Spanking is a form of physical punishment or discipline known as corporal punishment. It has become an increasingly controversial form of punishment, in part due to the difficulty and subjectivity involved in finding the line between corporal punishment and abuse.

Legal cases should always be taken especially seriously whenever a child is involved, so having a basic understanding of what California law allows can help you prepare for any upcoming hearings. If you need additional help handling your case, contact Sarieh Law Offices for representation.

Is Corporal Punishment Legal in California?

The boundaries and parameters of corporal punishment make it difficult to regulate, and the legality of this form of physical discipline has been debated for years. The California Penal Code (273d) prohibits subjecting a child to inhuman corporal punishment or other harm that leads to trauma or injury. However, this is incredibly vague and does little to clarify legal and illegal behavior.

California law does not explicitly prohibit spanking a child with a hand, but that does not mean that all spanking is allowed. Additionally, spanking a child with an object is allowed if it is justifiable, meaning a reasonable person would agree that the discipline was necessary.

Permissible corporal punishment is not the same across all age groups, as what is legal discipline for a 10-year-old may not be legal for a four-year-old. If an injury occurs to a child of any age through the use of corporal punishment, then child abuse charges may be filed. Excessive spanking or unreasonable physical punishment may lead to allegations of child abuse, a juvenile dependency case, or criminal charges.

While the law is mostly subjective in terms of how parents are allowed to discipline their children, it is clear that schools and teachers are not allowed to use any form of physical discipline, including corporal punishment. It is also a good idea for anyone who is not the child’s parents to use alternate forms of discipline to avoid being charged in criminal or civil court.

In What Scenarios Is Corporal Punishment Illegal?

Physically hurting a child can be considered illegal corporal punishment in California. This is true regardless of whether the physical discipline was done by the parent or legal guardian. The general rule of thumb is that the punishment should not cause a wound or other injury. Any physical discipline can be considered illegal if it is excessive or severe, including spanking, hitting, kicking, pushing, or any other physical act of punishment.

California Penal Code defines child abuse as willful infliction of cruel or inhuman corporal punishment on a child or causing any injury that results in a wound or other bodily injury. There does not need to be an intent to harm the child for this definition of child abuse to apply. Anytime corporal punishment meets these criteria, it could be considered illegal child abuse.

Alternative Forms of Discipline

The California Department of Health and Human Services states that parents and guardians should not use physical or corporal punishment. The Department suggests alternative discipline options such as time out.

Despite the overall shift being taken away from physical punishments, many parents continue to believe that spanking and other corporal punishments are effective methods of discipline. Because of the risk involved, it is recommended that parents use other forms of punishment to avoid injuring their children.

Time Out

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that using time-out encourages children to calm themselves after acting out. When used in conjunction with positive feedback and interaction with parents, time-out is an effective method of discipline that promotes self-regulation and reflection.

Losing Privileges

Similar to being grounded, losing privileges involves prohibiting your child from doing something like watching TV or playing video games as a punishment for bad behavior. Parents should provide clear guidelines and rules for the loss of privileges and consider offering ways the child can earn the privileges back.

Natural Consequences

The goal of discipline should be to teach children better ways to handle themselves, how to make better choices, and to show them that actions have consequences. Allowing the natural consequences of their actions to teach them these lessons is incredibly effective. For example, if your child stays up hours past their bedtime on a school night, their tiredness the next day will teach them that sleep is important. When the natural consequences of an action are safe for the child, letting the real world teach them lessons can be beneficial.

Negative Effects of Corporal Punishment

Why is there a push toward alternative punishment methods and away from physical discipline? Corporal punishment has been shown to be harmful to children, negatively impacting their development. In addition to the physical pain and injury, corporal punishment can also cause lasting emotional damage. Infants and toddlers who experience corporal punishment have a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy and other lifelong disabilities.

Plus, physical discipline like spanking teaches children that violence is an acceptable and encouraged way to deal with problems. It also makes them angrier and more aggressive as teenagers and adults.

Although many parents still believe corporal punishment to be a good way to reinforce good behavior and provide healthy discipline, it does not often have the desired effect. Children are physically and emotionally harmed by corporal punishment, sometimes for a lifetime. California law recommends alternatives to physical forms of discipline because of this. Still, some parents are not aware of the data and research regarding corporal punishment, or they cannot access the necessary resources to make a change.

If you would like to speak with an attorney about corporal punishment in California or a child abuse case, call the Sarieh Law Offices at (714) 694-7723 to schedule your free consultation.