These days spanking is widely viewed by many modern parents as an outdated and ineffective disciplinary method. Since falling out of favor with younger parents, many mistakenly assume state legislation prohibiting corporal punishment in schools also applied limitations to parental spanking. In reality, the old doctrine of spare the rod, spoil the child has not been criminalized, and spanking continues to be legal in Michigan.
Michigan statute dictates that spanking does not constitute abuse, and therefore not prohibited. Simply speaking, the law defines spanking as a discipline method in which a person inflicts pain on a child without inflicting injury; the intent of the discipline is specifically aimed at modifying the child’s behavior. Furthermore, state law specifically exempts from criminal punishment a parent or guardian who takes steps to reasonably discipline a child, including the use of reasonable force.
When does discipline cross the line to abuse?
Across the nation, laws reflect that causing injury, whether intentional or unintentional, crosses the line from discipline to abuse. Michigan law defines child abuse as, "harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment.” MCL § 722.622. This definition construes corporal punishment as child abuse if it is extreme enough to cause, or threaten, harm to the child.
Legally, the defining factor between discipline and abuse is the court imposed standard regarding the concept of “reasonableness.” The Supreme Court of Massachusetts was the first to rule on the acceptability of spanking while setting the bar of acceptability as "reasonable discipline." Many states laws and statutes have followed suit with the same standard.
Courts support a parent's constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit, including using whatever reasonable disciplinary method they think deem appropriate. According to a 2013 poll from the Nielsen-owned market research firm Harris Interactive, four out of five Americans believe spanking children is sometimes appropriate and 67 percent say they have spanked their children.
However, there is a boundary that parents cannot cross. Like most rights, a person's individual rights extend only until those rights infringe on another’s – in this case, the child’s rights. The law is designed to step in and limit the extent of discipline that parents can apply to prevent injury. In other words, parents have a limited right to spank. As a practical matter, the single most important factor determining whether spanking has crossed the line to child abuse stems from whether the child suffered some type of injury. Even injuries inflicted accidentally are considered abuse.
Modern parenting advice leans towards talking with children by using reasoning and explanations in place of using physical force.
• Punishments like time-outs, increased chores, grounding and restrictions on screen time and other forms of entertainment are encouraged as alternatives to spanking.
• Getting down on your child’s level, make eye contact, touch him gently and tell him, in a short, firm phrase, what it is you want him to do. For example, “I want you to play quietly.”
• Giving your child a choice is an effective alternative to spanking. If she is playing with her food at the table ask, “Would you like to stop playing with your food or would you like to leave the table?”
• Ask your child to comply with a request ahead of time by giving a five-minute warning. This allows the child to complete what he was in the process of doing.
Spanking remains a controversial subject, and everyone has their own opinion on whether it's right or wrong. Parents are encouraged to be judicious and careful in their discipline choices. Choosing to spank your children falls within your legal rights as a parent in Michigan, but be aware of the law and of other’s opinion of your choices. Authorities will err on the side of the child’s physical and emotional safety if the question of abuse arises.