There’s a Difference Between Discipline and Child Abuse

There were seven of us sitting on the floor of my cousin’s bedroom playing Monopoly. I must have been around six. I’m sure we were all making a lot of noise. That’s what kids do. All of a sudden my uncle burst into the room, obviously angry. He grabbed my seven-year-old cousin Mel and started yelling at him. He slapped and punched him several times and then violently threw him into the closet and slammed the door.

“Don’t come out of there until I tell you to,” my uncle roared. I was terrified. I suspect we all were. Not a peep came from the closet. About fifteen minutes later my uncle came back into the room, pulled Mel out of the closet, smacked him again in the face and demanded that he behave. I have no idea what egregious crime Mel committed that deserved such punishment.

According to LegalMatch.com, “There has been a huge controversy between what is defined as being child discipline and child abuse. Many people do not understand the difference between the two and face criminal charges of child abuse when disciplining their children.

“Child abuse is defined as when an individual harms an individual physically, sexually, emotionally. This abuse is behavior by a parent who beats, spanks, smacks a child or does an act that emotionally tortures or harms the child.”

LegalMatch says that the following are not legally acceptable when disciplining a child: physical abuse that is non-accidental and intentional; sexual abuse of any kind between an adult and a child; neglecting to provide for the child’s physical needs; torturing the child in any way that is unusual and criminal, and any action of emotional abuse which is “any behavior or act that interferes with the child’s mental or social development.”

According to Idaho Statutes 16-1601 et seq.: Child Protective Act, the description of what constitutes child abuse is “conduct resulting in skin bruising, bleeding, fractures, soft tissue injury, unexplained death, rape, molestation, prostitution, incest, pornographic filming, and other sexual exploitation.”

If you have “reason to believe that a child has been abused, neglected or abandoned, or subject to conditions or circumstances which would reasonably result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect” you are required to report it to Child Protection Services. Their number, which is staffed 24 hours a day, is 1-855-522-KIDS (5437). Make a note of it, because you know the rule: see something, say something.

So what’s acceptable discipline? First you must be a parent, guardian or someone entrusted with those responsibilities. Then, “the force you use is necessary to correct some disobedient behavior in the pursuit of looking out for the child’s best interest, and the force is not known to, or will not cause a risk of death, great bodily injury, disfigurement, extreme pain or extreme mental distress.”

Abuse statistics are staggering. Between four and five children die each day as a result of child abuse and three out of four of them are under the age of four. 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator and 68 percent of them are family members.

If you call, what happens to those kids? In our community we are fortunate to have Kinderhaven, an emergency shelter and group foster home for children who have been removed from their home for protection. Over the years, Kinderhaven has provided for over 1,600 children in a safe, nurturing and loving environment.

To bring awareness to child abuse prevention, Kinderhaven, Bonner General Health and Finan McDonald are sponsoring a free family movie matinee of the film Jumanji at the Panida on Saturday, April 8 at 2 p.m.

On May 10 all are invited to Idaho Pour Authority for music and raffles. Then on May 19, Kinderhaven will hold an open house so you can see the facility and meet the staff.

Mel’s adult life was fraught with challenges. When his dad was dying, he was summoned to the hospital where he reportedly leaned close to his father, looked him in the eye and said, “I hate you. I always have and I always will.” Yeah, spare the rod …

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.