Should Parents Have a Right to Spank their Children?

NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley defended Adrian Peterson when the Minnesota Vikings running back was charged with child abuse after using a switch to punish his child.  Barkley said black parents in the South “whip” their children.

“Whipping – we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances,” Barkley said to CBS’ “NFL Today” on Sunday.

CBS Houston/AP reports that Barkley continued by saying there is a fine line between spanking and child abuse.  But pictures of Peterson’s child show open cuts and welts, and Barkley had to admit the pictures were “disturbing“.  He added that Peterson admitted to “going overboard”, and said that telling parents how to raise their children is a “very fine line”.

“Obviously, parents are entitled to discipline their children as they see fit, except when that discipline exceeds what the community would say is reasonable,” Montgomery County Prosecutor Phil Grant said about 12 hours after Peterson was booked and released from jail on $15,000 bond. He is charged with causing injury to a child age 14 or younger.

According to an update of the story on CBS Houston/AP  Vikings officials reversed the missing of one game penalty for Peterson, instead choosing to benching him indefinitely.  He faces up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Peterson’s attorney has defended him, saying he “is a loving father, who… used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas”, according to ABC News.

“I run angry. Football allows me to take out some of my pain on the field,” he told USA Today ahead of his 2007 draft.

In an article on CNN Parents by Kelly Wallace, CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career, and life, writes about the cultural, regional, and generational roots of spanking.  Wallace quotes Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who has studied corporal punishment for 15 years.  Gershoff says children who are spanked are more likely to spank their own kids.

“We call that intergenerational transmission because our parents are one of our main examples of how to parent,” said Gershoff, known as one of the leading researchers on spanking. “So parents do what parents did to them and that’s what Adrian Peterson is saying.”

Gershoff’s studies have shown that spanking is more prevalent among African-Americans.  She says that some of the the reason for that could be attributed to the legacy of slavery, but parenting advocate Asadah Kirkland says that some African-Americans believe that using physical force to discipline children is a help to them when they have to face the violence of the wider world.

Spanking is more common in the South, perhaps because families are more likely to have a conservative religious background. Gershoff says that younger parents with lower levels of education and parents from lower income levels are more likely to hit their children.  She says that her research and the studies of other experts are conclusive.

“Spanking does not improve behavior, 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.”

An opinion piece in The News Tribune by William Saletan comes at the story in a different direction.  Saletan says he was not “whipped” by his East Texas parents, but he was paddled in the public schools he attended.  The paddles used had holes in them “for extra velocity and bite”.  He states that he does not remember the reason he was paddled, how many times he was hit, or who actually did the hitting.  He says he just remembers the contempt he felt.  He remembers the punishment, not the crime.  Saletan says that spanking teaches that hitting is acceptable.

He is not saying that Peterson is a monster, but is saying that spanking takes away the importance of any teaching words that might be said before or after the “whipping”.

Matt Wilstein of Mediaite writes that Don Lemon, during a segment concerning Adrian Peterson’s accusations on CNN, said that he was not condoning Peterson’s actions, but he had been on the receiving end of corporal punishment by his parents and at the Catholic school he attended.   His point was that, for many people, what Peterson did to his children is not seen as problematic.