Reasonable Discipline – What Is Appropriate?

In the wake of the recent Adrian Peterson controversy,, many parents might ask themselves what is a reasonable discipline for their children in the eyes of the legal system. Of the 50 states, 29 of them, including Texas, permit corporal punishment of a child as a means of reasonable discipline.  Texas permits a parent or grandparent of the child, along with a stepparent or guardian of the child, to use corporal punishment for reasonable discipline also.

Although the Texas Family Code permits such corporal punishment, there are limits on the amount of corporal punishment allowed.   The determination of whether corporal punishment is excessive is done on a case-by-case basis, but a parent or other individual administering corporal punishment to a child can risk being charged with the crime of injury as designated in the Texas Penal Code.  In that code, a person commits an injury to a child if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or by criminal negligence causes bodily injury to a child.  The offense is a felony and punishable by significant jail time and fines.

So the question becomes what is permissible corporal punishment and what is not permissible? Well, the cases on the subject come down to a fact-specific analysis to be done on a case-by-case basis. The judge or jury can determine, after hearing the evidence on what type of punishment was used and what type of injuries were sustained, whether the punishment was reasonable or rose to the level of criminal conduct. The person charged with injury to a child can, for example, bring in evidence such as doctors and psychologists to dispute the claim that the corporal punishment used was not reasonable by the parent. In addition, interviews of the child and evaluations from investigators can provide insight into whether the form of punishment used was unreasonable.

Parents need to be aware of the fine line that can exist between whether the way they discipline their child will be seen as proper discipline or child abuse in the context of a legal proceeding. Otherwise, they might be caught up in a legal action alleging family violence, or, as is happening to Mr. Peterson, a criminal case for injury to a child.

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