Adrian Peterson: When disciplining your child becomes abuse

Football player Adrian Peterson's child-abuse case reignites the debate on corporal punishment.

Adrian-Peterson-spanking-child Photo: Landmark/PR Photos

When NFL running back Adrian Peterson disciplined his four-year-old son with a “switch” (a tree branch without leaves) hard enough to leave visible injuries, he was, he says, doing it out of love.

The athlete is now facing felony injury charges in the US for his brutal form of "love." His story has reignited the debate over spanking in the North America. Peterson claims he didn’t intend to hurt his son, and instinctively turned to the same discipline tactics that were used on him as a child. But isn’t that what spanking is? Hurting your child so that they learn a lesson?

Peterson, and other parents who spank their kids, may say they do it out of love. But this scares me even more than the people who admit they swat their kids when they're angry or scared. The danger of associating love with pain—or any kind of physical aggression—is a foreign notion to me.

Doctor’s organizations in both the US and Canada have argued that spanking is detrimental to the physical and mental health of children. The editor of the Canadian Medical Journal called spanking an “anachronistic excuse for poor parenting” and has called on the federal government to make it illegal.


Canadian parents are legally allowed to spank their children if they are between the ages of two and 12, but the use of an object is not allowed. The US has a slightly different stance on corporal punishment—different states have different laws, which leaves a legal grey area. The US is only one of three countries who will not sign the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child because of the fear that it will outlaw spanking. However, the support for spanking in the US is diminishing, according to the statisticians at The amount of people who are pro-spanking has slipped from 84 percent in 1986 to about 70 percent in 2010 and 2012. They also found stark regional and racial differences in those who supports spanking.

I’m shocked that there are still people in North America who think spanking is an acceptable form of punishment. Some believe that children today are not as disciplined as past generations, and that spanking may be the missing link between kids’ good and bad behaviour. However, this stance goes against almost every study conducted on spanking—it's been found to lower a child's IQ , increase aggression and can be related to mood disorders later in life.

Most parents don’t have a “switch” like Adrian Peterson, or leave their kids' bodies covered in cuts and bruises. Most parents never cross that line. But is spanking a child by hand ever OK?

People have said to me: “It's how I was raised, and I turned out fine.” But is that a legitimate enough reason to hold onto an outdated punishment tactic? Just because you made it to adulthood without wearing a seat belt, would you let your kids sit in your car without buckling up? Times have changed.


Read the article Brandy Zadrozny wrote for the Daily Beast. She shares how the Peterson case has changed her mind with regards to corporal punishment. She was spanked as a child, and has spanked her own kids. But now she sees that there is a fine line between spanking and abuse.

Peterson, who has been suspended by his Minnesota Vikings football team, released the following statement on social media about the incident: "I am not a perfect parent. But I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser." He added: "Regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much, and I will continue to try to become a better father and person."

If he is convicted of the felony charge, Peterson could face up to two years in prison. I have no doubt that Peterson loves his son. I'm sure he's doing the best he can as a father. But is that an excuse for his actions?

The debate over spanking will continue long after we have moved past the incident with Peterson. Now it's time for us to take a step back and figure out where we each stand on the issue of corporal punishment.


Where do you stand on spanking?

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

This article was originally published on Sep 19, 2014

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