I was reading about how Michael Jackson's father used to beat him when he messed up practising a performance. When did beating your child become illegal? Or was it always and now it is just more strictly enforced? Is spanking a child technically legal?

A man I knew, who fought in World War 2, once boasted about how well behaved his children were growing up. He said that only once one threw a tantrum and it was in a store and he "swiftly pulled down his pants, hit him a few times, pulled up his pants and carried on." Is this illegal?

EDIT: what about how it was done in public?

  • Beating? Reminds of that joke, "When did you stop beating your kids?"
    – jqning
    Aug 28, 2015 at 13:00
  • 1
    @jqning I hope the humor of your statement is lost in translation
    – Alex
    Sep 20, 2015 at 20:44
  • 3
    @Alex : The situation of the "joke" is that it is a lawyer asking a person on the stand. Any direct answer to the question basically comes out as an admission to beating children. Oct 3, 2015 at 12:56

2 Answers 2


There are many countries / states / provinces in North America, each with their own laws on this subject, so this question is potentially quite broad. I will focus on the United States.

To this day, it is legal in all 50 US states for a parent to strike a child as a means of discipline ("corporal punishment"), but laws generally include a requirement that the force used is "reasonable" in some sense. However, it is not legal for a parent to cause serious injury to a child. The line between "reasonable punishment" and "serious injury" seems to not be well defined, and may have shifted over time due to changes in law, court decisions, or prosecutorial discretion. So the answer may hinge on what you mean by the word "beating". However, spanking seems to be generally considered "reasonable" under the law.

I found the following article which explores this issue in depth:

Coleman, Doriane Lambelet; Dodge, Kenneth A;, and Campbell, Sarah Keeton. Where and how to draw the line between reasonable corporal punishment and abuse. 73 Law and Contemporary Problems 107-166 (Spring 2010). http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/lcp/vol73/iss2/6



For an alternative jurisdiction (Australia) see https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/corporal-punishment-key-issues. I quote:

In most states and territories, corporal punishment by a parent or carer is lawful provided that it is carried out for the purpose of correction, control or discipline, and that it is "reasonable" having regard to:

  • the age of the child;
  • the method of punishment;
  • the child's capacity for reasoning (i.e., whether the child is able to comprehend correction/discipline); and
  • the harm caused to the child (Bourke, 1981).

Corporal punishment by teacher's in schools was progressively banned in each state and territory starting in 1985 (Victoria) and being completed in 2009 (Northern Territory). In some jurisdictions there was a difference in the time of banning between state (public) and private schools; an interesting anomaly is that corporal punishment is still legal in Northern Territory state schools but is prohibited by departmental policies - a teacher who used it could be sacked but not prosecuted.

Your Questions

When did beating your child become illegal?

It isn't if "beating" means "reasonable" corporal punishment.

Or was it always and now it is just more strictly enforced?

Striking a child (or anyone) when doing so is not "reasonable" has always been illegal. Interpretation of "reasonable" has changed over time. Also, domestic violence of any kind has tended to be an area of poor enforcement historically.

Is spanking a child technically legal?


Is this illegal?

If the punishment was reasonable, no.

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