Whacking On Your Children
Man, the National Football League can’t catch a break. First Ray Rice punches out his fiancé, followed by two more players with domestic violence cases pending and another benched until his case is adjudicated. And now Adrian Peterson, an even bigger stud running back than Rice, gets hauled in on child abuse charges for “spanking” his kid with a switch. Geez, you’d think these guys run around getting hit in the head all day.
Running our debate about violence toward other human beings through the National Football League is a little like commissioning Fox So-Called News to lead a national debate on fact-finding, and anyway, it’s a mistake to enact laws or base our judgments on high profile cases. Keeping Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice et al off the football field will do little to stem the problem of family violence in this culture. In fact, other than the matter of public visibility, it’s no different than demanding an Idaho lumberjack not go back into the woods or a West Virginia coal minor not go back underground if they’re involved in a domestic violence situation.
But the Peterson situation has ignited an old debate about whether or not it’s okay to hit small children, and by small children, I mean anyone smaller than the person doing the hitting. Texas, where Peterson is from, and many other states have laws that draw a very thin line between physical punishment and abuse; so thin that for some it’s invisible. BUT IT’S CRAZY THAT WE’RE EVEN HAVING THIS DEBATE. Discipline and hitting are not the same thing. Peterson’s childhood coach said Peterson has told him stories of his father being a “firm disciplinarian.” His lawyer says he was parenting the way he was parented. One great failing of this culture is how cavalier we are about misnaming things. What his coach should have said is that Peterson’s dad hit him.
Discipline is not hitting, and fear is not respect and until we understand that as a culture, we’re not going to get it about disciplining our children. We hit them not for their own good, but because we’re mad and frustrated and don’t know what to do, so we revert to what is familiar. What we DON’T seem to know at that juncture, is anything about child development. You can be a firm disciplinarian without laying a hand on a kid, and in so-doing give yourself a better chance of an open relationship with them as they grow, one where you can have actual meaningful conversations, during which they learn through interaction with you why you want them to behave as you do. There are things you can take away and let them earn back; toys, privileges; later on, drivers’ licenses. They learn empowerment. I can fix what I broke. If they act the way you want them to act they can regain what they lost behaving as they did in the first place. It lets you be proud of them, and them to feel that pride. It establishes the value of your approval.
And it lets them learn in a safe environment.
When you hit a small child you’re telling that child that the person who is supposed to protect them from harm, will, in fact, inflict that harm. Because that is not your intention, does not stop it from being so, IN THE EYES OF THE CHILD.
In my experience the Adrian Peterson’s of the world have a much better chance of making changes. As flimsy as his attorney’s declarations sound, it appears he really MAY BE a product of his environment and there are a significant number of people who, when they know better, do better.
There are many credible studies showing that punishment, particularly physical punishment, has the least efficacy as a parenting tool. It stops the behavior quickly but has almost no lasting power and a lot of downside in terms of relationship. There are no studies, unless done by belt companies or the makers of wooden spoons, that depict physical punishment in a more positive light than the use of strong boundaries through relationship. The statement, “My old man beat MY ass and I guess I turned out okay,” is the one I’ve heard uttered most often in anger management and child abuse groups. Go figure.