When Is Discipline a Form of Abuse?

When Is Discipline a Form of Abuse?

A few days ago, a Hawaiian father was fined $200 and one-year probation for making his son walk a mile as punishment. His young 8-year old son would not tell his father why he was in time-out at school, so the father decided to let him think about it as he walked the final mile home alone. The father dropped the boy along the side of a highway without sidewalks. He drove his other two sons home then returned five  minutes later to find his son was no where to be found. While.  the father was gone, strangers found the boy crying along side the road and took him back to the school. They called the police who arrested the father when he arrived looking for his son. The judge ruled the father’s punishment was inappropriate and “old-school”, noting in her decision the danger of the highway and the risk of child predators. Was she correct?

Most opinions I have read seem to think the judge was wacko for punishing the father, citing that walking a mile is no big deal. While I don’t disagree that a long walk may do a child good, I think the dissenters are ignoring the possibility that this could have easily turned out bad for the boy, changing the opinion of the father from “great dad” to “monster dad”. For example:

The child was left alone on the road. There were no sidewalks. What if the boy had been hit by a car?

The boy was picked up by strangers. What if their intentions were not good and the boy was harmed in some way?

What if the father did not return for his son? At what point does a child become abandoned?

 The problem is parents never think they are hurting their child, mentally or emotionally.  It’s always with the best intentions that punishment is doled out, but some scars just don’t heal. When my husband was a boy, his father abused his sons verbally through words and mentally through conflicting actions. When his reminisces about my late father-in-law, it always ends with “Daddy was just plain mean.” I knew my husband did not like his father, but I never really understood why until I read a posting by my sister-in-law on Facebook regarding child abusers. The posting opened my eyes to a side of my husband that had remained hidden for over 30 years.

Most of us learn our parenting skills by example.  We may copy the harsh punishments our parents used, justifying that a spanking or belittlement never hurt us. Or we do nothing, which is just as bad because children do not learn the consequences of their actions. The Hawaiian father did not intend on harming his child. He was simply using the same techniques used by his parents when he was a child. But what may have been acceptable 30 years ago may not be acceptable today. For example, spanking is still considered by many to be an acceptable form of punishment. No one advocates beating a child but at what point does a spanking become physical abuse? I’ve struggled with this for 25 years. When my children were very young (five and three), they left our yard and walked through the woods to a friends house, without telling us. When they returned, they were both spanked, hard. Neither one wandered away again, but maybe we could have accomplished the same result in a different way.
In some way, I think parents are afraid to appear weak when their child misbehaves. When there is an audience, parents feel they have to proof their parental worth. A popular travel blogger praised a father who publicly chastised his 14-year old son, loudly telling him to “grow up” in front of all who could hear.  I’m not sure what the boy had done to deserve the tongue-lashing, and I don’t question the need for some sort of discipline. But public humiliation?  Does that teach a better lesson than than a private discussion? One thing is usually certain – a parent will repeat their discipline style unless something bad happens. I doubt this is the first time the father has made a spectacle of his son. I wonder what lesson the son learned about raising kids? What will he do when his child acts up in public?
The point of this blog is not to judge what is right or wrong but to open discussion on what is acceptable forms of punishment, in this day and age? What do you think the boundaries are when it comes to punishing a child? Who should decide what those boundaries are? Admittedly this is a hot topic and we might not see eye-to-eye. But I would like your opinions. Tell me what you think.

2 thoughts on “When Is Discipline a Form of Abuse?

  1. Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately there is no test to determine if a parent has good judgment. I read several articles and I believe the father did not intend on hurting his child. But we both know that bad things happen, even among those with good intentions. The good thing out of all this is the man learned a valuable lesson.

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