior of their child more then their actual happiness and emotional well being.

          it is selfish—all children misbehave—-you cannot stop this. Much of it is evolutionarily ingrained in them. Like testing boundaries. The only people who think their children need to be heavenly angels at all times are people who literally have no idea about the physiology nor psychology of a human child.

          if you think you EVER NEED TO HARM A CHILD TO DISCIPLINE THEM—then you have already admitted being a terrible parent.

          • Jade says:

            I think you take your judgment of other parents a little too far. Remember that kids grow up engrained with what their parents teach them, so the adults here probably had the same type of discipline that they give to their own children. It’s unfair of you to judge people so harshly when I highly doubt you are mother of the year. I have spanked my son and afterwards felt so horrible about it I just decided to stop the chain. When I was younger I was abused. And though I always told myself one spank was no where near the abuse I received as a child, I have come to realize that my son doesn’t deserve to be put through what I went through and it’s not fair of me to make that the only option when he does something wrong.
            Remember that your experience and life are not the only ones on this planet.

  2. Drew says:

    My son was was just slapped in the face this evening and then slammed against the wall. The investigatnig Fort Lauderdale Officer stated that Florida law allows parents to hit their kids. My son was trying to wake his mother because my daighter had expressed interest in harming herself. The mother decided sleep was more improtant. My son began to yell at his mother and state that they need to talk. The mother rose from the bed, slapped her son then slammed him into the wall. She left marks on his neck and face. The officer said the physical violence was authorized under law and there was nothing he could do. The officer had NO regard for my daughter being in a state of potential suicide. He made no remark to my daughter wanting to kill herself. So now I wait in mystery. I was forced off the phone with my kids as the officer supposedly had this under control. Violence does not solve anything with kids. Neanderthals hit kids. When I ahve my kids I never have to hit them to get what I need accomplished. I have been a soldier for 21 years and have never had to hit one of my soldiers to get what I need them to do.

  3. William says:

    also I forgot to add in the beginning a very important part:
    physical discipline requires pain…if you aren’t inflicting pain on your child then it is pseudo-physical discipline—because it goes against the very definition of corporal punishment which is: “the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming”

    However, my comment was a generalization—Bob—just in case some of it sounded like it was directed at you—it wasn’t.
    I have no idea of your personal parenting skills—-but stand by the fact that even the swat on the butt is not a required parenting tactic.

    In fact, the concept of “drug resistance” is very similar to physical discipline.. obviously the smack on the butt will not work forever—as children both mentally and physically build immunity (the mental being much more prominent—however if extreme force was used, the child would develop a callus—-which is the physical immune response to repeated friction or damage of the skin.)

    meaning that only a person who uses physical discipline could be at risk for taking it “too far” as naturally you would NEED to increase the level of pain inflicted as time went on. In order to be consistent and further the goal of the original intention.

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