But  I Turned Out Okay: Some Thoughts about Adrian Peterson, Spanking, and Discipline

Yes, I should know better not to read the comments.

One quickly learns that, when you’re reading a news article on the Internet, the comments below the article tend to come from the lowest common denominator. “Don’t read the comments!!!” has become a rallying cry for many intelligent people who read an article to find out what’s going on, and then make the mistake of raising their blood pressure by reading the comments from barely-literate Neanderthals.

But I was sincerely curious to find out what people thought about Adrian Peterson.

Adrian Peterson, in case you’re not at all a football fan and never watch or read the news, is a player for the Minnesota Vikings who was recently arrested for child abuse. He admitted — please let’s be clear about this — to beating his 4-year-old child with a “switch” — that is, a tree branch.

I have not looked at the photos taken of the child’s injuries, but I have heard about them. He was left with cuts on his thighs and even part of his private area.

No, he has not been tried and convicted yet. He may not even go to trial, choosing to make a plea agreement instead. But seeing that he confessed to doing this, and that photos make it clear the extent of what happened, I don’t see that it’s a stretch to say with certainty that Adrian Peterson beat his child.

Several varieties of comments responding to this news have truly upset me. I’m going to take them one by one.

  1. “Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty???”

This is the kind of comment made by someone who complained first about Peterson’s being suspended from the Vikings originally, then his subsequent re-suspension (after the Vikings lifted his suspension following the team’s loss to the Patriots this past weekend) just today.

It is also a frequent complaint from those who see the discussion swirling around Peterson as a “mob mentality.”

First, I don’t see how you can possibly claim that Peterson is “innocent.” He confessed, and there are photos. I’d like to think that the people who ask about “innocent until proven guilty” don’t realize these basic facts.

Second, “innocent until proven guilty” goes for a court of law. There’s no “innocent until proven guilty” in the world of employment. Employers are perfectly free to do whatever they want with or without convictions. Heck, employers are perfectly free to fire someone without showing just cause, unless there’s discrimination or a crime (such as extortion) involved.

What I’m saying is, don’t feel sorry for Peterson because he’s being deprived of his “due process.” No such thing is happening.

  1. “No parent should be prevented from disciplining their children as they see fit.”

This complaint blows my mind. So… we should be allowed to discipline our children any way we want? No lines drawn whatsoever? Fine. Let’s beat them black and blue. Let’s slash them with knives. Let’s shoot at them. Let’s strangle them. Let’s chain them up and refuse them food and water.

Yes, I’m being extreme. That’s my point. I think all reasonable people would agree that none of the preceding things are remotely acceptable. So, yes. Parents should be prevented from doing terrible things to their children in the name of “discipline.” It absolutely should be against the law to brutalize your children.

I also believe it should be against the law to injure your children. Yes, I know accidents happen. You can accidentally strike your child. That’s one thing. But if you strike your child intentionally and injure him or her, that should be a crime. You should never, ever hit your child hard enough to bruise, raise welts, or cause cuts.

That brings me to my next point.

  1. “We’re going to bring up a generation of spoiled-rotten brats if we keep parents from disciplining their children.”


Sorry, I needed to vent. This one drives me absolutely insane. Why? Because it assumes there are two kinds of parents in the world: parents who spank their children, and parents who don’t provide any sort of discipline to their children whatsoever.

Why are there only two choices here? Why is it presumed that parents either spank their children, or they don’t discipline them at all?

I’m not going to claim I’ve never spanked my daughters. I have. But it’s been years, and it was very occasional. Aside from one time, the only time I have ever spanked either of my children is when they were being deliberately defiant: in other words, I gave them a command, and they made it clear that they were not going to do it, even after being given several chances.

The one time I’m referring to came when my older daughter was probably about the age of Peterson’s son. We were on our way to her babysitter’s house, and she was screaming her head off about something. I was so infuriated that she couldn’t behave for the five-minute drive to the sitter’s house that I pulled off, stopped the car, and got in the backseat and spanked her.

That incident scares me because I was filled with such rage. I was pretty close to being out of control.

After that, I never spanked either of my girls when I was that angry again — because I realized how easily I could have crossed the line and injured my daughter.

Also, I never spanked one of my children more than maybe 3 times on the bottom. (Once was much more common.) And ALWAYS with my hand.

But spanking was never a frequent punishment. When it did happen, it was always a last resort.

So, how do I discipline my daughters most of the time? Believe it or not, I send them to their rooms. That is always enough for them. They hate being isolated from the rest of the family.

(I’ve also yelled at them far more often than I should, but I’m getting better!)

These days, merely threatening them with being sent to their rooms, or with the loss of a privilege, is enough to keep them in line.

The thing is, there are so many more effective ways to discipline your children than by striking them. I feel like my daughters learned a lot more from other forms of discipline than from spanking. The only thing children learn from spanking is that you are bigger than they are, and you can hurt them. Therefore, they should not make you angry.

I don’t want my children to behave properly because they’re afraid I’ll hurt them if they don’t. I want them to behave properly because it’s the right thing to do. It’s really hard to teach your children what is the right thing to do if they’re afraid of you.

  1. “I was beaten when I was a kid, and I turned out okay. Therefore, beating your children is perfectly fine.”

Yeah… here’s the thing. If you believe it’s okay to beat children, you did NOT turn out okay.

I don’t think spanking is a great idea. But I do believe there’s a huge difference between occasional spanking and spanking as the first (and only) method of discipline. And there’s an even bigger difference between spanking as the only method of discipline and beating.

To me, spanking is an open hand on the bottom. Period.

Beating is any other way of hitting your children. Using any other object on your child’s bottom is beating. “Switches” (what a nice word for “branches,” honestly – who came up with that??), paddles, belts, or any other kind of object — that’s not spanking. That’s beating. That’s hitting your child to cause injury.

And it is wrong to cause injury to your child.

We believe it’s wrong to cause injury to other people, right?

(I mean, aside from self-defense. But when exactly are we trying to defend ourselves against our children? Only when something has gone seriously, seriously wrong with our children. And this is not always their parents’ fault. Some children are mentally ill through absolutely no fault of their parents.)

Then why does anyone believe it’s acceptable to cause injury to children? I don’t care if it’s in the name of “discipline.” It’s not okay. Ever.

  1. “That wasn’t abuse. I’ll show you abuse.”

My heart cries for people who were abused as children. I can think of no more horrible experience than to have suffered any kind of abuse — emotional, physical, or sexual — at the hands of adults you trusted. I am grateful to have had a childhood where I never had that problem.

And so I cannot fault someone who was abused who hears of or sees the injuries suffered by Adrian Peterson’s son and says, “Oh, that was nothing. You should have seen the injuries I had.”

I don’t want to downplay anyone else’s suffering. Because anyone who has suffered abuse has suffered wounds that I can’t even begin to imagine. But I think we make a grave mistake when we say that because Peterson’s son suffered no gaping wounds, that his scars will fade over time, that he wasn’t more seriously injured, that the beating he suffered from wasn’t really “abuse.”

I think we need to take a hard stance against any kind of injury to a child. Even bruises. Bruises heal and fade, yes. But the memories of what caused those bruises… those may never fade.

I still regret the spanking I gave my older daughter when I was out of control. I don’t know if she remembers it, but I do. Even though it left no bruises or any kind of marks, it was me at my most horrific, and I cringe every time I remember it.

Parents are supposed to nurture their children. Love their children. Even when they’re at their most unlovable. The world will try to knock them down soon enough. Let’s not do it for them.