If you’re of a certain age and hail from a certain background, it’s likely that you were spanked when you misbehaved. This is what passed for discipline when I was growing up.
While my father’s bark was more than his bite, my mother used whatever was near to make sure we toed the line: her hand, a belt and, to me the worst of all, the lime-green fly swatter she kept on top of the refrigerator. That dang thing grossed me out more than it hurt.
While remembering some of yesteryear’s favored punishments, a few friends shared similar experiences. One mentioned her mother’s chancleta, Cuban slang for flip flops, and shuddered at the memory. I don’t think it was the pain she recalled as much as the threat that accompanied it.
I was not abused. Nor were my four siblings. The occasional red welt disappeared within minutes. My aversion to corporal punishment, however, lasted much longer.
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I never ever considered hitting as the preferred form of teaching my children right from wrong, though I admit to swatting their behinds and pinching their arms on occasion. In the end, other techniques were more effective. My three older ones, now with children of their own, have designated time-out chairs in their homes. Suspending privileges appears to be the favorite way to discipline.
We learn. We progress, generation by generation.
I’m writing about corporal punishment because, suddenly and unfortunately, it has become the topic du jour ever since the now-suspended Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges for disciplining — a euphemism if I ever heard one — his 4-year-old son with a switch.
The evidence made public is both damning and chilling. It shows open cuts and bruises on the pre-schooler’s thighs, back, buttocks, ankles and scrotum. Even the boy’s hands showed open wounds from trying to stop the beating. I can’t conceive of anyone, regardless of religion, race or upbringing, excusing this.
Peterson has tried. He has said the "whooping" was similar to the kind he received as a child. Stories have emerged of his high school coach paddling him and his father whipping him with a belt. Some athletes also have come to his defense, most notably retired basketball player Charles Barkley, who told a TV audience, “Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.’’
I doubt that, but it proves that Peterson supporters are using convoluted logic to explain away a case that clearly crossed the line. They’ve failed to make the distinction between a spanking and a beating, between disciplining and abusing. More important, what our parents did is a ridiculous reason to continue a practice that doesn’t work. If we followed that line of thought, we wouldn’t use seat belts or car seats. We would continue feeding our children sugar-laden cereals and rub whiskey on baby’s swollen gums. We now know better, and that makes all the difference.
Corporal punishment has been repeatedly linked to bullying, mental health issues and physical aggression, yet it still has widespread support in this country, even as pediatricians and other experts recommend against it. A 2012 General Social Survey revealed that 71 percent of Americans “strongly agree or agree’’ that a firm spanking is sometimes necessary in child-rearing. But Peterson did more than spank. He abused.
The Peterson scandal has brought attention to the issue of corporal punishment in the same way the Ray Rice elevator video sparked debate about a similar societal problem. And that’s a good thing. Both cases prove domestic violence is hurtful and abhorrent, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s Rice punching his then-fiancee in an elevator or Peterson beating his child in the privacy of his home.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana