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Adrian Peterson and Spanking – Why the Two are NOT related

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Once again media reporters have successfully extracted information from one story and created a completely unrelated narrative for one reason: to pit one group of parents against another. Sorry, but I won’t bite.

What Adrian Peterson reportedly did to his child had nothing to do with spanking. If the photos of his son are real, Adrian beat his young boy, thus committing child abuse. When a father (or any other person) leaves multiple welts on a child’s body- arms, legs, bottom and in this case, the child’s scrotum, created from a stick or other tool, this is not spanking, it is abuse.

So let’s be crystal clear about one thing: the term “spanking” as most people understand it, is far removed from what this father reportedly did to his son. Let’s look at the difference between abusing a child and spanking him.

As a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a Pediatrician certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, I am well aware of what these organizations say about spanking. They have denounced it as a reasonable form of discipline because many parents do not have the ability to control their tempers and separate discipline of their child from their own anger. When this is the case, none of us should condone spanking as a means of discipline. I have many parents in my practice that should never spank their children because they (the parents) are wholly unable to control their anger and frustration and are at risk for harming their children.

Many parents, on the other hand, can control their emotions and feel it is necessary to use different forms of discipline with each of their children. The truth is, every child responds uniquely to life situations and requires a different form of discipline than another.

Below, I have outlined what reasonable parents and physicians refer to when defining spanking as an alternative disciplinary tool. There are critical components detailed – none of which were present when Mr. Peterson hit his child.

Reasonable spanking is defined when:

A parent is calm and in control of his or her emotional state and  never uses the act as a means of diffusing his or her own anger.

Appropriate time (10-15 minutes) has passed between the child’s offense and the act of spanking. This insures that both parent and child have calmed down for the disobedient act.

A parent has tried alternative means of discipline (time outs, taking things or opportunities away from child) and the child has failed to respond.

One or two swats (maximum) are given.

Only the bottom is swatted– never another part of the child’s body.

The bottom of the child is covered with clothing (having a bare bottom creates shame in the child and this is never to be part of healthy discipline.)

I outline these because the truth is, my experience has been that the majority of parents have used spanking as a means of discipline and many will continue to do so. My job as a pediatrician is not to tell parents how to raise their kids, but to help guide them in the task. Since I am well aware that regardless what the AAP or ABP says, most parents are going to use spanking as a disciplinary tool and I feel that it is best to give some firm guidelines to it.

The million-dollar question that most parents want answered is this: Is spanking good for kids? The answer is: It depends. It is not appropriate for me to say that spanking is never good or always bad- this is errant. The bigger and more important question is this: Should a child yield to a parent’s authority? The answer to this question is: Absolutely.

Children cannot grow to be emotionally or physically healthy if they do not have respect for their parents. Each child must learn that a parent has authority over him. This makes a child feel safe and loved. Unfortunately, many parents confuse being authoritative with being authoritarian. Being authoritative means having authority and respect so that a child will listen to the parent while being authoritarian means to be overbearing, controlling and suffocating.

Being a good disciplinarian is an extremely important task that every parent must come to grips with. It is one of the hardest tasks to become good at and unfortunately, many parents both abdicate it altogether and allow children to do whatever they want, or they twist it into being a means of controlling and manipulating children.

I believe that God wants neither of these from good parents. After all, look at how He parents. With the power to create the heavens and earth, He commands respect, is deserving of us to bow down to Him and yet He chose a ghastly death to set us free to live life as we wished. Does God beat His children? Never. Does He love and discipline them? Always.

That, friends, is the best roadmap I can find to good parenting.


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