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Is It Legal to Use a Switch to Discipline Your Kids?

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on September 17, 2014 9:00 AM

Using physical force to discipline your children, such as spanking, is generally legal in most states as long as it's done reasonably.

But what about the use of implements to discipline a child, such as a belt or a "switch," as a tree branch stripped of its leaves is called in some parts of the country? NFL star Adrian Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges last week in Texas after it was discovered he had disciplined his four-year-old son using a switch.

When, if ever, is it legal to use a switch to discipline your kids?

Parent's Right to Discipline

Most states carve out a privilege within their child abuse laws for parental discipline, providing parents, or those acting as parents in a given situation, the legal right to discipline children using force. Some states, such as Oklahoma, even specifically mention "switching" as being a permitted form of discipline. In others, the use of a switch may be allowed if it is used reasonably.

But even in states which allow the use of switches or belts, any time a child suffers serious injury -- either physical or emotional -- the discipline will likely be considered unreasonable, and therefore child abuse.

How Hard is Too Hard?

It may be difficult to determine when discipline has crossed the line into being unreasonable. However, there are several general guidelines:

  • Striking a child above the waist is more likely to be considered abuse;
  • Using a bare, open hard is least likely to be considered abuse; and
  • Discipline that causes bruising or leaves lasting marks may be considered abuse.

In Peterson's case, authorities began investigating his disciplining of his son after a physician reported finding multiple cuts and bruises to the child's back, buttocks, legs, ankles and scrotum. Peterson admitted to disciplining the child using a switch, but did not feel he had done anything wrong.

If convicted of injury to a child, he could be facing up to two years behind bars and a fine of up to $10,000

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