I don’t pay a lot of attention to football. Even though I was a proud Red Elephant during the heyday of Bobby Gruhn and Tommy West, I just never caught the fever. Four years at the University of Alabama during the reign of Bear Bryant did nothing to pique my interest. Since I married a man whose football apathy mirrored my own, there was never an incentive to learn or follow the game.
So I knew nothing of Adrian Peterson’s career, never cheered as he was named an NFL MVP, didn’t watch as he set records up and down the field. I became aware of him only after he was questioned about the beating of a very small child.
This wasn’t a spanking. This 4-year old boy was flailed with a tree branch to the extent that there were bruises and open wounds on his legs, buttocks, back, even his scrotum. These injuries only came to the attention of police because the child was taken to a previously scheduled doctor’s appointment and the physician, a mandated child abuse reporter, notified authorities.
After a few false starts, the NFL finally felt the public outrage and placed Peterson on the NFL’s Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List, banning him from all team activities while his case is being adjudicated.
To me, the true horror rises from how clueless Peterson appears to be about his actions. When questioned by police, he freely admitted what he’d done, described the “whooping” and showed the sort of tree branch he’d used. He insisted he loved his children, telling police, “To be honest with you, I feel very confident with my actions because I know my intent.”
Corporal punishment seems to be the norm at the Peterson household. The 4-year old told police that his father had a “whooping room” and “likes belts and switches.”
On Sept. 11, Peterson was indicted on a charge of injury to a child. His lawyer responded, “Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas.”
So, really, that’s it.
East Texas isn’t the only place where whipping children is an accepted, even preferred, form of discipline. It’s firmly entrenched here in North Georgia, too.
It’s no surprise that many of us parent the way we were parented. There’s even a name for it: intergenerational transmission. People who grew up being spanked will most likely spank their own children.
Professor Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas in Austin has studied corporal punishment for 15 years and now concludes that spanking does not improve behavior. Instead, it leads to aggression and other behavior problems like stealing and lying, makes it more likely children will have mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and could lead to learning problems at school. It can also lead to child abuse.
“The more parents spank, the more likely they are to physically abuse their children, “ Gershoff told CNN. “… That’s kind of what we see in the Peterson case is that people hit too long or too hard with an object and their intention is to discipline the kid, but they’re hurting them because they’re hitting so hard.”
I was spanked, sometimes whipped, as a child and I have no memories of reaching behavioral epiphanies as a result. It didn’t make me a better child. It made me feel confused, angry and betrayed by the people who claimed to love me. It also made me much sneakier about my misdeeds.
When I became a parent, I made a conscious decision to not spank. And, with only a few exceptions, I held to that. On one occasion, a young daughter twice pulled away from me and tried to dart through traffic to reach an ice cream vendor on the opposite side of a busy street. All the years of training as a counselor, all the years of timeouts and meaningful, appropriate discipline gave way to frantic pops on her behind.
Intergenerational transmission had kicked in. It’s a tough cycle to break.
That’s tragic because here are effective ways to raise well-behaved, obedient children without spanking. Really. There’s a wonderful resource here in the Gainesville area called Family T.I.E.S. It offers positive parenting classes and a wealth of other programs that have a proven track record of success. Its number is 770-287-3071.
Adrian Peterson may have finally gotten the message. He was quoted as saying, “I … understand after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate.”
Yes, there are indeed. It’s just a shame he didn’t get the memo before he picked up that tree branch.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays.