The fine line between spanking and abuse
By James Cannon, Midland Reporter-Telegram, July 12, 2011
In the wake of the Odessa mom who was arrested July 7 for spanking her 11-year-old son, there has been renewed discussions concerning the line between discipline and abuse.
Law enforcement agencies and Child Protective Services both said that physically disciplining children in Texas is legal, but stressed there is a limit.
"The law authorizes (spanking)," Sheriff Gary Painter said. "But there can be no serious damage to the child. That's when it becomes abuse."
But it isn't necessarily that black and white.
Texas law defines abuse as a "physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child, or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child," according to section 261.001 subsection 1C.
The most common answers from officials was that parents must not leave substantial welts or create bruising. Also, the area spanked should be confined to the upper thighs.
Despite the seemingly nebulous terminology, the court systems, law enforcement agencies and CPS agents have discretion during investigations.
For instance, in the case of the recently arrested Odessa mother, Carolyn Puebla Navarrette, 30, police officials declared the physical punishment over the top and excessive. The police department and Municipal Judge Dennis Jones ruled after hearing the evidence that Navarette did abuse her son. The police report said there was "noticeable bruises to his leg, lower back, shoulder and left forearm."
If parents decide to physically discipline their children, Marleigh Meisner, a CPS spokesperson, said they should use only the appropriate level of force.
But even spanking, when used appropriately, only has limited benefits. These benefits also decline as the child gets older, said Marc McQueen, clinical director for the Centers for Children and Families.
Both said that parents never should use weapons such as belts, switches or paddles. Rather, parents should look at other forms of punishment, like loss of privileges and withholding rewards. Parents also should be more proactive by using positive reinforcement for good behavior, McQueen added.
"If (spanking is) a primary form of discipline, parents probably need to reconsider how they discipline their children," McQueen said. "Ultimately parents need more tricks in their bag."
But even beyond physical punishment, McQueen said parents never should discipline their children while angry. He suggests parents calm down and think rationally about the offense and determine a punishment because the desired result is more likely when cooler heads prevail.
But some in West Texas, like Painter, feel that spanking is a necessity.
"More kids ought to be whooped," he said.