Punishment in the News: Spanking, Injuring and Self-Control

Adrian Peterson. Here in Minnesota we’ve been talking a lot about Adrian Peterson. We’ve been talking a lot about the off-field behaviors of football players and other professional athletes…we’ve been talking a lot about parenting…a lot about discipline and a lot about corporal punishment and spanking.

The Minneapolis Star/Tribune recently came out with an editorial saying that corporal punishment is an outdated form of discipline and that “hitting kids should be relegated to the scrapheap of history.” Research shows that using corporal punishment to teach kids about how to behave does not work. The idea that pairing a form of extreme discomfort with an undesirable behavior, with the hopes that the child will avoid the misbehavior to avoid the extreme discomfort, does not seem to be effective. The reason for this is that the child generally remembers the discomfort, the spanking, and not the misbehavior that led to it. If the goal is to have a child THINK about what they did wrong, spanking instead causes them to think about their pain, the deliverer of the pain, and quite possibly, how to avoid getting caught in the future.

It is important, however, to hold children responsible for their behaviors. Consequences need to be delivered and done so in a way that makes it most likely the child will THINK about their behavior and understand why it was wrong. Those kinds of consequences are best used when they are related to the infraction, reasonable in their degree and delivered in a respectful or neutral manner.

The Adrian Peterson saga seems to go beyond the issue of how to discipline or punish a child. Even those who still believe that spanking can be an effective method of discipline agree that parents should not INJURE children. It does not matter if the parent was not intending to injure the child. If a parent’s behavior results in an injury, the parent is legally responsible. For example, if a parent neglects to put an infant in a car seat for a short ride to the store and is in a car accident which results in an injury to the child, the parent is responsible. If a parent grabs their child by the shoulders to speak sternly to him or her but inadvertently squeezes the child so hard that the child’s arms are bruised, the parent is responsible. Parents and guardians need to use self-control, self-discipline and responsible behavior themselves in managing their children. It’s not an easy thing to do without any training but most of us do our best to learn “on the job.”

It can be difficult to keep calm when our children are misbehaving. It can be difficult to keep calm during any form of conflict, that is, unless we are trained to do so. People who are trained to engage in conflicts can document the effectiveness of such training. Those people who are also trained to be aggressive and possibly controlling during certain conflicts are especially vulnerable to struggling with keeping calm with their children. Police officers receive training in using their authority forcefully and effectively while on the job but must then learn to manage conflicts off the street in a different way. Effective law enforcement agencies provide this type of training to their officers.

Football players are also trained to maximize their aggression forcefully and effectively on the playing field. They practice all season to use force to reach their goals. Many are able to turn off the aggression once the game has ended. Some are not. Some are able to keep calm during conflicts off the field. Some are not.

Perhaps something good will come from the recent news about Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. Perhaps the NFL and other sports that rely on development of controlled aggression will take responsibility for provide training for all of their players on how to turn off the aggression instead of just how to turn it on.

If parents or educators wish to have discussions about some of these issues with children, here are some talking points that could be helpful:

  • Many of you may have heard about some sad events that have come into the news involving some well-known football players. It’s hard to know all the facts about any news items because all of the parts of any story come out a little at a time. Still, it seems clear that one player, Ray Rice, struck a woman (who later became his wife). Another player, Adrian Peterson, spanked his child with a switch (a small branch) and caused some injuries to him. 
  • People should never hit other people. Some people don’t think spanking their child is the same as hitting and parents do get to decide if they think spanking is necessary to teach their children about how to behave. However, any kind of spanking that is so hard that it leaves marks or cuts or bruises and causes injury to a child is not okay. Parents are never supposed to injure their children.
  • People should never hit other people. Parents should never hit each other. 
  • Some people may not know how to solve problems without hitting. There are ways they can be taught to work things out more peacefully.
  • If people in your family are hitting each other or causing injury to you or to each other, it’s important that you tell any adult that you trust. You could tell another relative, your teacher, someone else at school such as another teacher, administrator, or teaching assistant. 
  • If you tell someone, they will help to figure out a way to make things more peaceful in your home and will help you and your parents. 
  • This is also true about anyone else that is causing you harm or making you do things that you don’t want to do or think you should do, such as other relatives, babysitters, other kids, brother or sisters of other kids, and people like that. 
  • If you ever want to tell an adult about anything like this, all you need to do is to tell them that you’d like to talk to them about something in private. They will find a time and a place to talk about this so no one else will hear or know about it. 

September 23, 2014. Uncategorized.

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