Spanking Is Not Illegal in Pennsylvania: Understand Your Parental Rights

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Aug 04, 2023 | 0 Comments

Raising children is an incredibly rewarding yet challenging experience. When we were young, we naturally assumed that parents had "it all figured out." In time, we learn that parents grow just as much as their children do throughout their many years together. However, with the expansive amount of parenting styles and opinions prevalent today, it can be confusing for parents to navigate the boundaries of discipline. One social media influencer may advocate for spanking a child, while another talk show host warns against any form of corporal punishment. If you do spank your child, you may do so privately, concerned that neighbors or strangers may call the police. Although each family and child are unique and punishments should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Pennsylvania law permits parents to spank their children, though, of course, limitations apply.

Pennsylvania State Laws On Spanking

Pennsylvania law recognizes parental rights and allows parents to use reasonable discipline to correct their children's behavior. Pennsylvania Crimes Code, Title 18, Section 509 covers the use of force by persons with special responsibility for the care, discipline, or safety of others and summarizes what force parents are permitted to use.

Specifically, under Section 509, parents are permitted to use reasonable and appropriate force when disciplining their children. However, the use of force should not result in bodily injury or serious physical harm to the child. What is defined as bodily injury or serious physical injury is determined on a case-by-case basis. The type of discipline should also be proportional to the child's age and the gravity of the misconduct.

Defining Reasonable And Appropriate Force

Although Pennsylvania law does not provide an explicit definition of "reasonable and appropriate force," courts have considered various factors to determine whether spanking may rise to the level of criminal conduct. Some factors that courts may consider when determining the gravity of misconduct include:

Age And Size Of The Child

Spanking may be more appropriate for older children compared to younger ones. The size and physical capabilities of the child should also be considered. For instance, spanking a one-year-old is very different from spanking a verbal five-year-old who understands why they are being punished.

Nature of The Misconduct

The severity and frequency of the child's misconduct should also be considered. What action led to the spanking? Was the child defiant, or did they simply make an understandable and age-appropriate mistake? In this sense, a court might consider whether the discipline administered was proportionate to the offense committed or whether the parents may have an underlying anger problem that culminates in abusive parenting styles.

Legal Boundaries And Child Abuse Laws

It is important to note that while parents are permitted to use reasonable force for discipline, Pennsylvania law prohibits child abuse. The Child Protective Services Law, codified under Title 23, Chapter 63 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, defines child abuse and neglect and outlines the legal obligations to protect children from harm.

If spanking results in physical injury, emotional trauma, or otherwise falls under the definition of child abuse, it may lead to criminal charges, PFA Orders, and/or Childline referrals.

Are You Facing Criminal Charges Because Of Spanking?

Every family and child is unique, and what may be considered reasonable discipline in one situation may not be appropriate in another. Understanding the legal boundaries and seeking professional advice, when necessary, can help parents in Pennsylvania navigate the complexities of discipline while prioritizing their child's well-being. If you need help understanding these boundaries or are currently facing criminal charges because of spanking your child, the LLF Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team has a wealth of experience defending parents and is standing by to take your call. Contact us today by calling (888) 535-3686 or by using our online contact form.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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