Issues involving domestic violence with some NFL players have cropped up in the news recently, exposing a number of behaviors that can only be described as disturbing.
One story that has particularly caught the public’s attention involves Adrian Peterson, who until now had been a star player with the Minnesota Vikings.
As many readers of this blog are aware, Peterson has been formally charged by Texas prosecutors with child abuse.
Switches and Tree Branches
More than a few people I know have tried to grant a permission slip to Peterson for his approach to discipline, citing culture as a kind of acceptable excuse.
So upsetting were these justifications that I was compelled to write about this matter in a blog post entitled, Go Get the Switch: When Discipline Becomes Child Abuse.
You see I have a unique understanding about this issue – I grew up in the south and was beaten with belts and switches too.
Culture and Childhood Discipline
The NFL scandal involving Adrian Peterson has sparked a national discussion on the issue of culture and so called acceptable forms of childhood discipline.
Several public figures, such NBA Hall of Famer, Charles Barkley, have made statements like: “Whipping – we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.” – NFL Today
Others too have chimed in, including former NBA star Tracy McGrady, who said, “Am I the only one that got hit with a switch? I had to go outside and pick my own switch. It taught values, respect (and) accountability”. McGrady later qualified his comments in a Tweet.
Barkley and McGrady’s comments are joined by others, including NFL player Reggie Bush, who on September 16th said in a radio interview he thought Peterson should be allowed to play.
The ongoing narrative I keep hearing among many folks (black and white) goes something like this:
“That is how I was brought up. There’s nothing wrong with disciplining your child. It’s showing them love.”
It’s Not OK to Beat Your Child
My response is very simple to these cultural and familial arguments – IT IS NOT OK to whoop on your child with a stick! It is not ok to lash their legs, arms or other body parts with a tree branch. And it is not OK to use a leather belt on your child’s bare behind.
There is no cultural excuse for this kind of behavior. If you are causing welts, lacerations and cuts to appear on your child’s body – that’s abuse!
As veteran NFL sportscaster said in a recent television interview, “And anyone who can’t see the difference between legitimately disciplining a kid and beating a kid to the point where the authorities have to step in,” Costas continued, “and the kid is 4 years old, no cultural or regional differences explain that away. It’s a crime, and a horrible crime.”
Stop the Cultural Excuses
I agree with Costas. And while many of us may have experienced switches and belts when we grew up at the hands of a parent, it doesn’t make it OK to repeat the cycle with our children today.
The time for making cultural excuses is over. To continue justifying physical violence through culture is to perpetuate generational cycles of pain.
Long Term Harm
I recognize that children do need to be disciplined from time to time. Goodness knows I needed to be put in my place as a kid growing up. But there is a fine line between discipline and abuse, particularly when a situation becomes physical.
My sincere hope is that the Peterson case will shine a light on the topic of parenting and discipline. As a therapist, I can’t tell you how much harm is done to a child when a parent or other caretaker uses physical pain, under the guise of “love”, to discipline a child.
Here is just a short list of the long-term effects that can be inflicted:
- Critically low feelings of self-esteem
- Problems with trusting others
- Strong feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty
- Body-image issues
- Intimacy issues
- Feelings of not being worthy of love from others
- Mistrust of emotions, feelings and even thoughts
- Anger, rage and frustration
- Substance abuse and dependence
- Self-blame for life events
There are a number of effective approaches that should be considered as part of disciplining a child. If you are concerned that your temper may be getting the best of you, consider some type of anger management counseling.
If you are a parent who was beaten or otherwise abused as a child, consider talking to someone. Educate yourself on the harmful effects of using physical pain as a form of parental discipline.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book: This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You: In Words and Pictures, Children Share How Spanking Hurts and What To Do Instead.
As I shared earlier in this post – I was beaten as a child with branches and belts. To this day, I am still working through the trauma. The psychological pain never goes away. If you have experienced these forms of discipline, you know exactly what I am talking about.
In closing, I would like to be urge compassion for Adrian Peterson while also holding genuine feelings of outrage. You see, he too was disciplined by his father in the same way, according to news reports.
I am not saying what he did was OK. What I am saying all of us should open our hearts to a problem that is often not discussed and widely misunderstood. Above all we should remember his son, who no doubt has had his entire world turned upside down because of all that has happened. If you are a spiritual person, I encourage you to send that child your prayers.
Included in this post is a poll that I hope you will partake in. Feel free to share your thoughts on the topic of whippings, spankings and childhood discipline.
Photo Credits: 1. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File. 2. iStock 3. Flicker 4. AP Photo