One of the most controversial topics among parents is the physical punishment of children. My position is clear and unambiguous: any physical discipline of children is a form of abuse.
Most recently we had the case of Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, who “whipped” his son and was charged with felony abuse of a child. It turns out he beat his other, younger son, as well. Child care expert, Charles Barkley, then opined that whipping kids was a black Southern thing and ended up offending other African-Americans and defending the indefensible at the same time. But that’s Charles.
Of course, adults have a way of rationalizing all of their sick behaviors, including beating and humiliating their own children. Several have taken the time to write and defend spanking, hitting, physical abuse. The excuses all fall into certain categories:
“I was spanked and haven’t murdered anyone (yet), so it’s OK to beat my kids.”
“Children need discipline and if it takes a spanking to get their attention, so be it.”
“Spanking really doesn’t do any harm. My children were spanked and they are all good, productive members of society.”
“Spanking has nothing to do with me and my need to control things. I do it for the children.”
“There’s no permanent damage, physically or psychologically, so what’s the big deal?”
Well, for those of you who are fans of corporal punishment, there’s a true story from North Carolina about a mother and father who thought they were doing the right thing. Their 13 year-old was not behaving the way they wanted so they tied him to a tree to spend the night. No doubt the father and stepmother expected a change in perspective in their errant child. Instead, they ended up with a corpse and murder and felony child abuse charges.
According to an Associated Press report:
A 13-year-old left tied to a tree as punishment for 18 hours in June had been badly beaten and likely died from dehydration and heat stroke, an autopsy report showed. The report also says Tyler McMillan’s body was covered with insect bites and he had bruises caused by a rod-like instrument and flesh missing from his buttocks. Marks on his wrists and ankles show he may have been restrained with plastic ties. Authorities say Tyler McMillan’s parents found him unresponsive after he had been tied to a tree overnight as punishment. His father, Brice McMillan, and stepmother, Sandra McMillan, (were) charged with murder and felony child abuse.
The report says Tyler McMillan’s body temperature was 105.6 degrees when he arrived at the hospital. Brice McMillan told a deputy the teen was tied to a tree and forced to sleep outside on June 10 because he was being disobedient. Tyler McMillan was released the next morning, but again tied up that night for bad behavior.
You can read the AP story here.
I know that most of the parents who abuse their children by spanking, hitting, and humiliating them will proclaim that their behavior has nothing in common with what happened to this teen. Let me ask: Do you think the parents in this case thought of themselves as abusers? Killers?
Of course not!
They thought they were doing the right thing and were acting in the best interests of the child. And so, most parents who hit their kids deny any long term consequences and always excuse what they do for the reasons I listed above. I was astonished and disheartened by the number of parents who wrote comments on the Internet supporting this form of child abuse.
But once you act violently towards your children, you have crossed the line from parent to abuser, from someone focused on helping your child become a self-sufficient, mentally and physically healthy adult, to a tyrant who thinks he has a right to impose his self-will over another, helpless being. Once you believe you have that right — and that God-given duty — you can easily convince yourself that you have the right to hit harder, more often, more painfully, more destructively.
From there, the path from a “gentle spanking” to murder and felony child abuse charges is a lot shorter than you think.
What people don’t understand is that we teach our children violence by acting violently around them.
Which brings me to Chelsea Clinton. I know it is hard to imagine someone famous for her compassion hitting her child, but given our social values, or lack thereof, would it be surprising if she did spank Charlotte? Has she said what approach to discipline she intends to use? What do Grandma Clinton and Grandpa Clinton have to say about this?
PS For one of the most astounding books on the effects of physical discipline on children (and the hidden reasons why adults physically punish children), I strongly recommend For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence
by Alice Miller. I’ve created a link to the book on Amazon.com.