Disciplining children: How far is too far?

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Dr. Sapna Parikh talks to experts about whether or not to spank. (WABC)

The child abuse allegations involving NFL star Adrian Peterson are reigniting the discipline debate.

How should parents punish their children, and how far is too far?

Minnesota Vikings Running Back Adrian Peterson now faces felony charges for allegedly beating his 4-year-old son. Many are now asking, what's tough love and what's too much?

"If some kids got a belt or switch today, there might be less crime and uncivilized behavior on our streets and in our schools," said Ani Crotophaga, on Facebook.

"You don't hit a child for any reason! Spanking is hitting," said Peter Dempsey, on Facebook.

"Things that are very aggressive, I think a court would look at that in a more abusive factor instead of a disciplinary one," said Jacqueline Newman, a family law attorney.

As a family law attorney, Jacqueline Newman says the legal definition of abuse is not black and white.

"The things I would specifically be looking for are: One, are there any marks on the child, and secondly, the child's reaction to what happened, thirdly, what are the circumstances upon which this parent acted that way," Newman said.

Adrian Peterson reportedly used a switch or tree branch to discipline his son, causing cuts and bruises. In a recent statement he says in part, "I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser." The spectrum of spanking and discipline depends partly on culture and beliefs.

"Yes, me and my brothers, sister were spanked as children with a belt. We came from an old fashion Mexican family but not beaten!" said Camille Torres, on Facebook.

Devout Christians, Michael and Debi Pearl co-authored a controversial book: "To Train up a Child" that says spanking children with switches is God's will.

"I've never met any well-trained, emotionally secure, happy creative children that weren't spanked," Michael Pearl said.

But as a child psychologist, Dr. David Anderson says there is no justification for physical punishment.

"What we know from decades of research is that spanking and harsh discipline adds to significant mental health issues later in life," said David Anderson, Ph.D., Child Mind Institute. "It significantly increases the chance of mood disorders, significantly increases the chance of future behavioral problems."

Instead he recommends short timeouts for young children, and temporarily taking away a valued item for older kids, like a phone or iPad.

Though it's easier said than done in the midst of a tantrum, the most effective method of discipline is positive reinforcement.

"The ability to actively ignore in a particular situation the behaviors you don't like and wait until the child is behaving better and reinforce that behavior," Dr. Anderson said.

Related Topics:
healthchild abusechildren's health
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