Show of hands: How many of you were spanked as a child? How many were spanked with a wooden spoon, belt or something other than the palm of your parent’s hand? Anyone get their mouth washed out with soap?
My mom spanked the Porter boys with her hand once in awhile, and once my grandmother washed my mouth out with soap for saying, “Jesus Christ, this damn truck won’t start!” after hearing my dad say it.
I remember it distinctly. Our neighbors, the McCoys, got the belt and had welts to prove it. So did the Lacas. My brother Rob’s great line whenever getting your mouth washed out with soap came up in conversation, which it often did, was “Palmolive isn’t bad but 20 Mule Team Borax has a harsh aftertaste.”
I know corporal punishment is not politically correct, and it probably isn’t effective, but sometimes I wonder if government doesn’t go too far. Like when Veronica Gonzalez was convicted of child abuse for spanking her 12-year old daughter on the buttocks with a wooden spoon.
Veronica’s sixth-grade daughter stopped doing her homework, started lying to her and showed interest in gang culture. She was also going “boy crazy.” Her academic performance plummeted. He favorite color became red. She started hanging around “wanna-be gangster kids at school.”
Veronica took away her iPod, her TV, her cell phone and did everything else she could including lots of mother-daughter conversations.
After hand spanking didn’t seem to make a difference, Veronica gave her fully-clothed daughter five or six spanks with a wooden spoon. She didn’t cry or scream. Someone else did it for her.
Word soon got out at school and an “unnamed mandated child abuse reporter” filed a report and things went downhill from there. There were different versions of how often the wooden spoon came out but in the end the Santa Clara Department of Social Services found Veronica guilty of child abuse.
The trial court upheld the charges, noting that California’s child abuse statutes do not have a “good intentions” exception.
PARENTAL DISCIPLINE PRIVILEGE
For parents to be able to properly discipline their children without going over the line to child abuse, three elements are required: (1) a genuine disciplinary motive; (2) a reasonable occasion for discipline; and (3) a disciplinary measure reasonable in kind and degree.
As the California Attorney General has written, “It is not unlawful for a parent to spank a child for disciplinary purposes with an object other than the hand provided that the punishment is necessary and not excessive in relation to the individual circumstances.”
According to this court case, the reasonableness of a particular corporal punishment depends on four factors: (1) the age of the child, (2) the part of the body that was struck, (3) the instrument used to strike the child, and (4) the amount of damage inflicted. It is not child abuse if there is an “accidental injury.”
The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act recites: “It is the intent of the Legislature to require the reporting of child abuse which is of a serious nature and is not conduct which constitutes reasonable parental discipline.”
Ask 100 parents where that line is drawn and you’ll get 100 different answers.
COURT OF APPEAL
The trial court excluded evidence from the daughter favorable to her mom. Refusing to allow the 12-year old daughter to testify at her mother’s hearing was deemed “palpable and prejudicial.”
The Court of Appeal balanced the right of a parent to impose reasonable discipline on her child with the State’s interest in protecting against child abuse.
The Court reversed the trial court decision and ordered the Department of Social Services to conduct a new hearing or set aside the conviction of child abuse as “unfounded.”
Spanking comments welcome.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.portersimon.com. Find them on Facebook.