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Spanking: Cruising for a Bruising

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There's a fine line between discipline and crime.

When does a spanking turn into abuse? That's the question being debated in the trial of a Wisconsin father charged with physical child abuse for punishing his 12-year-old son by using a wooden paddle. The local DA argues that Barry Barnett, Jr., a minister, "went beyond reasonable discipline" when he swatted his son for lying last spring.

If the 43-year-old dad of nine kids is found guilty, he faces three years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

A teacher of one of the boy's siblings contacted Social Services about the alleged abuse. An emergency room report submitted as evidence in the trial said the boy showed signed of faint bruising on his buttocks but ultimately appeared to be in no pain. What's more, the boy has said in his testimony he deserved to be punished by his father. "He gave me a chance to tell the truth and I just kept lying."

Apparently, spanking in the Barnett household is standard procedure. In solidarity with her father, Barnett's 21-year-old daughter stood outside the courthouse holding a sign that said "Thank you for spanking me Dad."  Perhaps the Barnett kids are OK with spanking -- or maybe they're scared of dad's wrath if they don't support his practices. Some child discipline experts, however, are unequivocally against the physical method of punishment.   
In his book "The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child," Yale professor Allen E. Kazdin writes, "More than one-third of all parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on."

Some parents might feel as if their hands are tied.  If timeouts don't work -- how can a child be effectively disciplined without -- at least sometimes -- resorting to physical punishment?  And what happens if (hypothetically) you grab your child's hand -- a little too hard -- to prevent them from touching something you've told them a gazillion times not to touch and you leave a mark? Could you then be accused of child abuse?

next: We Don't Make Out Anymore
57 comments so far | Post a comment now
hoolio February 9, 2009, 10:00 PM

ELrwjK hi! hooli?

hoolio February 9, 2009, 10:01 PM

ELrwjK hi! hooli?

Anonymous March 15, 2009, 5:33 PM

This is absolutely ridiculous. The law didn’t give birth to that child, clothe the body, provide shelter, warmth, love or care for the kid, did they? The parents did, and because the parents want to see their kid grow up into a healthy, respectful, and successful adult, they must sometimes resort to physical punishment. It’s in the bible, it worked in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. All the people of that time grew up into nice adults. Why are they changing the rules now? They don’t let the parents discipline and teach their children, then they go and complain that kids today are bad behaved and have no respect? THIS IS WHY. You can’t go blaming the kids for the way they act. That was how they were brought up. It’s the parenting, which leads to the parents. But you can’t blame the parents for not wanting to break the law by supposedly “abusing” their child, by smacking his hand for reahing out to a hot stove, or spanking them for trying to stick a fork into a wall socket? You go to the law. The law is creating the problems, then trying to blame their own mistakes on the parents, who were only trying to stay out of jail! This is not fair! There is a very fine line between abuse and discipline, no matter what others say. The ones saying that “spanking is abuse, and no child should have to go through that” are the ones who don’t have kids, never will have kids, and don’t know what it is like to raise a child. When a spanking is properly administered, it doesn’t leave any marks, (other than a slightly pink bottom) and doesnt hurt for more than 5 minutes. In my opinion, you don’t need any tools other than your hands to spank a child, because a spanking is only meant to hurt a little bit (enough for punishment, not torture) and only while it is being given. It should not hurt the day after it was given. THAT, in my opinion, is putting a toe across that abuse line. But then you get people who say “Oh, a spanking should surprise the child, not hurt!” A spanking is punishment, meaning that it should not be fun for the child. It should be discomforting, and a spanking should hurt, that is the point! If the kid runs across the street after the parent specifically told her she would get a spanking if she did it, then she disobeyed the parentm which leads to a spanking. That kid disobeyed, and in punishment, she will get a spanking, causing her bum to hurt. A spanking should only be either on the hands or bum, no where else. This is just my opinion, of course.

Steven May 2, 2009, 9:25 PM

I originally moved to Wisconsin 12 years ago from my home state of California in order to have as much access to my 12 year old son as possible. I started with 1 hour a week supervised until I established “community ties.” I have since owned my own home and gotten a law degree and am a practicing attorney. Last Wednesday, after months of dealing with my Son and the school because he was lying to his Mom and I and the teachers about doing his homework, he came home again without his book having been signed the two days previously and a ton of homework to do. I pulled his ear [gave him the grandma ear] grabbed his collar [accidentally scratching his neck with my stupid fingernail] and marched him into his room to do his homework. He did it, went off to school and we were fine the next morning. He went through that Thursday of school without complaining or telling anything to his teachers. After coming home however that Thursday afternoon, his Mom called the police. This Monday, the police came to my house and arrested me for felony child abuse. I adore my Son and would NEVER intentionally hurt him in any manner. In fact, I never even spank him at all. I would probably throw myself in front of a bus to save your or anyone else’s child. This was my first [and indeed my last] feeble and clumsy attempt at any corporal punishment whatsoever. I am so afraid that I am going to lose ever seeing him again, or my 15 month old daughter [from a different Mom] lose my law license, and go to prison for up to six years. His Mom and I originally had a bitter custody dispute and ironically, she has “abused” him before when he was six or seven, by throwing him down on the ground and pinning him giving him rugburns, because he wanted to call me and when she said No, he picked up the phone anyway… and she was not charged.

Steven May 2, 2009, 9:41 PM

So I am sitting here crying and waiting to lose everything and go to prison. I feel so despondent and nearly suicidal. I keep praying for God to intervine somehow and some way. I am so scared. I found this site by trying to see if ear pulling has been considered abusive in any cases and I can’t find anything on that topic. Only on spanking, which I didn’t do because I thought it too harsh. However, I was spanked with a belt as a child and in my mind, thankfully so. I only get my son once during the week during the school year and taking away TV and video games for one day, wasn’t working. His Mom of course has “most favored parent” status because of her complete lack of any discipline whatsoever. [Hence, his going two days prior, that Monday and Tuesday, without having completed his homework and her not even having checked or signed his homework journal.] I feel completely lost and I don’t know what to do or where to turn. I am out on a signature bond and cannot leave the state and I feel like I am just waiting for the gallows. In fact, I wish it were the gallows instead of prison and being without my kids. I don’t know if anyone will see or read this who cares but if my story will help anyone or keep them out of prison, I would say that I definately regret ever having tried corporal punishment. It probably is the only thing that would work with some kids, I know with me it almost wasn’t enough, but nowadays, its just not worth it. God bless my children and my wife and you out there. Steven Johnson, Oshkosh, Wisconsin

annonymous July 31, 2009, 10:22 AM

This dad has the right to spank his child. The other day, my neighbor’s 4 year old daughter misbehaved and he pulled her pants down, put her over his knee and spanked her about 10 hard times with his belt. The little girl was in tears and It was upsetting to watch, but that is the way he chooses to discipline, and its his choice.

annonymous July 31, 2009, 10:22 AM

This dad has the right to spank his child. The other day, my neighbor’s 4 year old daughter misbehaved and he pulled her pants down, put her over his knee and spanked her about 10 hard times with his belt. The little girl was in tears and It was upsetting to watch, but that is the way he chooses to discipline, and its his choice.

Nathan October 3, 2009, 2:47 PM

Parents have no right to hit there child just because they were raised that way doesnt mean its right

Anonymous November 14, 2009, 10:56 AM

I just look at he way kids behave now a days compared to in the past. Hmmmmmmmm we are currently doing something wrong? Maybe not using spanking is a piece of that pie.

cash advance December 12, 2009, 5:02 PM

Good Morning!!! is one of the most excellent informational websites of its kind. I enjoy reading it every day. All the best.

liz December 14, 2009, 3:17 PM

The world has certainly changed. I’m 38 and when I was growing up no one questioned a parent’s right to discipline as he/she saw fit unless it was a clear cut case of child abuse.

It was not uncommon for me or my brothers to be spanked over dad’s knee with our pants pulled down. It could be pretty embarrassing, but it was a big lesson for us. What is embarrassing is not child abuse and we never felt abused.

I feel sorry kids these days. They need to be disciplined and because of stories like this too many parents are afraid to do their job. There are situations where grounding and time-out just does not work with kids. Sometimes, the quick hard reality of a few slaps to the bottom sends a very effective message. This is really a shame it got this far.

Eric December 15, 2009, 11:12 PM

It seems that the boy deserved his punishment and was aware of what would occur if he continued the “bad” behavior.
I am 38 and was spanked as needed growing up and as I got older (young teen) the mere threat of it was often enough to correct my behavior.
Of course, sometimes my dad needed to re-apply the paddle to my rear end and I now appreciate the firmness he showed in using it.

nicholas December 24, 2009, 11:29 PM

the boyfriend to my sons mother grabbed my son by his face and bruised his face and neck, there wehre lots of small scratchs from my son trying to remove the hand from his face, the boyfriend claims that my son was mean to him for some time and couldn’t take my sons disobedience to him, the boyfriend even edmitted to it in a police report.
how many spankings barehanded with the clothing on = one face grab with bruises?
and why does they system not believe this is a crime?
but if he grabbed an adult by the face and made the same marks that adult could press charges it would go to court and i’m sure there would be a differed conviction resulting in public sevice and fines.
what is wrong with the system? why is this person defended, and am i just over reacting to my sons being abused?

silversrt April 10, 2010, 2:18 AM

I read a article under the same title some time ago, but this articles quality is much, much better. How you do this?

rachael May 20, 2010, 2:52 PM

First of all, the bible doesn’t say “spare the rod, and spoil the child”. This was first used in a poem in the 1800’s or something; look it up. Secondly, when the Bible talks about a “rod” it is referring to a shepherd staff. Shepherds didn’t beat their sheep, they guided them with the rod. So, most “rod” verses are actually saying that if you withhold correction, your child learns nothing. There are some verses written by Solomon that actually say “beat with a rod”, but if you look at Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, we see that he grew into a vicious unfeeling adult who the people wanted to kill. So do we follow Solomon’s example, or do we learn from the effects of Solomon’s form of discipline? I’m not saying that spanking is totally wrong, I use it as an attention-getter, but never with a tool of punishment, and NEVER to the point of bruising.

Anonymous August 9, 2010, 10:37 AM

I’m pregnant with my first child and while I hope to not spank my children I believe parents have the right to give mild spankings. Not every child is the same and each child may need something different to teach them right from wrong. I’m against leaving marks beyond a little redness that fades, that’s a little too much force. In this case I think the father may have gone a little too far, but it’s no reason to arrest him and send him to jail, he thought he was doing what was best for his son.

Thomas November 27, 2010, 12:24 PM

We have 3 kids. Now 12, 16, & 18. (2 daughters, 1 son) Yes, kids can get on your last nerve…heck they can get on nerves you didn’t even know you had. Me and my wife, however, made a decision when our first daughter was born that we would never result to hitting (spanking) as we raised her. To be honest, I would have to say that was the best decision I’ve ever been a part of in my life. All 3 of our kids are such amazing human beings and I truly believe that not having the “fear” of getting hit when they did something wrong has helped in more ways then I have time to convey. Our oldest just got accepted to Yale last fall and our other 2 children do well in school and stay out of trouble most of the…

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