I Don’t Care What Your Parents Did, Put Your Switch way

child-334307_1280As you have undoubtedly heard, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been indefinitely benched for his role in a possible child abuse situation. The team reportedly still must send him a paycheck – and his (albeit, dwindling) endorsement and royalties checks will still roll in – but the man cannot continue in his role as the NFL’s premier offensive points-producer until his child abuse case is finally resolved.

 

Some have balked at the punishment. Others – and this is beyond the scope of this post – have pointed to the so-called “cultural factors” at work behind the scenes, compelling a parent to engage the pain-inflicting “switch” device to correct a child’s unwanted behavior.

 

For those who do not know, the term “switch” — when used in the context of corporal punishment — can mean a number of different handheld instruments – but basically refers to a long, flexible piece of wood used to whip the child’s rear end, presumably until the child learns his or her lesson.

 

From what I understand, some parents implement the added humiliation of making the child cut and prepare his or her own switch prior to the beating.

 

Regardless, use of a switch – as opposed to an open-hand spank – often results in open wounds, severe bruising, or even damage to the child’s genitalia (as is alleged in the Peterson situation).

 

Now, according to various media debates and panels, using switches is still considered an appropriate form of corporal punishment in many American homes – so, why all the fuss over this single incident? Why isolate one father – who happens to be exceptionally well-known and admired by fans across the U.S. – to prove a point about what is, and is not, an appropriate form of discipline?

 

I may not have the answer to that question, but I am glad it is the case. You see, like any child advocacy issue, the greater the exposure of the problem, the more likely it is to diminish. Moreover, the more exposure garnered by the state or local officials handling the matter, the more likely other precincts in other jurisdictions will begin to reconsider the confines of parental discipline. Because, setting aside the overall debate over corporal punishment (which historically includes spanking and paddling), the use of a dirty, sharp-edged tree branch on the back-end of a preschooler can hardly be considered an effective vehicle through which a supposedly well-meaning parent can communicate the difference between right and wrong – allowing the child to self-correct and try again.

 

Actually, I would categorize this method under the heading of Lazy Parenting – using an instrument and force instead of correction and communication.

 

Think about it from the child’s point of view: At the very moment of discipline (i.e., switch connects with bottom), the actions or inactions of that child that gave rise to the punishment are the furthest thing from his mind. Instead, he’s thinking about survival:

How can I physically position myself to make this hurt less?

How many beatings am I going to have to endure?

How long is this going to take?

How long will this hurt afterwards?

Can I make it through this?

 

And so on….

 

What the child is not considering before, during, or after this type of punishment is:

What did I do wrong?

How can I adjust my behavior to please my parent?

How can I approach this situation better next time?

What is the right way to act so I don’t have to go through this inconvenient discipline next time.

 

So, when it comes to high-profile parents, should the bar be set higher? Absolutely. I have heard over and over this week about how Adrian Peterson, while being raised in East Houston, had to endure the effects of punishment by a switch – and was just using the methods with which he was accustomed.

 

Unfortunately, Peterson – like all parents – must make his own discipline decisions regardless of upbringing, background, or culture. None of us is entitled to a free pass on adult misconduct merely because we saw the same behavior from our parents growing up. Thankfully!

 

High profile parents – in any industry – are under a microscope, and their behavior (good or bad) reaches hundreds of thousands of people, leaving an impact. Unfortunately, many people only consider “child abuse” to be obvious, extreme, severe, life-threatening neglect or physical force, leaving noticeable marks, scarring and psychological damage. But to me, the parent-child relationship is inherently physically dominated by the parent who, by mere biology, is larger, stronger, and more agile than a child – particularly a four-year old. By that measure, any exploitation of that size difference in a way that breaks the skin, damages underlying blood vessels (i.e., bruising), or causes unforeseen internal damage (physical or mental) is abuse – regardless of what any statute or cultural traditions dictate. A child’s small stature should always serve as a reminder that discipline must always be scaled to fit the situation – and it is never acceptable to create an environment in which a child comes to expect brute force as a consequence for a mistake.

 

For more information on corporal punishment, including a state-by-state analysis, visit the Center for Effective Discipline.