Pro football star Adrian Peterson is facing up to two years in prison if he’s found guilty of child abuse. The Minnesota Vikings running back is accused of spanking his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, leaving bruises on the child’s back and open wounds on his legs.
The incident has brought child discipline under a national spotlight and not everyone agrees on what’s acceptable.
“Our office tries to use our common sense when trying to decide whether punishment of a child shall be charged as child abuse,” 9th Judicial Disrict Attorney Andrea Reeb said.
State law says abuse occurs when a child is “placed in a situation that endangers life or health,” or when a child is cruelly confined, tortured or punished, or exposed to inclement weather, according to Reeb.
She said every child abuse case is different and it is sometimes left to a jury to determine the meaning of what is cruel punishment or child abuse.
Steve Reshetar is director of the Matt 25 Hope Center and the Life Skills Learning Center in Clovis, which teach parenting classes, including proper discipline.
He said there is no way to make a list on how to discipline a child, physically or verbally. But if the discipline is not inspired by love or respect, it can be abusive.
“Any type of discipline in anger is not discipline at all,” Reshetar said.
With physical punishment, anger could cloud parents’ judgment and really hurt the child, Reshetar said.
A child can be punished with a hand or a ruler and, if the parent is doing it out of love and respect, then the discipline is just, he said.
Lindsey-Steiner School Principal Rick Segovia said his school staff never inflicts physical discipline on students. When necessary, students are suspended or spend time in detention, but only after parents get involved, he said.
“Communication with the home is important. We want to be fair and consistent,” Segovia said.
Reeb said child abuse cases related to discipline are not common in her office, but when they are alleged, evidence such as pictures of the wounds sustained in the punishment and a statement from the child are crucial to whether prosecutors ask grand jurors whether to proceed with the case.