One of the hardest parts of being a parent is handling your child's misbehavior. Many kids will disobey the rules or act out to test limits or get their own way, and parents have to decide how to respond. Some parents may turn to physical punishment to correct their children's bad behavior—but is that legal? Read on to find out more about the Pennsylvania laws that relate to physical punishment.
In Pennsylvania, as in every US state, it is legal for parents and other legal guardians to physically punish their children—within limits. According to the Commonwealth's statutes, parents can use physical punishment as long as it meets certain key criteria:
- Intent. Parents can use physical punishment against their children if it is “used for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the minor, including the preventing or punishment of his misconduct.”
- Effect. Physical punishment cannot be “designed to cause or known to create a substantial risk of causing death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement, extreme pain, or mental distress or gross degradation.”
This means that most practices commonly accepted as occasional physical punishment—spanking, hitting with a wooden spoon, or slapping—are allowed under the law for punishing occasional bad behavior. However, anything that seeks to cause serious pain or injury could cross the line.
Potential Pitfalls of Physical Punishment
This area of the law can be complicated because state agencies want to balance the safety of the children with parents' right to discipline their children as they see fit. If physical punishment leaves bruises or other marks, teachers or other adults could report their concerns and trigger an investigation by state agencies—potentially leading to legal consequences for parents, such as a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order against them.
When Punishment Becomes Abuse
Physical punishment can be controversial. Some people believe that it is never justified. However, many Americans view it as a valid way to hold children accountable for their behavior. Because there is not always a clear, absolute line between punishment and child abuse, parents should think carefully about how they choose to use physical punishment when they discipline their children.
Some behavior does clearly and unambiguously cross the line from punishment to abuse or assault, however. Parents can face legal consequences if they're hitting their child for reasons not connected to preventing the child's misconduct; if their actions put the child's life in danger or threaten serious and lasting injury; or if the punishments are likely to cause the child psychological harm.
Seeking Legal Advice
If you're in a situation where you suspect that punishment has crossed the line into abuse, or if your own actions are being scrutinized, speak to experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm about this complex topic. Contact the Lento Law Firm today to discuss your situation. Call 888-535-3686 now for help/