Adrian Peterson and Corporal Punishment



The latest incident involving a famous person and a contentious social issue is the case of Adrian Peterson, the star running back for the Minnesota Vikings NFL football team, being charged with child abuse for whipping his four year old son with a tree branch. A doctor saw the marks on the boy during a routine visit in Minnesota, and alerted authorities. The alleged abuse took place in Texas where the boy lives so that is where AP went to be arrested, charged and post bail.

Since we all have memories of how we were disciplined as children we all have opinions this issue. Here are some of the issues this story raises.

AP says that he disciplined his son the same way that he was disciplined as a boy. He believes strongly that his outstanding success as a football player, including being named MVP of the league in 2012, is due in large part to the way he was raised by his parents and other relatives.

Many times we are urged to abandon the beliefs and practices of previous generations. Are we supposed to abandon everything about the past or is it best to blend what worked in the past with what have learned today?

Another aspect of this issue is the relationship of boys to their fathers. We don’t want this boy remaining in the care of his father if it is proven that AP is a violent child abuser. But there is so much evidence showing the harm that is caused when boys are raised without their fathers, that I would hope that the authorities to do all they can to insure that a healthy relationship is maintained between AP and his son.

This case shines a light on the cultural differences that exist right in our own country. Charles Barkley, a retired NBA player turned TV commentator, said the following in an interview:

“I’m from the South. Whipping is … we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is gonna be in jail under those circumstances. I think we have to be careful letting people dictate how they treat their children.”

Here in Minnesota, people are much more averse to corporal punishment. Many parents speak with pride about how they never hit their children. How do we deal with such profound differences within our country?

News stories carried pictures of the boy’s legs after the whipping. The welts the whipping left are not pretty. But I would like to know what his legs looked like a week later. If the welts went away after a few days then I think the whole case needs to be dropped or, at the very most, require AP to take some parenting classes. If the whipping left permanent scars, then yes, AP needs to be charged with a crime.

One commentator I happened to catch on the radio pointed out that corporal punishment should be done with some kind of instrument, not the parents’ hands. This is because a child should always experience their parents’ hands touching them in a loving way. I’d never heard this theory before but in some ways it makes sense.

Over the years I’ve come up with the following “guidelines” for corporal punishment: it should always be a last resort after all other forms of discipline have failed. It should never be administered in the heat of the moment; the parent should always take time to get control of himself/herself. It should never leave permanent scars. The parent should always explain why the discipline is being administered and it’s always a good idea to have another adult present when it happens.

AP is cooperating fully with the investigating authorities. Anyone who knows his character is not surprised by this fact.

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