Another Stay At Home Dad that I’m friends with posted a link to a TIME magazine article entitled Time-Outs Are Hurting Your Child, which essentially makes the case for eliminating the use of the popular child-discipline technique of the time-out. You can read the article for yourself by clicking here. That got me to thinking about all of the news over the last month covering Adrian Peterson’s arrest and indictment on child-abuse charges for beating his four year old son with a switch. Peterson has publicly stated that he uses that form of discipline because it’s the same thing he endured as a child growing up in East Texas and that it taught him discipline. Of course, there are plenty of studies that decry the effectiveness of physical punishment. In an article from the American Psychological Association it was noted that
Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children. Americans’ acceptance of physical punishment has declined since the 1960s, yet surveys show that two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.
Interestingly enough, just last week I had a conversation with six other friends about this exact topic. I mentioned that I was spanked as a child and it didn’t cause me to become aggressive, antisocial or develop any other issues mentioned in studies like the one above. Interestingly enough, the five men and one woman in the group also all experienced some form of physical punishment as children and none of them (to my knowledge) had experienced problems related to their punishment. In fact, most shared stories of a parent or teacher or coach who laid down the law in a manner that wouldn’t be tolerated in 2014.
In my house on Quarry Lane my parents had the rod. It was a 2-3 foot long wooden dowel, maybe the diameter of a dime, that sat atop the refrigerator in the kitchen, ominously peeking at us from above. My parents believed in the Bible verse that says
Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (Proverbs 13:24)
When I was a child, I got spanked. Not often. But for the big stuff. Maybe a handful of times my whole childhood. And every single time I deserved it. I learned from it. I stopped the behavior that warranted the spanking and made better choices. I did not become physically aggressive as a result. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m anything but antisocial. But, that flies in the face of the quote above. So, why did that physical punishment not affect me so negatively? I’ve thought about this answer quite a bit, especially over the last month or so since the Peterson story broke. I think it’s because my father, at least when he spanked me (I cannot speak for my three siblings), did it the right way. He never did it out of anger or in the heat of the moment. Instead, what usually happened is that my mom (who was a SAHM) would catch me doing something really bad and I got sent to my room to wait until my dad came home from work. Once he got home my mom would talk to him about what I had done and then he would come get me from my room and we’d go to my parents’ room. Sitting on the edge of the bed my father would instruct me to lay over the flat area of his quads. Before he spanked me he told me a few things. “Carl, I’m doing this because I love you and want to correct (fill in the blank bad behavior) . I know you’re probably not going to understand this until you have children of your own, but spanking you hurts me more than you.” With that he would tell me the number of spanks I would get (usually 5-6) and do the deed. He never pulled my underwear down and he never swatted my bottom more than the number of times he told me. And I never saw him spank me in anger. In fact, after the spankings, while my butt was still sore, I would give him a hug and then go and apologize to my mom or whoever I had wronged. Once that was completed my punishment was over. (Except for the one time that I was grounded for 10 days for making a fire on some rocks so close to the house that some of the aluminum siding was warped. But that’s another story.)
From my spankings I learned a few things. First, I learned that what I had done was wrong and needed to never happen again. I needed to change my behavior. Second, I learned that my parents loved me enough to discipline me to correct my behavior. And third, I learned that I still needed to apologize for my actions after receiving my spankings. I didn’t learn that it was okay to hit other people or be physically aggressive toward them. I didn’t learn that “might makes right”. I didn’t learn that violence was the answer. I wasn’t damaged physically or mentally because of the spankings. But, here’s the thing. Even with my positive experiences with spanking my wife and I chose years ago to not spank our children. She didn’t have such a glowing experience with corporal punishment as a child and I also saw my dad spank my little sister one time the wrong way. She was a toddler and he was spanking her to try to make her stop crying. Obviously, it didn’t work and all it did was send him into further anger. Thankfully, he stopped before taking it any farther, but it was enough to scar/scare me to really question its effectiveness. Obviously, it was his problem and he wasn’t doing it properly. But, I believe it goes to show the slippery slope of physical punishment on children. All it takes is one time where the parent loses it – just for a few moments – and the spankings become beatings and a situation like the one Mr. Peterson is facing.
Please hear me when I say that in no way do I support what Peterson did to his son in beating him so severely with a switch that he left cuts on the boy’s back, arms, neck and testicle. I understand that he had good intentions but he lost it as a father when the discipline transformed into child abuse. He’s a small and very strong man who gets paid millions of dollars to play a violent sport. I’m a tall and very strong (not the same as Peterson, of course) man who gets paid millions of kisses to be a SAHD. Yet, I’ve come to realize that I can discipline my children without spanking (or beating) them. I think that the key to the success of my father’s spanking is the same as my success of not spanking. It’s relationship. Even while being disciplined, I knew that I was loved and could trust my father to not hurt me. Like my father, I’m not perfect. Sometimes I yell at my kids. But I don’t hit them. I love them. I take the time to correct their behavior when needed. We’ve used 1-2-3 Magic Parenting with some success since my oldest was a toddler. She’s now 19. I look at her and my other kids, ages 15, 12, 10, 4 and 1, and note with a great deal of humility and thankfulness that they’re all pretty good people. Sure, they have their moments of sibling conflict, but they’re all pretty polite and kind and helpful most of the time. I love them and I even like them! I’d like to think that being at home with them for the last 14 years has had an impact in shaping them as the individuals they’re becoming today. Helping to guide them through conflict into a place of peace can be difficult. Tiresome. Yet, in the end, it’s worth it. My kids are living proof of it.