Mommie Dearest: On Adrian Peterson, Discipline & Child Abuse

Growing up, I was occasionally threatened with “the belt,” or asked if I wanted a “patch on my tuchus” whenever I behaved extra naughty. But that’s all they were — threats. Instead, my parents sent me to my room, took away prized privileges, or assigned me extra chores. Now, with my own son, there aren’t even threats. There are other methods of discipline that are more than effective for us so I don’t need to hit, whip or spank my son in order to get him to behave.

I’ve never quite understood the idea of corporal punishment as a method of discipline. In my mind, discipline is used in order to shape good behavior while eliminating bad behavior. In the best case scenario, inflicting pain as punishment, especially when used on young children who may not quite understand what is going on, breeds fear and resentment. In the worst case scenario, it breeds the notion that physical violence is acceptable. In fact, studies have shown that the use of physical punishment actually increases violent behavior in children.

But what if your defense is that you beat your child out of love?

That’s what football player Adrian Peterson claimed after being indicted for “reckless or negligent injury to a child.” Peterson, a running back for the Minnesota Vikings, allegedly whipped his four-year-old son with a tree branch, resulting in numerous injuries to the small child, including bruises and cuts to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, as well as defensive wounds on his hands. According to reports, Peterson told investigators that “To be honest with you, I feel very confident with my actions because I know my intent.” He later went on to say that despite his arrest, he would still not eliminate whipping his children in the future, because the same type of punishment was used on him growing up, and it — according to Peterson — helped him in life. (According to TMZ, Peterson is also under investigation for a 2013 incident when his four-year-old son had a  head injury.)

Over at Slate, Amanda Hess looks at this twisted logic of love and violence:

“Adrian Peterson and his child are not floating “different stories.” A frightened child suffering from abuse and a father who says he does it because he loves the kid are telling the same narrative. The fallacy here is so obvious that it has coalesced into a domestic violence cliché: “He hits me because he loves me.” Adrian Peterson’s claim that he did it for love is not a defense of his actions. It’s a warning sign that he continues to pose harm to his kids.”

We easily condemn violence when it’s between adults, particularly in the case of domestic violence (well, unless you’re the NFL). Why is it so easy to excuse away violence when it’s used as punishment? There is absolutely no behavior so bad that a four-year-old is left with cuts and bruises. Physical punishment to that degree cannot be explained or excused away by love. A loving parent protects his child from violence and physical harm. A loving parent ensures that their child is safe. A loving parent does not rationalize his abuse as an acceptable form of parenting.

I have no idea what type of home environment Peterson grew up in. By his own admission he was whipped and beaten as a form of punishment. But just because you grew up surrounded by violence, it doesn’t mean you need to continue the cycle.

Read more from Avital Norman Nathman at The Mamafesto.

[Image via Getty]