First Alert Investigation: Is spanking harmful or is it helpful? - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

48 First Alert Investigation

First Alert Investigation: Is spanking harmful or is it helpful?

Support for spanking has fallen over the past few decades, but there are parents who still believe corporal punishment works. Support for spanking has fallen over the past few decades, but there are parents who still believe corporal punishment works.
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

A 73-year-old grandfather, James Chapman, is facing two counts of domestic violence for how he punished his adopted grandchildren inside of a Scottsboro McDonald's in May. 

Chapman's case is pending and the story sparked a huge debate on our Facebook page and that got us to thinking, is spanking harmful or is it helpful

This age old behavioral-correction technique is controversial none-the-less and findings from a study released this month are now fueling more fire to the "discipline debate."

Support for spanking has fallen over the past few decades, but there are parents who still believe corporal punishment works.

UNICEF defines corporal punishment as the use of physical force causing pain, but not wounds, as a means of discipline.

The organization also found that 80 percent of parents still spank their children.

The U.S. Parenting Across Cultures found in a 2009 survey that nearly four in 10 girls from seven to 10-years-old were spanked by their parents. Boys fell just below at 36 percent.

"We have lots and lots of research across this country, across the world, looking at effects of corporal punishment on children or the association that corporal punishment has with negative child outcomes," said Elizabeth Gershoff, a renowed professor and children psychology researcher. 

Gershoff's latest findings released this June in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests that spanking your kids is more harmful than previously thought.

The study on 160,000 children found the more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.

"If I could tell parents the most important conclusions about the research it would be that number one it doesn't work," said Gershoff. "Parents do it 
because they think it works because they think it makes their children more compliant, teaches them right from wrong and spanking in and off itself does not do that."

After all, it's a parent's choice as to how they decide to discipline their children, but is the legal?

WAFF 48's Legal Expert and defense attorney Mark McDaniel said the laws concerning child abuse are up to interpretation but it's a moving line between correction and abuse.

"The laws says that any person that care, custody or control of a child that willfully abuses, cruelly beats, or willfully maltreats that child can be arrested for child abuse. Now words certainly are objective and you look at the child and you look at what happened for a prosecutor to determine whether or not they are going to prosecute the case," said McDaniel. 

Madison County Assistant District Attorney Gabriel Helix investigates and prosecutes offenders who have gone too far with spanking.

"Disciplining a child is not harmful, spanking a child, beating a child is harmful and that's where we step in," said Helix. "We look at the way the marks are. We see belt buckles, we see the most popular things are extension cords, so people take them and try to make a U-shape and hang on to them and they'll beat this way, all of that is done out of anger, not a correction." 

So her warning to parents is to take a deep breath and think before you act so you don't end up causing damage you can't repair.

"The law provides for corporal punishment and the law says you can spank, but you cannot abuse," said Helix.

You can review Alabama's child abuse laws here and here.

If you’re facing child abuse charges you should consult with an experienced local criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and understand your options.

Copyright 2016 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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