The Line Between Discipline and Abuse

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Cori Newsom, Staff Writer

Abuse stories seem to be racking up the news websites this month. Cases such as Adrian Peterson’s have raised the same question that has been an ongoing debate for some time; how do you tell the difference between discipline and childhood abuse? Abuse, as defined in the dictionary, has four meanings depending on the context of the word. The second meaning describes abuse as “treating (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.” By adding the word “physical” to this term, the definition becomes more finite by “involving contact intended to cause feelings of physical pain, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm.” By only taking into account these definitions, the answer to the abuse questions supposedly become painfully obvious. However, especially in a child’s case, this becomes a very grey area.

Kids need to be disciplined in order to learn how to behave. So where do we draw the line between deserved, necessary discipline and child abuse? This question has greatly altered our society in many regards. Obviously we can agree there is abuse going on if a child is sporting bruises and cuts that openly bleed and/or last for days. So, on the opposite, less violent scale, how do we draw the line between what we consider harmless disciplinary action and a less obvious, but still horrible form of child abuse?

Addressing the far side of disciplinary action, you can’t be so afraid of physically abusing a child that you don’t discipline them at all. Many elementary schools and day cares just let kids walk all over them; they attempt to discipline the children, but are not sincere in the act. Addressing the middle scale, (the line between discipline and abuse), if the child is not bleeding and the physical evidence of discipline is only lasting a few hours this should not considered abuse. We as a society cannot call child protective services every time we see a parent spank a child in public.

In all honesty, these aren’t questions that can be solved in one newspaper article. The area of abuse is subjective, which is why there are so many debates about it. The best we can hope to do is take all areas of discipline into account and hope we understand the line between discipline and abuse.

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