FORT MYERS, Fla. - How far is too far when it comes to punishing your child ? Under Florida law, parents do have the right to discipline their children, but only to a certain extent. As we learn more about the death of a 3-year-old who was wrapped tightly in a blanket as a form of "discipline," when does discipline cross the line and become child abuse?
Dating back to the late 1800s, Florida parents have been able to legally discipline their misbehaving kids. "You are allowed to discipline your children and what is non-excessive corporal punishment," Attorney Devin Mace with Fried and Fried, P.A. In Fort Myers. "There was a case where a child was beaten with a belt, then a shoe. Not okay. What is not excessive? A typical spanking."
Mace says as long as no harm is done, like bleeding, bruising, burns, broken bones, or suffocation, it's legal. But, in the case of Michael McMullen who died after investigators say he was wrapped tightly in a blanket as a form of "discipline," Mace says, "That is so far beyond from what we are talking with a typical spanking. I've not seen anything that suggests that you could wrap your child up like cattle or something like that."
"This is very new to me," Child Psychiatrist Dr. Omar Rieche said. "From time to time, I have parents ask me about corporal punishment as far as spanking, when it should occur and what not. But, this is really a bizarre case."
Rieche has never heard of the punishment method of "wrapping." He says parents who turn to physical discipline when they're angry tend to get carried away. If that happens, the law doesn't always protect them.
"You cant just say black or white," Mace said. "It's not absolute just because you say corporal punishment, I am allowed to discipline my child doesn't mean you still won't be prosecuted and ultimately found guilty of child abuse once you cross that line."
We asked DCF how they determine if discipline against a child has gone too far. A spokesperson said that decision is only made by law enforcement.