Adrian Peterson's Use of Corporal Punishment: Is it Effective Parenting?

November 16th 2014

Lindsay Haskell

Parenting E Card

The recent discovery that Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson beat his 4-year-old son with a tree branch to discipline him - which forced Peterson to take a leave from the NFL and be barred from the team while he deals with the negligent injury to a child charges - brings to light the continuing prevalence of corporal punishment in the U.S. Because Peterson is not the only one out there - in fact, surveys show that roughly 80% of parents use spanking as a means of discipline and, like Peterson, do not believe they're doing anything wrong.

What's wrong with corporal punishment on any level is this: it is inflicting physical pain on a child with no positive outcome. We are often taught that violence is not that answer - or, at the very least, is the last resort - and yet parents themselves negate this lesson by using physical violence against their children for simple misbehaviors. A recent study found that parents used corporal punishment as their first option (waiting a cool 30 seconds into an argument before doling out the punishment) despite the fact that 73% of the time, the child started misbehaving again only 10 minutes later. So basically, the only discernable "benefit" of spanking is that it gives the parent an outlet for their momentary frustration and anger. That's tantamount to saying, "You're making me angry, so I'm going to hit you," which ironically, if said by a child, would most likely result in another spanking.

Not only is corporal punishment not effective, it can actually be harmful to a child. A meta-analysis of 12 studies showed that a child's likelihood of having mental health issues was associated with the frequency and severity of his or her parent's physical punishment. In addition, these children often turned out to be more aggressive and antisocial as adults. Wonder where they learned that aggression is acceptable, eh? On the flip side of that coin, a study of 500 families revealed that a child's behavior problems decreased as his or her parent's use of physical punishment did as well. Thus, while parental punishment is usually viewed as a means to teach a child, all corporal punishment does is instill unfavorable qualities in them (in essence, completing the exact opposite of what a parent desires). With all these remarkable outcomes, why ever would 31 states deem corporal punishment illegal??

But wait...that leaves 19 states where corporal punishment is still legal? That's right folks, 19 states still allow both parents and teachers to hit their kids with paddles when they feel they need to be "disciplined." When there is so much research on how ineffective corporal punishment is and so many resources on other parenting techniques, it is truly mind-boggling how a country so advanced in many ways, could allow this backwards practice to go unchecked.

One of the big obstacles to completing this legislation would be corporal punishment's ties to religion and culture. An analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) discovered that being a conservative Protestant strongly correlated to support for corporal punishment, as well as extrinsic religiosity (religious participation, such as attending church services). This usually is a result of both adherence to Bible passages that fundamentalists believe endorses corporal punishment (fo example, 23: 13-14, which reads "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with a rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from." ) and a reliance on tradition. After all, religion itself is a tradition and religious participation - in the form of holidays and church services - are passed down as customs and beliefs from one generation to another. Thus, often the act of corporal punishment becomes like a religious or family tradition in itself, as is exemplified by Peterson's own defense that his parents' discipline made him the success he is today. But these excuses are not good enough - even if, by chance, the Bible is promoting corporal punishment, does that make it okay? No, it does not. After all, the Bible also holds outdated and reprehensible opinions on issues such as homosexuality and gender equality. And same goes with tradition - both of these excuses boil down to saying, "Well, they did it so I can too," another statement that if voiced by a child, would not be tolerated. 

Ultimately, many will excuse corporal punishment, saying that not everyone uses it in such an aggressive manner as Peterson, so why would we ban corporal punishment altogether? To that, I would argue, with all the leeway that it gives parents to physically abuse their kids and the lack of any evidence showing it's effective, the better question is: why would we not ban corporal punishment?