Spanking children: Is it abuse?

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Beaten with a belt, welts all over their body, thrown around the room and punched in the face.

Court documents state that’s what put James Early Rainey behind bars.

The 40-year-old has been booked into the Davis County Jail without bail on two counts of second-degree child abuse – inflicting serious bodily injury.

The mother, who has not been charged with any crime, says this type of punishment is normal in their family and where they come from in Alabama.

“Is this child abuse?” ABC4’s Brittany Johnson asked Victor Veith, Director of Education & Research for Zero Abuse Project.

“Sometimes parents will say, oh, ‘I got whacked as a child and I turned out just great.’ But it wasn’t because of the corporal punishment. It was probably because of other factors in your life,” Veith replied.

Veith is one of over 700 child maltreatment professionals attending the 26th American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children Colloquium.

He says corporal punishment is dangerous.

“A majority of substantiated physical abuse cases start out as what we call spanking and they end up in bruises, blood, broken bones and sometimes death.”

According to the Journal of Child and Family Studies, 80 percent of children are spanked or otherwise physically punished by their parents.

Vieth says this type of punishment works temporarily but in the long-term has the opposite effect.

“There’s research saying harsh physical discipline once a month month for three or more years may decrease the grey matter of the child’s brain which is the part of the brain we need to control our behaviors,” explained the nationally acclaimed author.

“Ironically, the more we hit our children, we may be decreasing the very part of the brain they need to control their behaviors. As their behaviors get worse our corporal punishments accelerates and the next thing you know, we have a child in the hospital or even a morgue,” he added.

Professor Joan Durrant says instead of corporal punishment, she recommends parents take a positive disciplinary approach.

She lays out the following four steps in her book, ‘Positive Discipline in Everyday Parenting’: 

  • Focusing on identifying long-term goals
  • Providing warmth (safe space) and structure (scaffolding technique to teach children)
  • Understanding how children think and feel
  • Problem-solving (figuring on how to achieve the long-term goals)

“For a teenager for example, to break a rule is an extremely normal thing and it’s an important part of development. If parents understand that, they can handle the situation constructively,” Durrant said.

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