Adrian Peterson's parenting techniques have been dissected 24/7 throughout the media world. NFL football star Peterson, 6'1" and 217 pounds, "whupped" his four year old son until his legs and back were bloody.
What did the child do to deserve such a beating? He strongly pushed another one of Peterson's sons away from a video game. That action caused Peterson to get a branch from a nearby tree, strip the leaves and shove them in the boy's mouth, remove his pants and begin to whip the boy's bare skin mercilessly.
Peterson, who defiantly said he was merely disciplining his son the way he was disciplined as a child, initially didn’t see anything wrong with this behavior. Police photos show bruises and cuts on the child's thigh, lower back, buttocks as well as defensive cuts on his hands. Peterson does say he "felt bad" for striking the child on the testicles.
In addition it has recently come to light that Peterson beat another four year old son for swearing at a sibling. While we don't know what weapon he used, Peterson did hit him hard enough to leave a scar on his face. Charges for that assault were never filed.
Many in my generation (myself included) grew up where a whipping was part of child discipline. Even at school, if you acted out it often meant a trip to the principal’s office where several “licks” from a wooden paddle would be administered. All of this begs the question as to what constitutes appropriate child discipline in today’s world.
Here are some things to consider:
1) First, violence promotes violence. If you discipline a child by spankings, whuppings or whippings -- whether with a hand, switch or belt, the message is that when you do something bad violence and pain is an appropriate punishment. What you learn as a child sets your ‘normal’ thermostat for the rest of your life. If physical violence is part of that normal then this often becomes your solution for many problems as an adolescent and onward. This promotes youthful violence, aggression, anti-social behavior, drug use and mental health problems. Peterson acknowledged this fact, and said "...after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate."
2) Child abuse is repeated in each generation. This is exactly what Peterson says -- that he received whippings as a child and that these made him who he is, i.e. a superstar NFL player. His mother, Bonita Jackson said "I don't care what anybody says. Most of us disciplined our kids a little more than we meant sometimes. But we were only trying to prepare them for the real world. When you whip those you love, it's not about abuse. It's about love. You want to make them understand that they did wrong." Her own words give weight to the argument that child abuse victims are often unable to develop healthy ways of disciplining their own children, and the cycle repeats itself generation after generation.
3) The purpose of discipline is not an immediate punishment to 'teach a lesson' but rather to have the child THINK about what they did and why it was wrong. Taking the time to explain this helps children think before they act, develop problem-solving tactics and analyze solutions. Home will be a safe place where no hitting is allowed (so they will be less likely to hit others). When rules are broken, there will be negative consequences, but there will be no hitting.
Here are some alternatives to a whupping:
• Talk it out. Instead of grabbing a switch talk to your child in a calm manner and find out what's going on. Let the child come up with ideas to find creative solutions to problems. Also, let the child help decide on his punishment. That teaches the child to think out problems, not lash out in anger.
• Praise the child. I cannot stress enough how children love to be praised for good behavior, not just disciplined for bad, and will work for that reward. If you praise a behavior, they will repeat that behavior. This must be done on a regular basis, otherwise the child’s mindset becomes that you only give attention when he is bad.
• Rewards. More and more children have television, video games and cell phones at their fingertips whenever they want it. They view these things as a right, not a privilege, and that's not in their best interests. When chores are done, when studying is completed, a timed amount of a favorite activity should be given as areward. If discipline is needed, rescinding the reward for a couple days will usually do the trick.
Discipline should never be about hitting but rather setting good examples, rewarding good behavior and structuring the environment such that children can make good decisions. When children are properly disciplined, punishment is pushed into a back corner. If you do rescind a privilege, don't take it away for so long that the child feels they will never get it back. It defeats the purpose. The power is in giving it back! Use it. Own it. It works.
Finally, to be an effective parent, one must be consistent. If you have a stated consequence for a bad behavior, you need to follow through. When you say something, you want your child to believe it, not see how far he can push the limits before you finally react.
America's view on corporal punishment is shifting, albeit slowly. In 1986, 86 percent of Americans said any kind of physical punishment was acceptable. That has dropped to 70 percent today. Yet this is still too high, indicating that we need to do more to educate parents on the options for discipline. We spend more time, money and testing on who can drive a car than on how to be a good parent. Students in high school must attend driving classes if they want to get their license. There are no classes on how to be a good parent, but there should be.
Once we acknowledge that corporal punishment increases negative behavior (either now or down the road) we can stop this hurtful trend. Teaching a child not to hit by hitting is destructive and the height of hypocrisy. The final thing to remember is that actions speak louder than words. This starts by you setting a good example for appropriate adult behavior, which, as all parents with young children know, is often easier said than done.