Free-Range Kids

Worried About Legal Action, Dad Calls Sheriff's Office to Witness Him Spanking His Kid


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It sounds kinky, and it is—but not in the way you might think: A dad fed up with his 12-year-old daughter's behavior called the Okeechobee, Florida, Sheriff's Office to come witness the paddling he was about to administer to make sure it was legal. He didn't want to be accused of abuse. According to WBPF:

The man's 12-year-old daughter got into a heated argument with her sister Monday, and the father wanted to discipline his daughter, according to a deputy's report. A deputy came over to his house, supervised the discipline, and determined it was within legal bounds and that there was no crime, and left, authorities said.

Although it may sound bizarre to some parents, the sheriff's office has received several similar requests in the past. Undersheriff Noel Stephen said he has personally supervised approximately 12 spankings.

To me, paddling sounds extreme. I do not recommend it. But I also don't recommend this call-then-act precedent, by which parents feel they must alert the authorities any time they are disciplining or otherwise dealing with their kids. What if they want to teach their kids something unpopular, or make them try a new food, or send them to bed without dessert? Do we really have to worry that someone could consider the ordinary sturm-und-drang of parenting to be abuse and take legal action?

As The Free Speech Project blog puts it:

The manner in which parents interact with their children, is personal and private, and most assuredly no matter of the state. Obviously causing physical harm to a child is child abuse, which can be argued as a separate issue.


The problem of leaving it up to the police to decide how we may parent is already out there. Witness the moms arrested for letting their kids wait in the car a few minutes. This new problem—internalizing the idea that the state knows best, and must first give permission—seems to be the next, more insidious step.