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Spanking Is a Parent's Right, Says Massachusetts Court

The Short of It

A Massachusetts high court ruled that parents have the right to reasonably spank their children.

The Lowdown

While a previous court ruling had concluded that it's not appropriate to spank a child in public, last week the Massachusetts high court unanimously reversed that decision, in Commonwealth v. Dorvil, ruling parents have a common-law right to spank—within a few parameters.

In the case being heard by the court, the father had smacked the almost 3-year-old child once on a clothed bottom because she disobeyed his direction to go to her mother and continued playing on the sidewalk near the street. The father warned the child of the spanking before doing it, stating that "daddy will pow pow, if you don't stop."

Because no evidence was presented that the child was injured in any way, there was not sufficient cause to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the father's use of force was unreasonable or was not reasonably related to a permissible parental purpose.

The court's ruling stated that a parent or guardian has not committed a crime for using force against a minor child as long as the force used is reasonable and the force is reasonably related to keeping the child safe or promoting his or her welfare—including preventing or punishing the kid's misconduct. The court's ruling also said that the force used must not cause or create the risk of causing injury, beyond fleeting pain or minor, temporary marks.

The Upshot

The debate over whether or not to spank children has a long history, with parents coming down vehemently on both sides. Experts still don't agree on whether it's an effective discipline technique, with some studies even showing it can do more harm than good. While I think every parent has to figure out what methods work best with their own children, I also think spanking should be an absolute last resort and only for the most egregious of bad behaviors. I can't imagine what my daughter could ever do that would qualify for a spanking—and I hope I never find out.

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