Spare the Rod, Save the Child

ap picAs per usual, a celebrity’s undoing has provided the impetus for a national discussion on social ills. This time it’s Minnesota Viking All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson or “AP” as he’s commonly referred. A grand jury sitting in Montgomery County, not far from his childhood hometown of Palestine, Texas, just indicted AP on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a 4 year-old child after that child’s mother first reported the alleged abuse in February 2014.

The child is one of 7 of AP’s children, all born out of wedlock. AP both financially supports, and spends time with, all of his kids. Accordingly to reports, the mothers periodically send the kids to AP’s Texas home during the off-season for a period of time. The allegations of abuse emanate from a February visit by a four-year old boy who lives in Minnesota with this mother. The indictment alleges that AP cut off a branch from a tree to construct a punishment “switch” after the boy misbehaved.  The mother noticed significant lacerations on the boy’s legs and private areas upon his return to Minneapolis. Following the engagement of local medical and law enforcement personnel, the allegations were reported to law enforcement in Texas. The local District Attorney convened the first grand jury which no-billed AP, but a second grand jury handed down the indictments last week.

AP claims he merely disciplined his child in the same manner as he underwent as a child growing up in East Texas.

Today, the Vikings placed AP on the NFL’s exempt list, barring him from all team activities until he resolves the child-abuse case. On the heels of the release of the brutal Ray Rice video, the AP matter fueled a charged debate on player conduct and the NFL’s domestic abuse policy. It has also ignited a quarrel on delineating between spanking, a “whooping”, and abuse. Though I possess an opinion on the charges levied against AP, my purpose here is not to discuss his case; read Forbes & CBS News to help you make your informed decision. Rather, I advocate that parents should not hit kids, even in the course of the need to provide appropriate discipline.

I am aware that a majority of parents disagree with me. Still, I am surprised at the percentage of parents utilizing corporal punishment as a means of discipline. An article in Slate this week highlighted a study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin which revealed that 89 percent of black parents, 79 percent of white parents, 80 percent of Hispanic parents, and 73 percent of Asian parents had spanked their children. It also cited a September 2013 survey by Harris Interactive that 81% of parents think that spanking is sometimes appropriate, a decline from 87% in 1995.

800px-Scared_Crying_ChildHopefully, the number of parents deeming spanking as appropriate will continue to decrease, and at a faster rate than indicated in this last Harris survey. Why? First, I have never hit either of my children for disciplinary reasons, or under any other circumstances. And second, as confirmed by numerous studies, spanking does more harm than good. Per this week’s Washington Post:

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2012 suggested spanking can lower IQ and reduce the amount of gray matter in the brain. As Psychology Today explained, gray matter is the “connective tissue between brain cells … an integral part of the central nervous system and influences intelligence testing and learning abilities. It includes areas of the brain involved in sensory perception, speech, muscular control, emotions and memory.”

A 2013 study by the University of Wisconsin’s Waisman Center found hormones released when girls are abused could trigger early puberty. Rather than triggering the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol — which is what happened when boys were abused — researchers found that, after regular abuse, girls released oxytocin, a hormone we associate with post-coital and post-natal bonding. But too much cortisol can be just as damaging. Eventually, a body learns to become inured to the stressful situations that trigger its release.

Want more, a Department of Psychology and Communication Study at Texas A&M International University determined that, “Consistent with previous findings … non-trivial long-term relationships between spanking/CP use and negative outcomes, including externalizing and internalizing behavior problems and cognitive performance.”

Lastly, check out Psychology Today, which reviewed multiple studies and determined that, “In terms of whether parental aggression (spanking) decreases aggression in the child, the answer is no. In fact, spanking tends to increase child aggression.”

Proponents of spanking will certainly argue that this form of discipline produces the desired result, i.e. the child stops the bad behavior. I urge these parents to take a look at these studies and understand the long-term consequences such as issues of trust, lower cognitive performance or future behavioral problems. Spanking is often used because it’s swifter, easier than conversation. And, because most parents that endorse spanking were spanked as children. These explanations pale in light of the potential damage. Discipline and corrective behavior may be accomplished through many means beyond the exercise of violence. Removing corporal discipline from the list of consequences will not make your child “weak” or “soft” and won’t weaken our country. It will help improve how children learn to non-violently communicate through confrontational and challenging events.

As is often said, the legal system will play out and determine whether Adrian Peterson YMCA-Healthy-Kids-Daycommitted a crime.  What I hope for, however, is that this celebrity’s now very public problem becomes a point of understanding that hurting kids does not help, whether by hand or by switch.

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