Palma: A fine line between discipline and abuse

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse in September after using a switch to spank his son. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault and had to pay a fine and partake in community service. Although the regulations for spanking vary, it is legal in every state. Peterson thought that his behavior was acceptable parenting––he allegedly sent a text message to his wife saying, “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, ‘Hey daddy has [t]he biggest heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.’” This begs the question: should parents be able to spank their children at all?

I believe that spanking is an effective form of punishment for children when it’s used in the right way. Peterson, however, went too far in the discipline of his child. Spanking should not result in physical harm to a child and an instrument other than an open hand should not be used. The level of force is harder to control when an object other than a hand is used and can result in an irrational fear of that object later in life.

There are multiple opinions when it comes to the effectiveness of spanking. Some people suggest that spanking results in more violent behavior from children. A 2005 study published in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review revealed, however, that spanking––when used correctly––resulted in “lower defiance and lower aggression than 10 or 13 other disciplinary alternatives with which it has been compared.”

There are many people who view spanking as a barbaric form of punishment, yet spanking follows accepted psychological methods. It can be used as a form of classic conditioning to create a negative response to unacceptable behavior. When a child does something that is not acceptable and is spanked, he or she will associate the minor pain with that unacceptable behavior. Since the body is programmed to avoid pain, the child will avoid the negative actions that they are conditioned against.

Spanking should be used in conjunction with other forms of punishment so that children can learn what they’re doing wrong and can make more educated decisions regarding their own behavior.

Spanking can quickly turn into abuse if performed incorrectly. It should not actually harm the child beyond a temporary sensation of pain. Cuts and welts can be traumatic and should result in legal action against the parent to evaluate their actions.

Spanking should not be the only form of punishment, however. Children need to see that violence is not the only solution to problems, especially as they become older and are more aware of their behavior. As a child gets older, the conditioning aspect will be less effective because they are better able to understand their actions. Spanking is legal because it is effective, but it should still be handled with care.