By Tammi Pitzen, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County
This week the big news was that Adrian Peterson, a member of the Minnesota Vikings, was charged with child abuse for spanking his child with a “switch” and leaving bruising.
The topic of debate has been: Is this abuse or is this discipline? And secondary: Is this a part of Southern parenting culture?
You knew that I would have to weigh in on this — being both a true Southerner, who now has a child, and being an avid football fan, who is married to an avid Vikings fan.
I was born and raised in the South and my parents used spanking as a discipline method. I also began my career in child protection investigating child abuse reports in a small town in Louisiana. I will tell you that it is true that in the South parents will “spank” their children with whatever is handy. I have talked with parents who use electrical extension cords, doubled belts, wooden spoons, switches, boards, ping pong paddles, rulers, wire coat hangers, dog leashes, hair brushes and, not as frequently but sometimes, their hands, in the disciplining of their children.
Based on years of investigative experience, I will tell you that it is very hard to use an object to hit a child and not leave marks.
It is hard to judge how hard you are actually hitting. It is hard to gauge how angry you are. It is hard to control the adrenaline that will begin to pump through your body as you exert yourself in the disciplining of a child, using these methods.
Most parents are disciplining their children because they love them. They are not intending to hurt their child.
Imagine how hard it is for a child to understand that — when they are being hit with an object.
Southern parents have been known to say, “This is hurting me more than it is hurting you”, while spanking their child. I can say that is sometimes hard to believe and really hard to understand if you are five.
Oregon law defines physical abuse as an injury to a child that is not accidental.
Many will read this and think that I am advocating against spanking. I am advocating against spanking that becomes abusive.
Discipline is a parenting decision and should be made by parent. However, it is abusive to leave marks on your child either unintentionally or intentionally. It is a fact that it is hard to spank with an object and not leave marks.
I have spoken to literally thousands of children who have been hit with objects. They do not learn to be disciplined. They learn to fear their parents. They learn to be angry. Violence breeds violence.
In recent weeks we have heard news stories involving National Football League players abusing their girlfriends, abusing their children and, in the past, we have heard about them abusing animals.
I believe that the NFL has a unique opportunity to change our world in an unimaginable, pie in the sky kind of way.
- They can follow Chris Carter’s (retired Vikings football player) lead and send a message about abuse. If you have not seen his passionate emotional response to this story: Watch It Now.
- They can say we will have zero tolerance regarding abuse of another person or animal by an NFL player.
- They can send a message to every little boy who watches these players in awe every week — dreaming that they can become “just like them”.
- The NFL can send a message to every child that they matter and they have the right to not be abused.
- The NFL can send a message to every boy that it is not heroic to hit women.
I am watching anxiously to see what will come of this.
I am watching anxiously to see if this will be the game changer that our children need.