The Adrian Peterson controversy has given new life to the debate over corporal punishment in America. Peterson’s defense that it was corporal punishment that made him the man he is today added even more life to the debate. Of course, his claim could be taken two ways. Corporal punishment is usually debated from the perspective of spanking children versus applying other non-physical forms of discipline. In this column, I offer my thoughts on corporal punishment, but first it is necessary to dispose of the Adrian Peterson situation because it just muddles the debate.
Let me be clear from the outset, beating a four-year old child with a tree limb may be corporal punishment, but it is not spanking. I am in favor of spankings, if administered properly, but beatings are abuse. This distinction between spankings and beatings is where I part company with those who oppose corporal punishment. If America is going to have a legitimate debate over corporal punishment, all parties to the debate should be clear concerning what they mean by the terms they use.
What are referred to by anti-corporal punishment liberals as spankings are, more often than not, beatings. I have never met an advocate of spankings who would condone beatings. Correspondingly, I have never met an anti-corporal punishment liberal who was willing to acknowledge the distinction between beatings and spankings. Beatings are administered out of anger by adults who have lost control and are violently venting their anger on a helpless child. Spankings, on the other hand, are administered by adults who: 1) take the time to get their emotions under control before giving a spanking, 2) know better than to give a spanking as a response to anger, 3) have a discussion with the child before the spanking is administered so that the reason for the punishment is clearly understood, 4) gives spankings for the purpose of correction not as a means of retribution or venting rage, 5) make sure the duration and severity of the spanking are appropriate to the age and size of the child, and 6) follow up the spanking with reassurances of love and caring.
As a youngster I was never beaten by adults, but I did get a lot of spankings—all of which I deserved. I was subjected to spanking by adults who used two-handed paddles, switches, belts, razor strops, and, once, a piece of garden hose. The spankings hurt—and they were meant to—but they did no permanent damage. In fact, if they had not hurt they would have done me no good. Little boys can be pig-headed, and I was. I probably received more than 50 spankings at school during my elementary and junior high school years, and in spite of what liberal readers of my columns like to claim, I am a perfectly normal, well-adjusted human being. I suffer no lingering psychological or emotional trauma from the well-deserved spankings I received as a child.
When I was a kid, corporal punishment was a normal part of our lives. If we got sent to the principal’s office for some high crime or misdemeanor, we got “licks,” a rather benign term used to describe being wacked with a paddle or some other pain-inducing device. And I mean we were wacked. The principals I came in contact with—no pun intended—as a kid in elementary and junior high school were partial to the two-handed paddle with holes drilled in it. When they made us bend over and touch our toes, we knew we were in for it. My principals swung those aerated paddles like Mickey Mantle swinging for the fence—and we had better not cry. Boys who cried got an extra “lick” tacked on, and if you got caught stuffing magazines down the back of your trousers, the process was repeated with added vigor once the reading material had been removed. Further, when we got home we were spanked again for the unpardonable sin of besmirching our parents’ good name and, on top of that, for putting our poor, over-worked principal to the trouble of having to discipline us.
Fast forward to the present. Corporal punishment and spanking have come to be synonymous terms, when in fact they should not be, at least not if spanking is done properly. The Free Dictionary defines corporal punishment as “Punishment of a physical nature such as caning, flogging, or beating.” Spanking, if done properly, is physical discipline administered out of love or, at least, caring for the purpose of correction and improvement. Spanking qualifies as corporal punishment, but not as abuse provided it is done properly. When it is not done properly a spanking can become a beating, and beatings are a form of abuse.
If anti-corporal punishment liberals would take the time to distinguish between legitimate spankings and abusive beatings, there would be no debate over corporal punishment in America, but such distinctions are not part of the liberal’s makeup. Liberals opposed to punishment believe a child should never be touched out of correction by an adult. To a liberal, the softest pop on the bottom is abuse. If you find this incredulous, just remember that these same liberals think disagreeing with President Obama’s policies qualifies as racism. Don’t try to apply reason or logic to liberal arguments. Doing so will get you nowhere.
Liberals have convinced a broad cross-section of the American population that the Biblical admonition about sparing the rod and spoiling the child no longer applies. To liberals it is somehow better to spoil the child than apply the rod. Because some people turn spankings into beatings, liberals claim that all spankings are beatings. As a result, a lot of young people in America who would benefit from spankings—particularly boys—are growing up to be spoiled, undisciplined, juvenile offenders who, because they were never disciplined as youngsters, believe they will not be disciplined as adults. Our jails are now filled to capacity with men who, if they had been appropriately disciplined as kids, might have avoided the trouble that led to their incarceration as adults.
Speaking from experience, giving a hard-headed young boy like I was in elementary and junior high school time out or detention is a waste of time. Listen to youngsters talk. They view timeout and detention as jokes, but they would not laugh at a couple of well-delivered paddle strokes across their behinds. If young people are going to obey the law, they must first learn to obey the rules at school and at home, and they will not learn to obey rules unless there are consequences for not obeying them. When dealing with people of any age, but particularly with youngsters, there must be consequences for inappropriate behavior and the consequences must be of sufficient magnitude that they will give miscreant youngsters pause before deciding to do the wrong thing.
If you want to see the results of allowing children to grow up believing there are no consequences when they break the rules or behave badly, just look around you. Many of the problems we see in American society today are self-inflicted wounds brought about by a lack of discipline and a lack of respect in young people. In my day, teachers used external discipline to teach us self-discipline. Today’s teachers ignore self-discipline and focus instead on self-esteem. When I was a child, spankings were a common and frequent part of the school day. Unlike today, teachers, coaches, and principals during my public-school years were not only allowed to spank recalcitrant youngsters, they were encouraged to do so, and parents backed them up.
As a result, no matter how big we boys might be compared with the tiniest female teacher, we knew who was in charge and we respected the teacher’s authority. Now, in these more enlightened times when corporal punishment is banned in public schools, there are more than 1,200 teachers assaulted in their classrooms every month by undisciplined students, and many public schools have to be patrolled by armed police officers. Further, the only person who gets in trouble over corporal punishment today is the adult who administers it, not the child who needs it. This is the world liberals have given us.