Sunday, September 21, 2014

Adrian Peterson, Spanking, and Child Abuse (Part I)



"There's a fine line between spanking and child abuse." That was perhaps the most common reaction to the news that NFL star Adrian Peterson had "disciplined" his child to the point of leaving bruises. (He struck the 4-year-old boy in the testicles with a wooden spoon, among other things.) Many talking heads, including conservative commentator Sean Hannity, defended Peterson's right to parent as he sees fit. Hannity echoed many when he recalled his own beatings from his childhood, a recollection he spoke of with a fond smile as he demonstratively whacked the hell out of the news desk with his leather belt.

Spare the rod, spoil the desk
It seems to me that if your child-rearing strategies are separated by only "a fine line" from abuse, just maybe you're doing it wrong. I dunno. Am I crazy? If you could get arrested for doing it to your spouse or your adult child, maybe you shouldn't be doing it to a tiny child.

People who defend spanking have a short list of terrible arguments. The favorite is Argument from I Was Spanked And I Survived. (Argument ad survivum.) Surviving a thing, of course, doesn't recommend it. I was in a terrible car accident when I was a teenager. I survived it. I don't recommend it to other teenagers. I also survived a dog bite, yet I've never insisted my children go dangle their arms in front the nearest frothing pit bull. (We could have matching scars, sweetie!) Next up is the Argument from Spoiled Children. (Argument ad brattius.) If a child is behaving badly, or even just crying, the adults around her often assume it's because that child's parents aren't spanking often or vigorously enough. In fact, most American parents spank their kids, so that "little brat" you see having a meltdown at WalMart is statistically likely to be a spanked kid. This ties into a third defense, which is the Argument from Hitting Kids Works (Argument ad stoppum.) Even when spanking stops the immediate behavior, which it doesn't always do, it is less effective over time than other discipline methods, because spanking does not teach children self control. It teaches children that big people hit little people. It teaches kids to be craftier about their misdeeds. And it teaches kids aggression works: spanked kids are more likely to be aggressive than their unspanked peers.



I could parry pro-spanking arguments all day (and I have), but the spanking debate is not just about the theory of child discipline. It's also about desperate parents. Some parents spank because their preacher told them to, or they read it in a book, and they "just believe in it" as a legitimate child-rearing tool. These sorts of people are worth debating, because they have ideas. But I suspect most parents who spank their kids don't have much of a belief system about it, they are just at their wits' end. They've got a kid who is doing something that needs to stop, and spanking is the primary tool in their toolbox. Spanking is no more of a thoughtful strategy than yelling. For these parents, what's needed is more tools in the toolbox. Once it becomes apparent you can get the behavior you want from a child without hitting, of course you're going to stop hitting.

Let me rephrase that as a question: if you can discipline effectively without hitting, is there any reason to keep hitting?


I've asked this question of many spanking parents, and only a few have said "yes." It's only the most ideologically-driven who would continue to smack a kid if it's unnecessary. And of course, of course, hitting is not necessary. If you remove that tool from your toolbox, you are not giving up on parenting entirely. Even the most committed spanker has other tools. Once a parent has understood this, and is willing to commit to parenting without hitting, it's amazing what opens up. Parenting becomes so much more conscious and creative. Children cease to be tiny enemies that need controlling and become family members that need understanding. Most of the irritating behaviors of kids happen for a reason, and once you get the reason you also have a solution. (Hint: it's not "give the kid everything she wants.")

Tomorrow, come back for Part II: What parents can do instead of hitting.

14 comments:

  1. You have derived some excellent informal fallacies from Argumentum Ad Baculum (L. argument according to the stick) which I am happy to add to my philosophical dictionary!

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    1. Excellent. The list of formal and informal fallacies is so long, I hadn't even come across Ad Baculum! That seems rather perfect.

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  2. Well said. Frequent spanking may result in temporary compliance, but it doesn't result in respect for parents or self, both of which are necessary to achieve a long-term goal of appropriate behavior.

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  3. Spanking teaches one thing to kids: behavior parent's dislike results in them being hit. Physical violence is how one expresses displeasure.

    Ergo, it's what a child emulates, models. If you're angry, displeased, hit.

    This stuff makes me nuts, that we're still, to this day, having a 'debate' about it.

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    1. I couldn't agree more, SFM. It seems some things should have been settled a long time ago, but people sure do get entrenched in their views.

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  4. I almost stopped reading this article when i got to the frothing pitbull line. I have a 4yr. old son and 2 pitbulls whom neither froth at the mouth or bite. In fact, they are loving members of our family. That analogy is offensive to the breed and responsible pitbull owners alike. However, your points were well made about the possible effects on and ineffectiveness of spanking children. Please, i ask that you think twice the next time that you make that type of reference to pitbulls and legitamize the existing negative image of a very misunderstood breed. Thanks. Mother and responsible dog owner.

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    1. In my state, some breeds are statistically acknowledged to represent an insurance liability: pit bulls, chau chaus, rottweilers, wolf hybrids and coyote hybrids. Most companies void coverage. Anyone injured by such pets basically gets your house. It might be a good idea for owners of these breeds to see if their insurer is among them.

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    2. Well said, Geo.

      I'm sorry you were offended, Annabel915. But anecdotal evidence about one's friendly pit bill is not data. Here is some data:

      http://www.dogsbite.org/

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    3. Your responses are typical and expected. Unfortunately, it seems that more of the negative experiences and bites are recorded than positive experiences. Thanks for the link. I am not unfamiliar with sites of this nature that are aimed toward pitbulls. There are many other breeds out there that show aggression and bite however they lack the number of fatalities due due their size and non-fatal bites are not recorded as accurately.

      http://notesfromthefunnyfarm.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/which-dog-breed-is-most-likely-to-bite-you-might-be-surprised-at-the-answer/

      Through my 40yrs.on this planet, I have lived with 4 pitbulls and none have ever shown a bit of aggression towards a human. Whether my evidence is anecdotal or not please keep in mind that all data can be skewed and often is.

      Clearly you have your position on this and i don't think that will change. However, I hope that you can open your mind to the possibility that not all information out there is accurate.

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    4. Stop with the pit bulls. I've loved some pit bulls, too, but Stephanie was not trying to offend you so just cut her some slack.

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  5. So that's why Hannity is screwed up. I got hit. A lot. I'm 55 years old, and I have never recovered from it. My face is no longer red from being slapped, but, emotionally, I'm a . . . I don't know what. My PTSD is getting gradually getting better.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Oh Janie. My heart hurts for what you went through. :(

      I don't know what else to say ... but ((hugs)).

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    2. Thank you, but it's part of what made me who I am. I own every part of me. When I worked at the nursing home, I was often praised for my compassion. I probably wouldn't be so compassionate if I hadn't experienced the life that was meant for me.

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