September 16, 2014

There’s Nothing Loving About Hitting a Child.

bad day

It’s safe to say the NFL is one organization that is not having its best month ever.

First, there was the Ray Rice domestic violence incident which lead to his suspension.

Now right on the heels of that is that situation of Adrian Peterson who has been charged with child abuse after allegedly giving his four-year-old child a “whipping” with a wooden switch.

One of the most interesting things has been how people have responded to the two situations.

Whereas the former was almost universally condemned, a surprising number of people are publicly voicing their support for Peterson in the media.

The Arizona Cardinals player Darnell Docket Tweeted that he got an “ass whippn (sic) at five with a switch . . . and couldn’t sit for two days. It’s (sic) was all love though” while basketball legend Charles Barkley said that “every Black parent in the South whips their child”.

Even the pictures showing the extent of the boy’s injuries or the fact that the child had cuts on his scrotum failed to move some.

(On my Facebook feed, I saw a comment where someone suggested that maybe the injuries were just more noticeable because the child was light-skinned. The same person commented that as a Black man, Peterson was just trying to be a responsible parent.)

It seemed though that none of Peterson’s defenders was asking the following: When, if ever, is it justified for any four-year-old to receive a “whipping” especially when the person who is doling it out is 6’1,” 217 pound man who could probably inflict a great deal of injury with his flat palm to a grown adult?

Children don’t just differ emotionally from adults but also physically.

The amount of force that an adult can handle is different than that of a child especially one as young as Peterson’s son. Many children have been permanently injured or even died from blows that would usually only result in bruises to adult—a fact that Peterson himself may well be aware of given the fact that another son of his died in October of 2013 as a result of injuries allegedly inflicted upon him by his mother’s boyfriend.

That fact alone has many expressing shock that Peterson would even chose corporeal punishment to discipline his surviving children.

(On Monday evening, new abuse allegations that Peterson may have abused another one of his children by a different mother surfaced. Supposedly, that incident took place in June when that four-year-old boy was visiting his father from out-of-state and resulted in head injury. Peterson reportedly said that he had “disciplined” the boy for cursing at his siblings.)

While I personally do not endorse or use corporeal punishment when it comes to disciplining my own child, even those who defend it have to agree there is a difference between discipline and abuse.

As Slate.com’s Amanda Hess points out, it doesn’t matter if Peterson loves his kids or not or what his intention was: abuse is abuse. The idea that “loving” a child makes it okay to physically hurt them is both dangerous and wrong along with the idea that somehow children learn respect when adults physically beat them.

Speaking as someone whose mother crossed the line into child abuse more times than I care to remember, I can honestly say that I did not teach me to respect her.

Rather, it taught me to fear her.

Fear is not the same as respect nor is it a good determent for not doing something.

One argument that came up repeatedly in defense of Peterson is that at least his kid would know not to do certain things and this would probably help him as an adult avoid ever ending up in jail.

If only this were true, but it is not.

Ask anyone who has ever worked with or spent any time with inmates-especially repeat offenders-and they will reveal that the vast majority of them report being hit as children. Many domestic abusers also report having been abused or witnessed slapping, hitting, punching, etc.  while growing up. Statistically speaking, Adrian Peterson’s actions are making it far more likely his son will grow up to be on the wrong side of the law rather than the right one.

Lastly, the idea that this is the norm in some communities or has been happening for years also falls short.

Years ago, Blacks in the South were subject to Jim Crow laws. No one in their right mind would suggest going back to that tradition.

Likewise it wasn’t that long ago that women routinely smoked during pregnancy thinking that it was no big deal to a developing fetus, doctors advised letting babies “cry it out” rather than attend to their emotional needs, and many people believed physical discipline actually worked when in fact, all have been debunked by numerous studies.

Corporeal punishment-even when it doesn’t fall into the legal definition of abuse-has not been found to be effective in the long-term.

Rather what does seem to work is teaching children empathy and instilling in them a sense of right and wrong. The latter is kind of difficult to do if we tell them it’s wrong to hurt people and then hurt them.

In closing, while the two men may only be linked by their professions, both Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson appear like they could do with some discipline.

Unlike some, I don’t advocate that they get a taste of their respective medicine. Hitting anyone-child or adult-does not work. Rather, I hope that they develop empathy especially for the people they supposedly love so much and realize it’s bad to hurt others not because of the possible legal and social consequences but rather, because it is wrong-period.

Hopefully if that happens, that is a lesson they will pass on to their respective children.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: April Milani at Pixoto 



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