Adrian Peterson Pleads No Contest to a Child Abuse Charge
The Adrian Peterson case has been resolved. Well, sort of.
That is, the Minnesota Vikings running back who was charged with a felony for disciplining his four-year-old son with a wooden switch which caused cuts and bruises agreed to a plea bargain.
Peterson said he wasn’t trying to harm his son. He was, however, disciplining him in much the same manner as Peterson himself was disciplined by his father. .
While this case resulted in lots of media attention, it did spark debate about spanking and corporal punishment. At the same time, it raised some important questions about the criminal justice system, punishment, and how best to handle child abuse and child maltreatment.
In the plea deal, in which Peterson pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault, he received a sentence that essentially gives the football star probation, a fine of $4,000, 80 hours of community service, and required parenting classes.
Our criminal justice system often prescribes jail or prison time for most serious offenders. Certainly this is true for child abusers. If Peterson had gone to trial and been convicted of felony child abuse, he would have been sentenced to two years in prison in Texas — where this case occurred.
When the charge is some form of child abuse, how does jail or prison time lead to someone becoming a better parent?
My understanding of the research on the effects of punishment is that while people when they are incarcerated maybe unable to commit future offenses because they are removed from their child and have little or no contact with their child, neither do they learn alternative behaviors. Punishment teaches what you’ll get in trouble for; it does not automatically teach you to be a better parent.
Peterson has been ordered to participate in parenting classes. That sounds great. Just what he needs since he grew up with corporal punishment, right? But, wait. As someone who has taught parenting classes both in and out of court systems, I know there are parenting classes and then there are parenting classes. That is, there are a wide variety of so-called parenting classes available in every state and big city. Some are very good, teaching parents appropriate forms of discipline that teach moms and dads how to raise a child without hurting that child. There are, however, parenting classes that condone spanking and other coercive approaches to parenting. There are also parenting classes that are simply lectures about aspects of raising children, and classes that provide parents experiences in a wonderful learning environment in which they can be trained in how to handle challenging behaviors.
Few, if any, judges in pronouncing such sentences tell the offender which kind of parenting class they should take. Although some juvenile and family courts run their own parenting classes, most do not. If the judge doesn’t specify what kind of parenting class to take, neither do they ask for a report confirming that the parent learned alternative forms of discipline. Typically, they may ask for a report that gives details about attendance and whether they “completed” the course.
I hope for Peterson’s son’s sake that Adrian Peterson gets in a good class with an experienced instructor who will help him learn to use alternative forms of positive discipline that will help him find positive ways of teaching his son self-control. And that Peterson learns that he doesn’t have to use weapons and hitting to teach his child valuable lessons. Unfortunately, as is evident in Adrian Peterson’s family, such lessons get handed down from one generation to the next.
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