Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Spare the rod and spoil the child?: Corporal Punishment and the Adrian Peterson Case

We need to understand the difference between discipline and punishment.  Punishment is what you do to someone; discipline is what you do for someone.

- Zig Ziglar (1926-2012), American author, motivational speaker

If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.

- Albert Einstein

The Adrian Peterson case has certainly stirred up the debate on corporal punishment..  Peterson, 29, is a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League. On Thursday, September 11, 2014, he was indicted by a  grand jury and charged with causing reckless or negligent injury to a child.  On Saturday, September 13, he was freed on $15,000 bail after turning himself in to police in Houston, Texas. Peterson was booked amid allegations that he disciplined his four-year-old son by repeatedly hitting him with a tree branch.  Last May, he allegedly struck the boy approximately ten to 15 times with the branch, causing injuries to the child's back, hand, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum.

Adrian  Peterson

Adrian Peterson apparently told police earlier this year that he cares deeply about his son and that he did not consider himself guilty of wrongdoing.  He said he would never "eliminate whooping my kids . . . because I know how being spanked has helped me in my life."  Peterson's lawyer made the following statement to ESL.com.

He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas," the statement read. "Adrian never intended to harm his son and deeply regrets the unintentional injury.

In the United States, parents in every state are permitted to legally hit their child, provided the force is "reasonable."  Corporal punishment is also permitted in schools in 19 states, including Texas. According to Texas law (Texas' Family Code), child abuse is "an act or omission that endangers or impairs a child's physical, mental or emotional health and development."  The state, however, makes an exception for "reasonable discipline" by the child's parent or guardian.

Here in Canada, criminal law is under the jurisdiction of the federal government and applies to all the provinces and territories.  Under Section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code,

Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada

Section 43 of the Criminal Code( reads as follows:
Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.
The defence of reasonable correction appeared in Canada’s first Criminal Code back in 1892.  The content has remained practically unchanged since that time, the only update being the removal of "masters" and "apprentices" from among the relationships covered by the defence.

The controversial law remains despite challenges from the Senate, the House of Commons and the Supreme Court.  Sadly, as a result, Canada continues to be one of the few developed countries in the world that officially condones corporal punishment.  In September of 2012, the Canadian Medical Association Journal called for the repeal of Section Section 43.  Its editor-in-chief, John Fletcher, wrote: "To have a specific code excusing parents is to suggest that assault is a normal and accepted part of bringing up children."  He also referred to Section 43 as a "constant excuse for parents to cling to an ineffective method of child discipline."

The CMA's editorial was prompted in part by a February 2012 study that looked into 20 years of research on corporal punishment and its effects.  The study found that spanked children are more likely to become antagonistic  and aggressive adults, more prone to antisocial behaviour.  Despite such findings, both social and economic conservatives continue to support corporal punishment. Social conservatives support the practice because, as Dave Quist, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada put it, "There is a distinct difference between assault and discipline,” He and other social conservatives it consider it a necessary, although increasingly less popular, means of disciplining a child.

Social conservatives are fond of quoting the old axiom about sparing the rod and spoiling the child. Right-wing religious fundamentalists are strongly influenced by the biblical adage: "He that spareth the rod, hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." (King James Version of the Bible, Book of Proverbs 13:24).  Note: The old adage is probably derived from a 17th century poem by Samuel Butler called Hudibras.  In the poem, a love affair is compared to a child, and spanking is lauded as a means of strengthening the love. The actual verse reads as follows:
"What medicine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets styled
Then spare the rod and spoil the child."

Conservatives tend to believe that parents, not government, know best how to raise their children. They consider it the duty of parent, not the state. to decide how children should be disciplined, as long as it is reasonable.  Therein lies the rub.  How does one define the word "reasonable" and how can one ensure that spanking remains within reasonable limits?  Where does one draw the line between "spanking" and "child abuse?"  If the state doesn't protect children from abuse, who will?

Although Canada holds strict guidelines on what constitutes a legal spank (The child must be between two and 12 years of age, the blows may only be administered with an open palm and the force used must be “transitory and trifling in nature), there is no way those guidelines can be truly enforced or monitored.  Furthermore, they do not prevent a child from receiving unintentional injuries from parents who become extremely angry and go overboard in their attempts to punish a child.

Shouldn't society have some role in protecting children from abuse before it happens?  In some instances, parents don't intend to abuse their children, but they get carried away or overwhelmed by frustration, stress and anger.  If corporal punishment were outlawed, there would fewer occurrences of child abuse due to parents losing control.  There would be fewer adults perpetuating the attitude of parents who spanked them.

If the allegations against Adrian Peterson are true, then he is guilty of child abuse.  No matter what his intentions, if he caused physical harm to his son, his method of "discipline' was utterly reprehensible and disgusting, to say the least.  Opponents of corporal punishment do not deny that children require discipline.  However, there are many other methods of discipline that are effective and do not result in children being beaten and bruised and frightened of their parents.

It is unfortunate that former basketball star, Charles Barkley, defended Peterson in a recent interview with Jim Rome for CBS Sports' The NFL Today.  Barkley, who hails from Leeds, Alabama stated: "Every black parent in my neighbourhood in the South would be in trouble or in jail under those circumstances. . . . As far as being from the South, we all spanked our kids. I got spanked, me and my two brothers."  It would have been more helpful if Sir Charles had criticized such conduct and called for a a change of attitude, an end to such behaviour in the southern states.  "I'm a good ol' Texas boy and my daddy spanked me" is not an acceptable justification for hitting a child.

Corporal punishment is archaic and should not be tolerated.  It is a 17th century method of discipline that has no place in the 21st century.  It should be outlawed.  It should be taboo.  It is unacceptable PERIOD.  That is why the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) proposes that all states implement a law prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment in schools, private and public institutions, the juvenile justice system, the alternative care system and the home.

- Joanne

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