Wednesday, September 17, 2014
In Defense of Adrian Peterson
by Eddie Griffin
I admit that I am confused as to what is child abuse, and at what point does disciplining a child becomes abusive. This is the public debate now surrounding the case of Minnesota NFL running back Adrian Peterson.
When did corporal punishment become a crime? Is this an ex-post facto law applied to Peterson? It used to be that a parent could “warm them buns”, “tan that hide”, or even “take the hide off” a disobedient child, without fear of going to jail. So, who changed the rules of engagement about chastening a child for misbehaving?
If we are going to rewrite the laws, according to contemporary ideals, I guess an old school mother could be charged with “making a terroristic threat” for simply saying “I brought you into the world and I will take you out.” As horrible as it may sound, there was usually no love lost between mother and child.
It is only be a matter of what the state choses to make of it. In the case of Adrian Peterson, they have chosen to move the goal post. What was once lawful and scriptural seems to have now become a crime. Sorry, I didn’t get the memo.
I grew up in the bible belt of Texas, where black parents tried to raise their children according to the scriptures (Proverbs 22:6). It was not uncommon for a parent to discipline a child with a switch for acting up in church. Proverbs 23:13 says: Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beat him with the rod, he shall not die. Another translation says: Don't withhold discipline from a child -if you beat him with a stick, he won't die!
Clearly, this relates to the use of the switch when chastising a child. As someone said, “To not do so is a disservice to the child.” The bible talks about letting a child go undisciplined and uncorrected in Hebrews 12:8.
It seems that child abuse is arbitrarily based upon a perception or misperception of a parent injuring or killing a child. From a child’s vantage point, of course a whipping seems like mama or daddy is going to kill us. Yet the scriptures insist that “he won’t die”? The abuse comes in whenever a parent whips a child out of angry emotions and without compassion. But as my mother used to say before a whipping, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” I never understood how that could be so until I become a parent myself.
Our parents believed that a whipping would instill the fear of God in us. But more dreaded than the fear of the Almighty was fear of papa and to hear mother say, “just wait till your daddy gets home”. That was sure terror, because it meant the punishment would be certain. And we children had the awful chore of finding a suitable switch to furnish papa.
But fathers have limits also, according to the scriptures. He is commanded by God not to provoke their children to wrath (Ephesians 6:4). This means that though he can use corporal punishment for discipline, he is not to go overboard such as to instill within the child hate, anger, and rage. Sadly, many parents do not know where to draw that line.
Self-discipline begins with discipline at home. However, though our desire as parents may be the same in bringing up our children the right way, our methods of discipline are not the same. There is no textbook solution to child rearing. As my mother pointed out to her Child Psychology professor, she was more an expert on the subject than the author of the book, having given birth to six children herself. Each child was different, she insisted. Therefore, each child was treated differently.
One of the things she learned was to “never try to discipline a child while you are angry.” And one more, I might note from my own observation: “A drunken father should never handle the switch.” These things lead to child abuse.
The needs of a child in one family may differ from the needs of a child from another background. One parent may not have to worry about disciplining a 3-year old for picking up beer cans and draining the content, because empty beer cans may not be so prevalent in their neighborhood. But for inner city children, there are a multitude of additional risks, such as teen drinking, drug experimentation, early teen pregnancy, and juvenile crimes. Teaching our children in the inner city neighborhoods to avoid these risks require a much sterner and steady hand, and should not be weakened by shifting mores.
Knowing the greater risks our children must face, we opt not to pamper our children as some do. The bible says that children who go without discipline are not true children of God (Hebrews 12:8). Like 14-year old Ethan Couch who got drunk, got behind the wheel of his parents’ car, and went out and killed 4 innocent people in a car wreck, he could plead not guilty because he suffered from “Affluenza”.
While children with undiagnosed ADHD and autism may be arbitrarily judged competent and punished in school, this little rich kid was pampered all his life. Having never been punished, he did not understand and appreciate the serious consequences for his actions. So, psychology creates this figment disorder called “affluenza” and the courts gave him a slap on the risk.
On the other hand, I was equally appalled and dismayed at a video of a 7-year old black kid who stole his grandmother’s car and went joyriding with another 7-year old. Barely being able to see over the steering wheel, he wound up crashing several cars and destroying property. Afterwards, the child boasted that doing “bad things” was “fun”. His grandmother agonized over what she could do. She would whip his butt, she declared, but “she was afraid of going to jail.” Isn’t this what is happening to all our black parents and grandparents? Because they use whipping as a means of correction, they are portrayed as violent and unloving.
Sadly, one of the commentators recommended the solution to the 7-year old boy’s problem was to put him in juvenile detention. Instead of allowing the parents their traditional means of correcting bad behavior, they would take the power out of the hands of the parents, and use the power of the state to criminalize him, and mar him for the rest of the his life. So the grandmother is left helpless for fear of the law. If and when a black child goes wild, these will be the very same people who ask, “Where are the parents?” Don’t they realize that they have rendered the parents useless and ineffective by their pious judgments and condemnations?
Like Adrian Peterson, I use a switch on my grandchildren, as I used on my son and daughter some 25 years ago. In fact, I carried one in the car at all time and also at church. A gentle tap on the legs reminds them to turn around in church and behave themselves. It is not going to kill them, though they may cry like their little worlds are coming to an end.
Of course, no child likes to be chastened (Hebrews 12:11). Who does? But a child must know that a whipping stings like a bee. The gentle tap on the leg is only a reminder that it could be worse. The end of the teaching is to instill good behavior and right decision making.
Some parents of privileged means seem to think such teachings comes by osmosis. Some might think that taking a little flesh taken off the hide of a four-year old is too harsh. Instead, they would second guess the judgment of the parent (as if they were wiser), and advocate non-corporal means of punishment, such as losing their privileges for a week. This is what happened to the 7-year old who stole his grandmother’s car: No video games for a week.
I have seen this difference in punitive treatment growing up in the 1950s, when a black child could get hide tanned at home, by a neighbor, or at school for wrongdoing. The coach at school used a paddle, and the principal used a strap. Therewith, we learned respect for adults and authority. It was instilled in us like a nail hammered in wood, because we knew the consequence would be painful corporal punishment.
It worked in segregated black schools. But corporal punishment was taken away, and eventually the coach’s paddled was outlawed. In its place came in-house suspensions, expulsions, and criminalization for behavioral offenses. But secretly, we still use the old school method of punishment in the African-American community, because pampering a child only spoils them.
I learned something from my aunt, when she was a housekeeper for a very wealthy family and nanny for their children. She cleaned house, cooked, cared for the kids, and took them to the segregated movie houses or downtown. She was permitted to carry a gun for their protection, but she was never allowed to spank either child.
I saw the same pattern when integration of the schools came along in the 1970s. As long as the teachers, principals, and coaches routinely whipped black children as a means of punishment, it was okay. But after integration there was a clamoring among privileged families to not hit their children. Not only did this take away school officials’ and teachers’ authority and their most effective means of control, it undermined their better judgment.
Therefore, people now ask why there is so much chaos in the classrooms. Why is there so much bullying? Why don’t parents do more to control their children?
The truth is the system has taken the controls out of the parents’ hand. And, those controls are being even more eroded by taking the power of discipline out of the hands of fathers like Adrian Peterson. From the whelps I have seen on the legs of his four-year old son, there are only whelps and broken skin, but no broken bones, black eyes, or fractured skull.
As a loving grandfather, I have left worse marks on the back of a two-year old granddaughter, who decided to run away from home with her three-year old brother, each wearing their backpacks. The two of them made it a mile down a busy highway before a kind motorist spotted them and brought them home.
Grandpa was called in to do the unpleasant task of disciplining them. At first, I went lighter on the 2-year old than the 3-year old. But my granddaughter defiantly went back into street, not once, but twice, showing her intention to disobey. She had no sense of danger, which most kids don’t. Cars were swerving around her to keep from hitting her.
Scolding, timeout, taking her dolls for punishment, and all that was out of the question. I had to insure that this incident was not repeated. So, I whipped her with a switch on her naked back and it made her mama cry. Nevertheless, there is a line a child must not cross, at all cost.
As a grandparent, I can better understand why, during slavery time, black fathers would sometimes intervene on behalf of a disobedient slave son who were about to be lashed by the slave master. The father would plead to whip some sense into the boy himself, rather than let the slave master whip him. Though black people derided this practice which was carried on for centuries, we now realize the father was looking out for the life and wellbeing of the child. His whipping would not kill the child. There was no such empathy on the part of the slave master.
And so it is today. A black father would rather chastise his child, his way, himself, rather than allow a wayward child to fall into the hands of the police, so that the state can punish him for the rest of his life.