|Mom's spanking stick, an antique wooden spoon (shown with a $20 bill so you can approximate its size)|
Okay; so now, Adrian Peterson is evil because he's an unabashed supporter of corporal punishment.
Peterson is the Minnesota Vikings football star who's been indicted by a grand jury in Texas for endangering one of his sons by spanking him. At least, that's how many in the mainstream media are spinning this case. Any case of corporal punishment makes its practitioner an evil abuser of children, according to progressives.
But isn't there more to Peterson's charges than mere corporal punishment? Let's not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
In his defense, Peterson claims that corporal punishment administered to him when he was a child helped fashion him into the disciplined, productive football player he is today. And many parents across the United States who also spank their kids find themselves in the undesirable position of conceding that Peterson has a point.
However, it appears he was over-zealous in his own administration of corporal punishment on his son. According to news reports, Peterson used a "switch" to severely swat his four-year-old son, with a switch being nothing more than a thin reed or tree branch. Yikes! Those things not only hurt, they can inflict serious physical injury, as the media has uncovered in the Peterson case. Photos of his son's legs show numerous welts that purportedly were caused by Peterson's actions with his switch.
Child development experts have come out of the woodwork to admonish the general population that corporal punishment is crude, barbaric, and totally uncivilized. There are safer, more nurturing ways of correcting undesirable behavior in children, say these experts. Parents who spank simply can't control their emotions, or are uneducated, or are violent criminals, they say.
It hasn't helped Peterson's case that several prominent black personalities have come out in his support, claiming that particularly for the black community, vigorous corporal punishment has a valued role to play. They explain that the rigors and challenges of raising black children - especially black boys - in North American society demand discipline that is not only physical, but emphatically so.
But does corporal punishment have to leave physical scars? Can corporal punishment be effective without providing its detractors with indictable evidence for a grand jury to view?
The common refrain among corporal punishment's advocates goes something like, "I was spanked as a kid, and I turned out OK." Which, of course, is a relative statement, because none of us really knows how much better - or worse - we'd have turned out if we hadn't been spanked. My brother and I were spanked as kids, and I've got chronic clinical depression today, although my brother doesn't. Did my brother simply process his spanking experiences differently than I did? He got married and now has five kids, and while he and my sister-in-law occasionally deployed corporal punishment, they were able to find other methods of discipline that worked more often. And so far, my dear nephews and niece have turned out just fine.
When she spanked my brother and me, Mom used an antique wooden spoon she'd found in our old farmhouse in upstate New York (photo above), and she exercised it so much, it split right down the middle! You can see how she taped it back together so she could continue deploying it on our posteriors.
But in her defense, don't let the broken spoon fool you into thinking that she swatted the hide off of us. We have no idea how old that spoon is, since the vintage farm and its contents my parents bought after moving upstate from Brooklyn were already way past their prime. We also don't know what liquids it spent its life as a spoon being dipped into. It could have become brittle from decades of stirring creamy butter, or scalding-hot maple syrup, or salty pickles. So it probably wasn't all that sturdy an implement for spanking when Mom started to use it for that.
When she spanked us, I only remember her hitting us three or four times at the most, and it wasn't really ever physically painful. Usually, those spanks came after one of her long-winded speeches about why we were about to get spanked, and her build-up to the actual spanking part of the punishment was often as bad as the spanking itself!
On some occasions, when what my brother or I had done was particularly heinous, she'd give us her speech, but tell us to "wait until your father comes home!" So we'd have the rest of the day to dread Dad's spankings, which were usually done with his hand, and not necessarily as accurately as Mom's wooden spoon. And we'd get a double-dose of the speeches, since Dad would listen to Mom's side of the story - and only her side of the story! - and then give us his own verbal reprimand. I literally remember asking at one point if we could just get the spanking without the speeches! I don't recall if I got spanked for that bit of impertinence or not.
Some parents immediately whack their kids the instant they do something wrong, but my parents rarely did that. Personally, I think kids who get whupped right after committing their infraction get off easy - it's those speeches that really take their toll. Besides, the whole point of punishment should be helping to convince the perpetrator that their undesired behavior really does not contribute to their quality of life, and dragging punishment out helps reinforce that. That's one reason why traffic cops take so incredibly long to write up speeding tickets. They're trying to emphasize that if you were going the speed limit, you wouldn't be sitting by the side of the road right now, losing all the time you were trying to save in the first place.
A wonderful elderly woman I used to know - a single, career-oriented lady before being one was fashionable - used to drive her nieces from here in north central Texas to the Gulf of Mexico for vacations, back in the 1960's. And to hear one of her nieces tell it, her aunt had a lead foot, even though she usually wore heels. One hot, sticky afternoon near the Gulf, as her aunt had been flooring it through what was then a barren backwater highway, she got one of her usual speeding tickets. And the cop was taking forever writing it up. Finally, her niece recounted at her funeral, her aunt stuck her head out of her driver's side window, and hollered at the cop: "If you don't hurry up with that ticket, I'm going to have to speed even faster to make up for lost time!"
Sometimes, speeding tickets don't deter the behavior they're supposed to. And sometimes, spanking doesn't, either. Part of the responsibility parents have is determining the best ways their children respond to discipline. Which, of course, is predicated upon the assumption that parents see behavior in their children they need to discipline out of them. Regrettably, some parents spend all day threatening their kids with discipline that never comes. Other parents don't discipline at all, figuring that any negative conditioning will irrevocably destroy their darling offspring's development. Then there are the parents who spend their offspring's childhood trying to be their best friends, only to discover that discipline and love have more to do with respect and wisdom than goofing off together ever does.
Funny how parents can't be arrested for not disciplining their kids, but they can be arrested when other people think they're disciplining them too much.
In Peterson's case, tragically, the physical damage to his son's legs indicates that the spanking was excessive. Nobody could have taken a photo of my brother or me after we'd been spanked and found any visible evidence of the event. For one thing, our padded bottoms are more resilient parts of our anatomy than our legs, which is where Peterson struck his son. And for another thing, my parents never struck out out of sheer rage, nor did they use an implement that would almost certainly leave a mark. Tree branches, on the other hand, will inevitably leave a mark if somebody lashes you with one. And if you're inflicting damage onto somebody's physical person, the activity can soon become less about punishment, and more about torture.
Punishment, after all, should be designed to correct an unwanted pattern of behavior. Torture is above and beyond whatever behavior triggers it, and is therefore unlikely to actually correct anything, due to its inequity.
Any parent, including prominent NFL players, should be able to discipline their children with corporal punishment when it's actual punishment, and not abuse, or torture - because abusing corporal punishment would be torture, right? From the evidence seen by Peterson's grand jury, it appears as though he abused corporal punishment, and I agree that our justice system should follow that through, give him his day in court, and make sure that both he and his children are benefiting from the practice of spanking. After all, spanking, as a proper disciplinary measure, can be helpful both for parents and the children they're trying to groom into responsible adults.
During their speeches before they spanked us, both Mom and Dad would usually tell my brother and me something like "this hurts me more than it hurts you." But back then, we never believed them!
I guess a good rule of thumb would be that if spanking actually does hurt your child more than it hurts you, then you know you've gone too far.