What if we survived in spite of spankings, not because of them?

I saw the photos of Adrian Peterson’s four-year-old son. Those welts on his legs, the spots of blood – that wasn’t a spanking. That was abuse.

From an NBC Sports story about the Minnesota Viking’s latest woes – including an indictment on child abuse charges:

Peterson also allegedly texted the child’s mother that he “felt bad after the fact when I notice the switch was wrapping around hitting I [sic] thigh. . . . Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!”

Adrian PetersonOf course, Peterson is innocent until proven guilty, etc, etc. But there’s this weird mix of regret-braggadacio here, an acknowledgment that he was wrong, but also… Pride? Nerve? Manliness? Because it takes a man to break the skin on his child’s legs in the name of discipline? To beat his son’s genitals?

I was talking about this with friends today and we all had a whupping story. We laughed while telling them –  I recalled the sound of my dad’s belt buckle clinking as he took it off the rack in his closet, how my siblings would practically sit shiva if another was getting spanked, how I was one of those kids who refused to cry, no matter how long the spanking lasted. (Yeah. I was a bad a** from WAY back.)

Say no to the no stick?

As we reminisced with near-fondness over the times that our parents beat us, I was struck by the dissonance of it all. My parents never left marks on us and I don’t think of myself as a victim of parental abuse – but that may be because my experience has made me numb to it. I certainly don’t harbor any ill will toward my mother for chasing me over the side of the bed with the belt. I still chuckle at memories of my brother hanging onto the door frame and my dad pulling him, horizontal at that point, to try to deliver my brother’s punishment. (OK, that ish WAS funny. Sorry, baby bro.)

But how can I laugh about my beatings and in the next breath, be disgusted at what happened to Peterson’s son? These beatings/whuppings/spankings come from the same place – that violence is the most effective means of behavior modification.

I have a niece who is 2. Her mother has given me tappy-tap privileges, either with my hand or the “no stick” (commonly called a wooden spoon). I don’t want this right. Not that my niece doesn’t need disciplining (because she has one more time to sneeze in my face – my mouth was open, for godsakes! – and giggle or try to put a business card in the VCR although I’ve told her 10 times to stop it or swat at her baby brother), but there has to be a better way.

Such as a time-out – which is where I’m going to put The New York Times for 15 minutes for this “will white people know what we’re talking about?” line from this story:

The charges stemmed from Peterson’s disciplining his 4-year-old son in May in Spring, Tex., with a small tree branch, commonly called a switch.

Sigh. Really? (If I wasn’t anti-abuse, I’d be reaching for my no-stick.)

The Washington Post had a good piece about the effects of spanking. (Short version: Spanking is not good.)

Soraya Nadia McDonald writes:

[A] number of studies have shown the long-term damage inflicted by such punishment, including changes in brain chemistry that increase the likelihood of depression, anxiety and antisocial behavior.

…A 2013 study by the University of Wisconsin’s Waisman Center found hormones released when girls are abused could trigger early puberty. Rather than triggering the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol — which is what happened when boys were abused — researchers found that, after regular abuse, girls released oxytocin, a hormone we associate with post-coital and post-natal bonding. But too much cortisol can be just as damaging. Eventually, a body learns to become inured to the stressful situations that trigger its release.

So instead of bearing our spanking stories as a badge of honor, maybe we should consider that we thrived in spite of that abuse, not because of it.

photo credit: Joe Bielawa via photopin cc

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One thought on “What if we survived in spite of spankings, not because of them?

  1. Amen, Wendi. We say things like “look how I turned out” (in spite of being spanked) or “that’s the only thing that kids understand.” What crap! We also survived riding in cars with no seat belts and running behind mosquito trucks that were spraying DDT. Does it mean that those things were beneficial?

    We raised our two kids using time-out techniques and counting (I’m going to count down from three, and if you’ve not done xyz, you will have a time-out). Worked like a charm. Was it easy? No. Were there times that it would have been quicker (and have felt better) to smack their butts? Yes. But what does it teach them? It teaches them that if you are bigger and have more power, it’s okay to use that to make someone do what you want them to do.

    Research consistently shows that punishment does not work as well as reinforcement. We know this. But punishment that takes something away is less harmful to a child than punishment that adds pain or fear. Neither of those things equals respect.

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