Spanking doesn’t work
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on felony charges of injuring a child in Montgomery County, Texas. Peterson allegedly used a switch (a branch from a tree) to discipline his four-year-old son. The switch left lacerations on the child’s thighs, buttocks, back, scrotum and hand.
Already the indictment is being paired with Ray Rice’s knockout of his fiancée as an example of barbaric football players run amok. But this case is sure to split the public and possibly along racial lines.
We love to spank in this country. An August, 2013, Harris Poll found that 67 percent of parents have spanked their children, while 33 percent have not. Other studies have put the numbers of parents that spank even higher at 80 percent . We smack hands, swat butts and slap faces. Some of us use belts, switches and paddles. While we call it discipline, a lot of it is borne out of frustration, stress and anger.
Spankings aren’t just for home use. Nineteen states allow corporal punishment in schools. According to a 2009 Human Rights Watch and ACLU report, most corporal punishment in schools is by paddling. Students may be struck multiple times on the buttocks or upper thighs with a wooden paddle. According to a 2005-2006 study (the most recent available) by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Texas led the nation in corporal punishment when 51,170 students were hit that school year.
Yes, the same Texas that is prosecuting Adrian Peterson is okay with principals and teachers spanking students with a piece of wood. If Peterson had spanked his child with a paddle that left no marks then Texas would’ve been cool with it.
I was born in Virginia, one of the nineteen states that allow corporal punishment. In my second grade class, misbehaving students had to extend their open palm so the teacher could slap it multiple times with a ruler or yardstick. It made me resent the teacher and resolve to not get caught in the future.
In today’s coarsening society, with so many children growing up without fathers or father figures, spanking is seen as a panacea. I’d bet a majority of Americans would agree with the statement that today’s kids need more spankings.
At least I know that’s true in the black community. There’s a cultural divide when it comes to spankings. I’m not saying that white parents don’t spank their children, because they do. However, studies have shown blacks spank more. Some have connected it to the history of slavery with white masters whipping unruly slaves. But if that were true, it wouldn’t explain why the majority of whites, Hispanics and Asians also spank. The justification often springs from the bible, Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”
Spankings, beatings or “whoopings” are so common to the African-American community that they’re often fodder for black comedians. Comedians like Bill Cosby, Sinbad, D.L. Hughley and others have incorporated whippings into their act and it usually kills because black people are so familiar with the topic.
The rod wasn’t spared in my house. My mother would use a switch. We had a tree in the backyard that I swore they planted just to provide switches. Sometimes my brothers and I were sent out to get our own switch and we’d come in with the smallest branch we could find. Our mother would go out, grab a thicker one and in one smooth move would skin all the twigs and leaves from it and lay into us.
My dad used his belt. My dad also used these orange Hot Wheels racing tracks we had to beat us. The funny, or not so funny, thing is when you Google orange Hot Wheels tracks and include the word “spanking,” its amazing what comes up. I thought we were the only ones, but it turns out many people were getting beaten with them!
Afterwards, I’d end up with lacerations and welts that today would surely lead to an arrest like Peterson’s.
Growing up, my best friend was a white guy named Dan and he never got a beating. If he got into trouble, he would be “grounded.” This “punishment” consisted of him having to stay in his room and play video games on his Intellivision, snack on Doritos and read comic books in bed. I’m not saying my brothers and I should’ve been beaten, but a punishment like grounding would’ve been nothing to us. And it was nothing to him. He would call his mother things that I would’ve never even dreamt of saying to my mother.
So given this backdrop, many people are going to look at Peterson’s indictment as crazy, as the state overstepping its bounds into a father’s child rearing. When they find out the child was four and they see the photos of the lacerations and hear that the child told police he was afraid his dad would punch him in the face, they will quickly abandon Peterson. I’ve already heard people say Peterson went too far and that the child was too young. But they’re not willing to give up on spanking.
To change people’s minds on this will be difficult. Like Peterson said through his attorney, this was the way he was raised. No doubt it was the way my parents were raised. But while I’ve defended it in the past I don’t anymore. That’s because it doesn’t work. And I don’t believe in doing things that don’t work.
Study after study has shown that spankings are ineffective at changing behavior long term. A 2009 National Institutes of Health study found that harsh corporal punishment actually changes brain growth. Children beaten frequently have less gray matter and do worse on I.Q. tests. Children who are spanked grow more aggressive over time and are more prone to depression, anxiety and substance abuse. It also destroys trust between the child and parent.
It doesn’t work and it’s harmful. And saying that in a country that spanks and doesn’t believe they spank enough is likely to fall on deaf ears. You may disagree, but the facts don’t cease to be the facts just because you disagree.
There are monsters out there that harm children. But I don’t believe the majority of parents who spank are monsters. They want to correct behavior and they don’t know how else to do it. If we want to stop this, then start by outlawing it in schools. Bar the use of implements in spanking. Educate the public on the fact that it does not work. And we’ve got to somehow teach people how to effectively parent. So much of society’s ills can be laid at the feet of absent fathers and ineffective parenting.
We can make a big impact on kids without beating the hell out of them.