Physical punishment and spanking have been a common parenting technique for decades. Recently, news broke regarding a child abuse allegation against Adrian Peterson, NFL player for the Minnesota Vikings. According to the report by the Huffington Post, Peterson reportedly hit one of his other sons in June 2013 while disciplining him and left a scar over the child’s eye. This news is following a recent indictment by a grand jury in Texas for Injury to a Child.
The attorney for Peterson released the following statement:
“Adrian Peterson has been informed that he was indicted by a grand jury in Montgomery County, Texas for Injury to a Child. The charged conduct involves using a switch to spank his son. This indictment follows Adrian’s full cooperation with authorities who have been looking into this matter. 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. Adrian has never hidden from what happened. He has cooperated fully with authorities and voluntarily testified before the grand jury for several hours. Adrian will address the charges with the same respect and responsiveness he has brought to this inquiry from its beginning. It is important to remember that Adrian never intended to harm his son and deeply regrets the unintentional injury.”
Despite the evidence from years of research on the negative implications of spanking many parents continue to use it as a discipline practice. Spanking and physical punishment are intended to change undesired behavior, but it typically increases aggressive behavior in children. In a 2010 interview, Dr. Alan Kazdin (former president of the American Psychological Association noted that, “Spanking is not a very effective strategy. It does not teach children new behaviors or what to do in place of the problem behavior. It is also not useful in suppressing the problematic behavior beyond the moment.”
Research published in 2013 also supports that spanking is less effective for changing behavior long-term and parental warmth does not appear to negate the negative effects of spanking on child development (see study by Lee, Altschul, & Gershoff published in 2013 in Developmental Psychology). As a clinical child psychologist, I deal with treatment of disruptive behavior and teaching parents effective behavior management techniques. This provides me with an opportunity to hear different perspective on why parents spank. Often times, the reason for using spanking as a discipline practice has to do with the fact Peterson mentioned “using the same kind of discipline they experienced as a child”.
What draws the line between “effective” discipline and physical abuse? According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, physical abuse is injury as a result of punching, beating, hitting (with a hand, strap, or object) or harming a child. Furthermore, abuse does not include spanking or physical discipline as long as it is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child. This exact definition has caused many to contemplate if they should call Child Protective Services (CPS) to report abuse, if there are “no bruises on the child” or no bodily injury. In my view, there needs to be some systematic way to improve the system to not only protect our children but to also prevent parents from continuing to use discipline techniques that may result in them not being in their child’s life.
© 2014 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.
Visit my other blog post for alternative tips to discipline your child. View the page here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-race-good-health/201409/discipline-tips-avoid-spanking-hitting-doesn-t-help
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Dr. Turner is a licensed psychologist with expertise in behavioral pediatrics, child mental health, disruptive behavior disorders, and minority mental health. He is also certified as a National Register Health Service Psychologist.