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How Many Times Can a Parent Use a Belt to Discipline Their Child?

Traditionally, the corporal punishment of a child by his or her parents has been an area in which Indiana courts have been reticent to get involved. After all, Indiana Code 35-41-3-1 establishes that a parent has the right to use “reasonable corporal punishment” to discipline a child. The question is, as always, what punishment is reasonable?

In Smith v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1409-CR-400, Smith was the mother of a 13-year-old daughter. Smith discovered that her daughter had been having sexual conversations with boys online, where Smith’s daughter appeared to be “the aggressor,” and had sent naked pictures of herself to others. Her teenage daughter would also sneak out of the house to meet boys at nearby parks. In response to this behavior, Smith took away all of her daughter’s electronic devices, enrolled her in a private Christian school, and had her daughter deactivate all of her social media accounts. However, Smith discovered that her daughter had secretly acquired an iPod and reactivated her social media accounts. In response, Smith grabbed a belt and struck her daughter several times, despite her daughter rolling herself onto the floor, kicking, and trying to grab at the belt. Smith’s daughter tried to run away, but Smith grabbed another belt and struck her daughter several more times. All total, Smith managed to strike her daughter between ten and twenty times on her arms, shoulder, and legs. Smith’s daughter ultimately reported the matter to a teacher at her school and the Department of Child Services (DCS) was subsequently notified.

Taking the side of the trial court, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that Smith’s use of force was unreasonable parental discipline. Interestingly, the Court of Appeals distinguished its ruling in this case from a separate case, Willis v. State of Indiana, where the Court of Appeals found “five to seven swats…more controlled.” Smith v. State of Indiana appears to reflect an appellate court wrestling with what should be the bounds of proper parental discipline.

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