Adrian Peterson is Not the Only Parent in America Who Needs Help Learning to be a Better Parent
The publicity generated by an NFL player spanking his child has resulted in a new round of conversation about corporal punishment of children.
But is Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson the only parent in America still spanking his or her child?
Of course, not. While approval of spanking and physical punishment of children has been declining for many years, the truth is that a good many parents in this country still hit their children.
Does that mean that every parent who smacks or spanks their child is an abusive parent? The answer to that has to be that it depends.
If they end up using a switch and leaving welts as Adrian Peterson did, then, yes, that is abuse. And I think most parents and most children protective service caseworkers would agree with that.
But the more important questions have to do with what is appropriate discipline and when should physical punishment be used? And, an even more vital a question is this: Can parents be trained to use discipline techniques that help learn self-control and self-regulation without hurting those children?
I taught parent training classes in a juvenile court for many years. The parents who were court-ordered to attend these classes were mothers and fathers who had a child or adolescent who was on probation to a juvenile court. And a good many of those parents had raised their children with at least occasional, if not regular, spankings.
I knew every time I welcomed a new group of parents into my parenting class that we would — sooner or later — be discussing spanking. Many of these parents inevitably defended their use of corporal punishment. As a result, I heard every possible argument for, and justification of, the use of physical punishment. And my job was to teach them more effective ways of using discipline with their kids.
I learned over the years in teaching these classes that most of the parents who used corporal punishment were not necessarily mean, cruel, or vicious people. But in literally every instance, they were parents who has been taxed beyond their ability to cope with their child. That is, they wanted to handle behavior and discipline problems in calm and appropriate ways, but they simply did not know how.
Often these parents did a fine job of parenting when their kids – both those on probation and the other children in the home – were well-behaved, obedient, and compliant. But when they didn’t follow the rules or live up to parental expectations, then these parents just did not have the parenting and discipline know-how to figure out what to do. They ended up getting frustrated, losing their temper, feeling overwhelmed, and resorting to things like spanking, hitting, and beating their children – much like Adrian Peterson, who reportedly used a branch from a tree to hit his four-year-old son, who was apparently fighting with another child.
Adrian Peterson might pay a very heavy price for not knowing how to handle a common childhood discipline problem by any other means than striking his son hard enough to leave welts. But if this situation can lead him to learn how to be a better parent, and if the publicity surrounding this incident can help other parents to re-examine their own parenting deficits and learn new skills, then maybe some good can come of it.
There are many fine parenting books and websites that can teach parents how to handle any problem behaviors that come along. Parents who find themselves frequently – like this football player — pushed beyond their skill level, need to seek out training in how to use a variety of discipline skills so they can avoid ever using corporal punishment.