BOSTON (CBS) — Massachusetts’ highest court for the first time established legal guidelines for the use of physical punishment by parents, saying it’s permissible to discipline a child by spanking so long as “reasonable” force is used and the child is not harmed.  The Supreme Judicial Court issued the framework while reversing the assault and battery conviction of a Brockton man who had been seen by police spanking his daughter near a bus station.

“I think all parents use it once or twice in their children’s lives,” said Marceooa Ottaway, who says she avoids spanking as much as possible.

“I don’t want children to be violent to other people, I want to be a good strong role model,” she said.

The justices say spanking is permissible and not a criminal act as long as it is “reasonable” for discipline.  Writing for the seven-member court, Justice Barbara Lenk writes that “the force is reasonably related to the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the minor, including the prevention or punishment of the minor’s misconduct.  The force used neither causes, nor creates a substantial risk of causing physical harm, gross degradation, or severe mental distress.”

Child psychologist Dr. Ellen Braaten says the court has left what’s “reasonable” open to interpretation.

“What one person might think is reasonable is not what another person think is reasonable,” says Dr. Braaten adding the court is trying to strike a balance between parental rights and child abuse.

Parents have already formed strong opinions.

“It’s counterproductive,” said parent Zach Shpinner.  “There are other means a parents has that are much more effective.”

Beth Germano


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