Stick with me here. I want us to go through a little logic exercise together, okay?
If you held an adult hostage, that would be considered a crime. Same thing, if it were a kid.
If you kidnapped an adult, that would be considered a crime. Same thing, if it were a kid.
If you stole money from an adult, that would be considered a crime. Same thing, if it were a kid.
If your negligence caused harm to an adult, that would be considered a crime. Same thing, if it were a kid.
If you hit an adult, that would be considered a crime. Same thing, if it were a kid. Sometimes.
That "sometimes" bothers me. A lot.
Earlier this week, Adrian Peterson, a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indited for child abuse for beating his son. Peterson's lawyer released a statement in which, on Peterson's behalf, he called his son's injuries "unintentional". Peterson's lawyer claimed that Peterson only dished out "the same kind of discipline he received as a child growing up in East Texas."
My guess is, by now, you know where this blog entry is going. Before we embark on that journey, I'm going to excuse any of you that might be uncomfortable. What you're going to read will make many of you uncomfortable. I think we, as a nation, need to be a little bit more uncomfortable on this subject, frankly. Some parts of this piece may make make you reflect on past actions. My hope is that it makes you consider future ones. Time to touch the third-rail of parenting -- physical punishment for children.
Before jumping into the deep end, I want to make something very clear. I do not think I have all the answers. In no way do I believe that my parenting skills are superior to most anyone else's. In fact, on a daily basis, there are countless examples of where I've fallen down in my parental duties. My views are not meant as a disparagement to anyone else's decisions. You are not only entitled to your own belief system on parenting, I would openly encourage you to not blindly follow anyone else on matter so important, let alone me.
In Peterson's case, the punishment he dealt out was via a "switch" -- a bare tree branch that he beat his child with. He left horrendous scars, both physical and mental, on his own child. Most parents would never consider anything near that level of physical punishment as being acceptable. But, what is? Where is the line?
I want to, very simply, give you my belief system in regards to disciplining children through anything of a physical nature: It should never happen. Not ever. And, yes, I'm including "just" spanking. My belief on this is pretty simple: if the action taken would be considered illegal if enacted upon an adult, then so, too, should it be for a child. Yes, even your own child.
If I were a manager in an office and I had an employee talk back to me, I mean really mouth off, call me names, swear, assail my mother's virtue, whatever... no matter how angry I might become, I could not take that employee into my office and spank them. If I did -- even if I tried, several different kinds of punishment would instead would befall upon me....
What if I went on vacation, only to find that my next door neighbor had decided to hold a massive party in my house while I was gone. Things broken, left and right. Valuables stolen. Cigarette burns in the carpeting. The house trashed. I couldn't march next door and hit the guy, let along "spank" him, without the police visiting my home next.
But, in the U.S. today, if a kid talks back to his parent, that parent many times will use physical punishment on the kid. And if a kid trashes his room, ruins furniture or wallpaper or carpeting, we accept the parent doling out a spanking as punishment.
So, why is it okay for us to do this to our own kids but not to anyone else? Does it hurt less for the kid to be beat by a relative? Doubtful. Is it because the child is the "property" of the adult? If that were the case, then I guess you could legally sell that child, too -- and you can't do that. Is it because we believe that it will really teach that kid a lesson? Study after study study after study tell us the exact opposite -- not only does the child not necessarily associate the punishment with the "crime" committed, it actually teaches the child that violence is an acceptable form of communication.
And, really, it does far more than that to a child. Kids who are spanked tend to have lower self-esteem and lower IQs, as well as being more aggressive. Later in life, they are more likely to suffer from substance abuse and domestic abuse. The lists go on and on about to negative affects of spanking. Yet, it happens. A lot. Why?
I know how we justify it. A perfect an example can be found in Adrian Peterson's response to the indictment against him: He claimed he was only doing to his son what was done to him. That sounds about right.
This is the argument I hear most. "Well, I was spanked and I turned out okay." Really? With that mentality, we'd never have forward progress in life. We'd still accept stoning as a reasonable form of punishment for sinners. I mean, if we punished sinners back in the day by stoning and we're okay as a society, it must be okay, right? We'd have never progressed into traveling by motorized vehicles. If walking everywhere, or maybe using horses, was good enough for Grandad, then, by gosh, it should be good enough for all of us today, too! Sorry, folks. I can't accept the "precedence" argument -- the "I got spanked, so I spank my kids" argument -- as being sound. It may be how we justify things to ourselves, but that doesn't mean it's right.
So, I ask again, why? Why do we hit our children when science has proven it to be ineffective and harmful? You know why? Because it's easy.
You've heard the old line "This is going to be harder on me than on you" as a parent is about to whoop their child's behind. Bullshit.
It is WAY harder on the kid. It's easy for the parent to inflict that punishment on the kid. I'm not saying the parent doesn't feel pangs of guilt but it is nowhere near that emotions going through the child, not to mention the sheer physical pain involved. To have your parent, the person who is supposed to care for you, protect you, love you unconditionally, help you, guide you through life -- to have that person betray that trust by being the executioner of the pain inflicted.... tell me again how it's harder for you....
It is easy. Here is the typical thought process: See a kid do something wrong, smack their behind. The kid will never do that again out of fear of the pain. So, I ask you, is that what you want for your kids? You want them to fear you? You want them to tremble at the thought of you being angry with them? Is that really what you want?
Or, do you want the behavior to stop. Because, frankly, that's two different things. See, a child who fears you will most likely not perform a behavior that will result in punishment from you if and only if they believe they will be caught by you. You haven't taught them right from wrong. You've taught them that you're right and they better not be wrong or they'll receive punishment. They don't know "why", just "how".
However, if you take the time to teach the child, to show them, to demonstrate for them, to guide them, to explain to them in a way they'll understand, why something is wrong -- with love and patience and kindness -- you have a far greater likelihood of that child knowing not just how the action is wrong. They'll not perform it because they understand why it is wrong. They won't be doing it out of fear, but out of a moral obligation. They'll "get it".
Why don't more people do this? Because it's hard.
As most of you know, I have four kids. This is not meant to put myself on a pedestal, at all. I've made countless mistakes, many of which will result in my children laughing at me as adults, probably until the end of time. The one mistake I've never made, though, is even threatening to spank one of them, let alone actually doing it.
My kids , generally, are not unruly. They do not have discipline issues in school. They are polite. To my knowledge, there have been no incidents larceny or vandalism in their relatively short lives. They're pretty good about following "house rules" (except for the one about not eating in your room...but we pick and choose our enforcement battles...). They don't mouth off to either Blythe or me. They are not without their shortcomings and are certainly not perfect. However, I'm proud to say, they're really good kids.
Some people say that's why I can get away with not spanking my kids. They're "good" kids... I say that's backwards logic. In fact, I believe part of the reason they are good kids is because we don't spank.
Our philosophy in parenting, including not ever spanking (or inflecting any other kid of corporal punishment upon our kids), does not come without a price. That price is time. Blythe and I spend many, many, many hours with our kids. Every minute that we can. We are highly involved with their every day activities. We know their friends and peers. We talk incessantly with our kids, to the point the kids are sometime sick of it. And while we love our kids, LOVE our kids a whole lot, this lifestyle is hard. It takes a lot of effort. We purposely and continuously insert ourselves into our children's lives so we can help them understand life better and help them to make good decisions. We do it with full hearts, but it is hard.
I'm convinced this is why more people don't choose to not spank their kids. Because the alternative means a lot of work. And I'm not suggesting that the way that I've raised my kids is the only way to help kids through life without spanking, but I am suggesting that whatever other paths are out there are equally difficult. Parenting is hard work. It's work. WORK. It's the most satisfying work there can ever be, but it is work nonetheless.
And, once again, for clarification sake, I'm not suggesting that parents who spank their kids don't work at parenting. But I am saying it is more work to avoid spanking than it is to spank a kid. And, from what I've observed, we, as a society, tend to seek ways to work a little less. In this particular case, I think it is to the detriment of the child to do so.
A few years ago, I posted something on Facebook along these same lines. And the reaction was everything I knew it would be. Generally, I'm a pretty easygoing guy. On this subject, I feel like more people need to speak up and raise awareness. Kids don't have a real voice in this debate. They should, though.
I know, again, there will be much dissent on this subject. Truthfully, I'm not very interested in debating the merits of spanking. Many of you find it acceptable. I don't. If my argument against it in this blog piece didn't sway you at all, then, likely my words in rebuttal to any comment you make won't either. And, this isn't one of those topics where writing comments to "enlighten" others who might read it would be appropriate either. If you're interested in doing that, might I suggest you start a blog... In other words, I'm not looking for a fight. I can't tell anyone else how to parent their kids. But, if you are someone who does spank their kids, I hope my words at least give you pause. Their future is in your hands.