It is not uncommon for a parent to ask how far they may go in punishing a rebellious, defiant child – what therapists often call an “oppositional” child.
For example, a NYC Father beat his 7 year old stepchild (Child) as physical punishment for her misbehavior.
Child dies as a result of latest beating.
Father is charged in the Child’s death.
But is it murder?
Is it even illegal?
Physical discipline as such is not illegal in most states.
What type of physical punishment crosses beyond discipline, to abuse that might lead to the state taking your child away from you – or to abuse that might lead to criminal sentencing?
Many parents expect there to be a firm standard they can look to. But, surprisingly enough, the law in many states doesn’t offer clear guidelines, what lawyers call bright lines.
The Constitution protects a parent’s right to parent in the way that the parent thinks best and legislators are reluctant to make hard and fast rules as to what is acceptable or unacceptable.
So both the civil and criminal cases vary quite a bit from case to case and are not always consistent or reconcilable.
What’s a parent to do? Tread carefully may be a prudent rule of thumb.