Discipline or Misdemeanor?
If you hit your dog, it’s known as a “misdemeanor.”
If you hit your neighbor, it’s known as either a “misdemeanor” or a “felony.”
If you hit your child, it’s known as “discipline.”
You can’t hit a dog.
Animal cruelty occurs when one strikes or otherwise physically abuses an animal.1
Possible penalties for a first offense of animal cruelty vary from state to state. Fines can run up to $150,000, and jail sentences can last up to 5 years.2
You can’t hit an adult. In fact, you can’t even act like you’re going to hit an adult.
“Battery is defined as an unlawful touching. The touching need not cause physical injury, thus caressing a stranger’s buttocks is an offensive and unlawful touching. A touching may be of the person’s body or items attached to the body, such as a shoulder bag or necktie. Touching may involve either body-to-body contact or may occur through use of an instrumentality, such as a thrown object or a dog ordered to attack the victim.
Assault is defined as either an attempted battery or placing another in apprehension of an imminent battery.”3 In layman’s terms, that means you can’t even act like you’re going to “unlawfully touch” someone.
Possible penalties for a conviction of assault and battery depend on a number of factors, one of which is whether it is a misdemeanor or felony charge. For example, in Georgia, a person convicted on a misdemeanor charge of simple assault faces up to one year in jail and up to $1000 in fines. If it is classified as a “misdemeanor of high and aggravated nature,” the fines go up to $5,000. A felony aggravated battery conviction in Georgia carries a potential prison sentence of 1-20 years.4
But it’s ok to hit your child.
You can’t hit your dog, and you can’t hit your spouse or a stranger on the street, but – by golly – you sure can hit your kid. Many states have laws spelling out how much physical force you can use to “discipline” your child.5
In Arizona, “A parent or guardian and a teacher or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a minor or incompetent person may use reasonable and appropriate physical force upon the minor or incompetent person when and to the extent reasonably necessary and appropriate to maintain discipline.”6
In Kentucky, just about anyone can hit your child: “The use of physical force by a defendant upon another person is justifiable when the defendant is a parent, guardian, or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a minor or an incompetent person or when the defendant is a teacher or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a minor . . .”7
In New Mexico, it isn’t abuse to hurt a child unless the “person knowingly, intentionally or negligently, and without justifiable cause, . . . permit[s] a child to be . . . cruelly punished.”8
Apparently, cruel punishment does not include a mother who slapped a tired, sobbing, and overwhelmed 13-month-old baby in the face. Perhaps the mother had “justifiable cause” because her 13-month-old baby had the audacity to kick her during a flight.
Wait – a kick from a baby gives one justifiable cause to slap a baby in the face?
If you haven’t heard, a mother who slapped her crying 13-month-old baby in the face was reported to the New Mexico authorities by a flight attendant. The mother was released after questioning.
Those black eyes on the baby? Those weren’t from abuse. They were from a “dog bite” that happened several days before.
And the fact that the father told authorities that he and the mother had argued several times in the past about the mother’s tendency to hit her baby? That didn’t matter either.9
Because it’s still ok for parents to hit their children at the parents’ discretion.
That sounds like cruel punishment to me.
With respect to the airplane incident: Let’s set aside the fact that air travel is stressful for children. Let’s set aside the fact that no toddler can be expected to behave perfectly at all times under the best of circumstances. Let’s set aside the ridiculousness of striking a child as punishment for the child having struck someone else. Let’s look only at the fact that we have:
1) a toddler – practically a baby – who weighs, what? Maybe 22 lbs?10 and
2) a full grown woman. The average weight of an adult woman in the United States is 162.9 lbs.
How much force could we reasonably expect a 22 lb baby to put behind a kick (much less in the confined space of an airplane seat)?
Enough force to justify the 162 lb adult to slap the baby in the face?
How is that fair? How is that legal? Why does our country continue to justify the abuse of our children?
So, to review:
- I can’t hit my dog when he chews on my favorite pair of shoes – I might go to jail.
- I can’t approach my neighbor with a raised fist after he yells at my child – I might go to jail.
- I can hit my 13 month old baby when she “intentionally” kicks me during my in-flight movie.
- I can hit my toddler for coloring on the living room walls. Never mind that I left the pen within her reach.
- I can hit my preschooler for calling his baby sister a cry baby. Never mind that I scream obscenities at my children whenever they do something that displeases me.
- I can hit my child for interrupting my TV show with a question about homework.
- Basically, I can hit my child whenever I damn well please.
Why should kids have more rights than dogs, anyway?11
Photo credit: Janick Cox
- ASPCA, Reporting Cruelty FAQ ↩
- Stray Pet Advocacy, Cruelty Laws ↩
- Assault and Battery, citing Wayne R. LaFave, Criminal Law, 3rd ed., 2000. ↩
- Georgia Assault & Battery Laws ↩
- State by State Spanking Laws. Of course the amorphous ways these laws are written means that their interpretation will vary depending on the judge, the lawyers, and the circumstances of each case. What is “reasonable force”? When is force “justifiable”? No one really knows. ↩
- Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-403 ↩
- Ken. Rev. Stat. § 503.110 ↩
- N.M. Stat. Ann. 30-6-1 ↩
- Sue Major Holmes, “Mom Says She Slapped Baby Who Kicked Her on Flight” ↩
- A 13-month-old female who weighs 22 lbs is in the 52nd percentile compared to other babies of the same age/gender. ↩
- Lest I have not made myself clear, I do not think that an adult is ever justified in hitting a child. Ever. ↩
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"Discipline or Misdemeanor?"
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