To spank or not to spank: What does Texas law say?
Reported by: Jaie Avila, , February 13, 2010

SAN ANTONIO - It's something many parents are bitterly divided on: Should children should be spanked? Recently, some parents here in South Texas have been arrested for what they claim was nothing more than discipline. So what is the law in Texas when it comes to spanking? News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila has the facts every parent should know.

If you are over a certain age, chances are you were spanked as a child. Maybe you were disciplined with a swat of the hand or maybe even a belt or hairbrush. These days, a lot of people might consider that abuse. But few of us really know what the law actually says about spanking.

Parents we talked with were divided on the issue. One mom told us, "I'll be honest with you, I don't really know."

Another said, "I think the law states that parents should not spank their children."

And one father had this to say about child discipline, "The law shouldn't affect how you're going to raise your children."

Some stories that make the news confuse things even further. Consider the case of Shanna Hartman.

"I slapped him right-handed, like that, it wasn't even all that hard." The young Elmendorf mom was arrested and charged with felony injury to a child a few weeks ago after slapping her 10-year-old son, Christopher, when he refused to clean up his room.

The next day a school nurse noticed red marks on the child's face and neck.

"If you can't spank your kids, then you have no way of really disciplining them," says Hartman. "They're wasting money and resources and time on me while some other kid is sitting out there being abused."

Hartman is now waiting to go before a judge.

Does her arrest prove that spanking is now against the law in Texas?

We put that question to Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg. "The law allows you to spank your child. You are allowed to impose reasonable, physical discipline on your child."

So how does a parent know what is "reasonable?" The law doesn't say specifically, but we did find these guidelines from the Attorney General's office.

Don't hit a child in anger. Abuse is most likely to occur when the parent is out of control. The A.G.'s office also says striking a child above the waist is more likely to be considered abusive, since disciplinary spanking is usually confined to the buttocks area. And the most obvious guideline: Punishment is abusive if it causes injury.

"Spanking a child on the butt is not generally going to be seen as child abuse," adds Herberg. "When you beat a child with a belt where it leaves welts across that child's back, or other parts of their body for days or weeks, you've crossed the line. And you are going to get into trouble for that."

The red marks above her son's waist are probably what led to Shanna Hartman's arrest, although she denies causing them.

Finally, the A.G.'s office says an open hand, belts and hair brushes are not likely to be considered abusive when used for spanking. But things like electrical cords, boards, sticks, ropes or shoes are likely to be.

If you are a parent who uses time-out instead of spanking, that could also be considered abuse if it involves locking a child in or out, depriving them of food, or restraining them in some way.

If you want to report suspected child abuse you can call the Child Protective Services hotline at 1-800-252-5400. Parents who need someone to talk to about how to discipline their children, can call the Center for Health Care Services at 223-7233. They're available 24 hours a day.

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