Reforming (But Not Eliminating) the Parental Discipline Defense

This Note argues that although states should retain the parental discipline defense, their legislators should rewrite their statutes to limit the defense to a specific range of disciplinary methods that social science research has shown to have either net-beneficial or net-neutral effects on children. Part II explores religious and cultural attitudes about corporal punishment, including an overview of traditional American attitudes toward corporal punishment. Specifically, it explores how religious teachings, including Evangelical Christianity, Methodism, and Judaism, affect attitudes towards parental discipline. Additionally, Part II will examine the build-up to and aftermath of Sweden’s ban on corporal punishment—the first nation worldwide to codify such a ban. Part III looks at recent social science research into corporal discipline’s effects on children. Sociological studies demonstrate that severe forms of corporal punishment harm children, even though they are permissible under the laws of many states. Part IV analyzes twenty-five state parental discipline statutes, identifying a three-element framework that most of these statutes share in common. This three-element framework will be utilized in Part V to suggest statutory revisions in order to better protect child welfare. Finally, Part V first argues that, because parental corporal punishment is deeply rooted in many segments of American culture, it should be moderated rather than abolished. Using the framework from current statutes, this Part suggests reforms that would enable states to prohibit harmful corporal punishment while preserving a narrowly defined right of parents to use mild forms of corporal punishment under specific conditions.