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When Does Discipline Become Child Abuse?

While the media fervor surrounding NFL player Adrian Peterson and the child abuse allegations against him have largely died down, the case still raises some important questions. Peterson’s response to the public outrage after he hit his young son repeatedly with a switch was equally as upsetting. Peterson said he was disciplined similarly as a child, and he did not see anything wrong with the way he disciplined his own son.

It is likely that Peterson did not intend to permanently injure his son, so he was surprised when he was accused of abuse; but where does discipline cross the line into abuse?

To understand the difference, you must understand the difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline means taking control by requiring that certain rules be followed, and by correcting bad behavior. Punishment, on the other hand, means pain or loss intended for retribution.

Children will misbehave, as all children do. But when they do, child psychologists routinely say that the best course of action as a parent is to be sure your child understands the mistake they’ve made and are learning from it. According to the law, Peterson’s error was that the punishment he doled out was severe and unnecessary, which made the episode one of abuse.

Child abuse has serious consequences, including the potential loss of parental rights. In these cases, Child Protective Services may remove your child from your home, and could even permanently terminate your parental rights. At present, there are approximately 7,500 children living outside their parent’s homes in New Jersey under Child Protective Services.

A parent can, and should, discipline their child. That is how children learn right from wrong. But just be sure, as they say, “the punishment fits the crime.”

If you need help navigating a situation involving Child Protection and Permanency Services, contact the law office of Jon Bramnick today.

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