Hitting children not the right way to discipline

Adrian Peterson’s criminal indictment on child abuse charges has created another debate around violence, but in comparison with the reaction to Ray Rice’s suspension from the National Football League, people have decide that his actions are far more acceptable.

Americans have a bizarre attachment to the idea that they can and should hit their children to discipline them. Public discussions over the matter have often included recitations of the claim, that that is how they were raised, they were spanked, and they in turn spank their children – an unknowing confirmation of what much of the research says about corporal punishment – that it breeds violence.

Prof. Joan Durrant, a clinical psychologist at the University of Manitoba, published research on corporal punishment in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2012. She and other researchers on the case found that children who are spanked tend to become more aggressive and resentful of their parents.

To be sure, the same research that admonishes the use of corporal punishment, says that it can be effective in the short-term. In the long-term however, it has shown to harm a child’s mental development. It is more likely to teach them violence is an appropriate response to conflict. It is also more likely to cause children to lie, so that they may avoid punishment.

However, the debate over the effectiveness of corporal punishment is a distraction. The more important debate is why it is at all deemed acceptable to hit children – those who love us the most, and are most dependent on us. Children are those most vulnerable to the mental and physical pain we as adults can inflict, but are the most accepted recipients of that pain. You can’t hit another adult lawfully unless you can prove that you were about to be physically harmed. You can’t hit your pet. But you can hit your child.

“I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen…” said Peterson in a statement released on September 15th. “I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser,” he continued.

“I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury,” said Peterson, a claim that cannot be countenanced. Whether or not you spank your children, or as Peterson is claimed to have done, beat them, the intent is to hurt them. That is an inescapable fact. The pain is meant to teach a child to conduct themselves in a certain manner, and if they don’t they should expect pain.

Another part of Peterson’s statement is even more problematic.

“No one can understand the hurt that I feel for my son and for the harm I caused him. My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day,” said Peterson.

“But deep in my heart I have always believed I could have been one of those kids that was lost in the streets without the discipline instilled in me by my parents and other relatives. I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man.”

Clearly, Peterson believes, as many parents do, that the only way to keep his son or daughter on the straight and narrow is with a switch (which is what he used to leave scars on his four-year old son’s body).

More to the point, there is an assumption made that corporal punishment is the only option – and to certain parents it is. Research has shown that many parents who use corporal punishment do so reflexively – an abhorrent notion that a person’s first response is violence – an idea probably bestowed onto them by their parents and will likely be bequeathed to their children.

Reggie Bush, a member of our own Detroit Lions, said to a CBS News reporter that he would punish his one-year old daughter harshly if need be. Harshly? As Bill Maher joked on his show “Real Time,” “what could a one-year old do, come home drunk?”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the famed astrophysicist and public intellectual, has made a point often and understandably missed by parents. Children explore. The world is literally new to them, and when they knock over a vase, or chew on an object it isn’t out of malice or mischief, but curiosity. Our response to that curiosity and experimentation can’t be a swat to the face or behind. That doesn’t teach any lessons, or at least not any valuable lessons.

Again, our attachment to this vestige of harsher times, is but another testament to how pernicious it is, and not only confirmation of what many studies have already shown, but more simply it is proof positive of the old adage that, “violence begets violence.”


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