What Does Michigan Law Say About Spanking? Part 2

Crying child
Is spanking abuse, and does it achieve it’s desired results for parents?

In the introductory article in this two part series, we discussed the fact that spanking is not illegal in Michigan. We also looked at how corporal punishment differs from child abuse in the legal definition, and talked about some cases of Michigan parents who were charged, but not convicted, of child abuse after spanking their children. Moving on, we are going to look at what mental health professionals have to say about it, and how CPS views the matter.

What does Michigan’s CPS have to say about spanking?

Children’s Protective Services (CPS) takes a dim view of spanking, as they feel that the line between physical discipline and physical abuse is too fine for most parents to see. In some cases, sadly, they are correct. But in many instances they are wrong, and loving, mindful parents are made into pariahs in the name of protecting children from abuse.

According to Michigan’s Department of Human Services, while spanking a child is not against the law, it is illegal to use an object to hit a child. This could mean a switch, a paddle, a belt, a cooking spoon, a shoe or any other object that could cause serious harm.

The law states that a parent may use “reasonable force,” which is very vague. Much like “moderation” in drinking, every person’s idea of what defines “reasonable” is different, and the law doesn’t specify exactly what it deems to be “reasonable”. This is, however, generally interpreted to mean that only an open hand is used, and never above the shoulders, as even the slightest blow to the head can cause serious damage to a child’s developing brain.

How do mental health professionals feel about spanking?

Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor at U of M’s School of Social Work, and Elizabeth Gershoff, a former teacher at U of M, recently analyzed over 50 years of accumulated research on the subject of child discipline. They reviewed a total of 75 studies, including 160,000 children, and came to the conclusion that spanking does more psychological harm to a child than good.

According to Grogan-Kaylor, the more frequently a children was spanked, the more they were likely to struggle with antisocial behaviors and mental health issues. In addition, using force was proved to increase chances of depression in children, along with instances of aggression and later drug use. In essence, spanking was found to have the same negative results as physical child abuse, but on a slightly less severe scale.

Another finding of the research is the fact that hitting doesn’t increase compliance in children. This means that, while spanking is usually performed in order to achieve more compliant children, spanking doesn’t usually achieve its desired result.

So what is the right thing to do when it comes to spanking a child?

In truth, we can’t answer that for you. That choice is one that must be made by each parent, after carefully weighing the pros and cons of spanking. All we can do is inform you as to what the law says, what CPS holds to be true, and what mental health professionals are revealing. The decision must ultimately be made by you.
Corporal punishment of children is a very controversial subject here in Michigan and it likely always will be. But whether you advocate for using force, or prefer other methods of discipline, remember that the choice is yours to make as a parent so long as those choices do not result in damage or injury to a child. In the event that you become involved in a police or CPS investigation where your parenting choices are questioned, contact us immediately at 800-576-6035. We can help.