Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted for the crime of child abuse. He used a “switch” to cause bodily harm to his four-year-old son. He grabbed a tree branch, removed the leaves and struck the boy repeatedly. This caused cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to the child’s hands.
His son’s crime was pushing another one of Peterson’s children while they were playing a video game. Peterson said that he was “just trying to discipline the boy,” and intended to spank him, the same way that he was spanked as a child, and wanted to give the boy a whooping that he will remember.
Let’s define our terms here. Corporal punishment is defined as the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain but not injury for the purpose of correction or control of the child’s behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics considers spanking with an open hand to be acceptable. It becomes unacceptable if it involves use of an object, such as a switch, and extends beyond the buttocks, is conducted out of anger, or results in injury. By this definition, Peterson’s behavior went beyond spanking and was an unacceptable display of abuse.
His lawyer said that Peterson regrets the “unintentional” injury to his son. Was it unintentional that he grabbed a tree branch to strike his son? His use of denial and minimization suggests that he has not accepted full responsibility for his wrong doing, and his regret is premature and insincere.
In his self defense, he said that he used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas. Why would someone who had been the victim of abuse, become an abuser? Perhaps this kind of discipline was justified within the family, no one intervened to stopped the beatings, and some of his peers also experienced a switch.
It has been estimated that as many as 30 percent of child abuse victims go on to abuse their own children. This cycle of abuse can occur when children who either experienced abuse or witnessed violence between their parents learn to use physical punishment as a means of parenting their own children. These children come to believe that it is their right to exert power and control over others and that it is beneficial to do so.
So how do we stop the cycle of abuse? The first step is to face the truth about abusive experiences. Just because your parents used corporal punishment does not mean it was reasonable or justified. We need to stop denial and accept responsibility.
The second step is to look within. Rather than focus on your child’s misbehavior, look to your own poor behavior. Examine your own coping strategies, frustration tolerance, and anger management choices.
Finally, break the cycle of abuse by creating safe, stable, nurturing relationships within your love relationships and between yourself and your children.