At the bottom of most articles about charges against Minnesota Viking's star running back Adrian Peterson are many comments defending how he treated his child.
Peterson was indicted last week in Texas after admitting he struck his child with a tree branch in a way similar to how he was raised by his parents. He claims he didn't intend to hurt his child. Many have chimed in with words of support for his actions, sparking heated conversations between those for and against corporal punishment.
The usual comments to defend hurting a child as a form of discipline are: "I was spanked as a child and I turned out okay," or "A good lickin' can't hurt." And often, "My Mom/Dad whooped me and I deserved it. It made me the man I am today."
I would argue that people succeed despite corporal punishment, not because of it. I hope that one's most impactful memories of their parents are of love rather than beatings.
It is time to change these statements to reflect what we now know about how children develop. Decades ago, we didn't have the research we have today. We also didn't have the current sociological conditions nor the large families that were common back then. Conditions and information have changed.
It is clear that corporal punishment has potential for long-lasting negative effects for a child. Those who have been spanked as child have an increased risk for having a mental illness, developing addictions, and becoming a victim of domestic abuse to name a few. It's the same situation as with smoking -- not everyone who smokes gets cancer, but it is a known risk.
Corporal punishment might scare a child into stopping a behavior, but it does not get them to think rationally or learn how to cooperate. It also doesn't teach people how to manage big emotions or develop conflict skills. Many adults who were spanked as a child share their strong anger about that and their trouble feeling happy in life.
The view of corporal punishment by academics around the world is pretty clear -- it should be removed from all homes and educational institutions. There is the "Convention on the Rights of the Child" which was established by the United Nations in 1989. In it, Article 19 requires States to protect children from "all forms of physical or mental violence" while in the care of parents or others.
To this date, 29 countries have banned corporal punishment in homes and schools. Neither Canada nor the U.S. is one of those countries. Many states actually have abolished the practice in schools, but many in the American South have not yet.
Instead of defending corporal punishment, we should consider that what will help children the most today is to realize that it is neither necessary nor appropriate anymore. There is nothing wrong with admitting that harsh physical punishment may have been used "back then" but doesn't need to be now.
As Cris Carter said in this emotional video regarding whoopings from his mother, "My mom did the best job she could do -- raising seven kids by herself, but there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong."
He shakes his head and keeps repeating those words, "My mom was wrong." He goes on to say, "This is the twenty-first century... my mom was wrong about some of the s*** she taught me. You can't beat a kid to make them do what you want them to do. And I promise my kids I won't teach that mess to them."
Many of us say that our parents, "did the best they could," regarding harsh physical punishment. We defend our parents because we love them and don't want to hurt them. It is hard to admit mistakes, and it is certainly hard to feel like a bad parent, which the defensive comments may try to cover up. It's okay to love our parents, feel good about our childhood and say that corporal punishment wasn't the best choice.
I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Maya Angelou speak in person and remember her powerful words, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."
Can we all declare a clean slate? Can we admit that harsh physical punishment is no longer appropriate? We do know better so it time for all of us to do better in this regard.
Stopping the use of spanking, lickins' or whoopings does not mean we are going to let our children run amok. It does not mean becoming parenting doormats, letting our children do whatever they want, whenever they want. It means using positive discipline in a way that grows children's rational brain not their defensive one.
Positive discipline is guiding children through the mistakes they make and handling the big instincts to hit, throw or shout. It doesn't mean being lenient or the opposite, hovering over your child's every move, but rather using limits, boundaries, care and natural consequences to guide your child to make helpful decisions.
Sadly, sometimes parents are placed in impossible situations as Cris Carter's likely was: struggling to keep their children safe or get food and a roof over their family's heads. Also, others who refuse to critically examine the overwhelming information against corporal punishment, still pressure parents to use it.
Over the course of my career, I have come to believe that if a parent has support and puts time into learning alternatives to corporal punishment, it could be avoided even in the most adverse circumstances.
I know that a solid swat is faster and even easier than stopping what you are doing to calmly help your child. But that extra effort to connect with your child and address the situation with clever words rather than harsh hands will forever positively change them. It will give them the tools to be the best person they can be.
If you would like more information on positive discipline, I invite you over to my Facebook page where I continually post free parenting information. For those who would like help talking with family members who are pressuring the use of spanking/ beatings, please read this article: Please STOP Spanking Babies And Toddlers. Even if your children are older, it explains more about what happens in the body and mind of a child who is spanked.