The Age of Discipline: The Relevance of Age to the Reasonableness of Corporal Punishment

By Cope, Kristin Collins | Law and Contemporary Problems, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

The Age of Discipline: The Relevance of Age to the Reasonableness of Corporal Punishment


Cope, Kristin Collins, Law and Contemporary Problems


"Corporal punishment is the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control of the child's behavior." (1)

INTRODUCTION

For several decades, the debate about "appropriate" punishment of children has raged on, and today two polarized camps still seem to dominate the discussion. On one side of the debate are those who believe that physical punishment should remain available as a disciplinary tool. On the other side are those who oppose its use altogether. This disagreement is playing out in the academic sphere, as well as in popular culture, and involves complex differences over the rights of parents and children, culture and religion, and the scientific case for and against corporal punishment based on the child's responses and development.

Lawmakers have also struggled with whether parents' use of corporal punishment is dangerous, effective, or justified. One state even saw efforts to ban corporal punishment in the home altogether. In 2007, a Massachusetts state legislator introduced a bill to ban spanking in the home at the behest of a local nurse. (2) The bill was easily defeated, but it evoked intense publicity at the possibility, nonetheless. (3)

Notwithstanding these debates and initiatives, all fifty states continue to allow parents to use corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool, limiting its use to what is "reasonable." (4) Conversely, all states describe unreasonable or excessive corporal punishment as child abuse, (5) but their legislatures have hesitated to specify the acts and injuries that transgress the bounds of reasonableness. The effect of this more "open" standard and approach has been to leave to the courts and other relevant legal actors the difficult task of assessing what is "reasonable" in individual cases, to sort the acceptable from the prohibited. Faced with these objectives, courts have discussed various factors to consider in that assessment. Among the factors are the parent's act, the amount of force used, the extent of injury caused, and the child's behavior and mental condition. Increasingly, courts and legislatures have also begun to consider the child's age in evaluating the reasonableness both of the parent's disciplinary motive and of the nature and degree of the force used. In governments' efforts to determine what is "reasonable" (and thus allowable) corporal punishment, the age of the child has become a focal point--a new and important factor in calling balls and strikes.

Actors in all branches of government are beginning to take steps to make age matter in corporal-punishment law, but the methods for doing so are wide-ranging. This paper first addresses the reasonableness standard and its relationship to the underlying purposes of corporal punishment generally. It then describes the various approaches to the consideration of age: some explicitly introduce age as a factor in assessing "reasonableness" in individual cases, while others use age benchmarks for prohibiting corporal punishment before or after certain ages. This paper then evaluates these varying approaches in the longstanding effort to give meaning to the term "reasonableness" in the context of corporal punishment.

II

THE REASONABLENESS STANDARD

State legislatures historically have offered little guidance regarding what is reasonable corporal punishment. Originally, statutes defined acceptable corporal punishment through specifying what was not child abuse: forty-eight states and the District of Columbia took this approach. (6) Today, most states still use "reasonableness" as the statutory standard for corporal punishment. Some also say that the punishment must be "appropriate" (7) or "moderate," (8) but, in practice, these terms are just as difficult to evaluate as "reasonable." Such vague standards have left the task of sorting out individual cases of parental behavior to the courts, (9) and the lack of guidance has led them to make inconsistent, and often shocking, rulings. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Age of Discipline: The Relevance of Age to the Reasonableness of Corporal Punishment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.