Separating Culture from the Cycle of Abuse

Separating Culture from the Cycle of Child Abuse

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is under investigation for child abuse after beating his four-year-old son with a switch. The news has sparked a debate about corporal punishment, cultural norms, and when spanking crosses over into abuse.

The Child Center was able to contribute to the dialogue with a column in New York Times’ Motherlode blog, authored by Thomas Meyers, Associate Executive Director of Child Abuse Prevention. In the column, Thomas says that parenting and discipline is considered a private issue in our society—but when parents follow the patterns they learned from their families, it can lead to abuse. We should make best practices as widely discussed and established as any other part of raising kids.

Thomas writes:

As the debate rages over Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charges, his defenders, including Charles Barkley, have suggested that this particular kind of discipline — lashing a child with a switch — is “cultural” and therefore beyond reproach.

When I was a child in the 1970s, my siblings and I were raised largely by my grandmother, after my father died and my mother had to find work. My grandmother was an Italian immigrant, and her approach to disciplining children was thoroughly of the old school. When one of us was misbehaving, she would grab whatever was handy — a wooden spoon, her cane, or most memorably, the hard plastic track from a Hot Wheels race car set — and smack us with it, hard enough to leave welts.

I was reminded of this as I began following the Peterson case. Just as Peterson surely loves his children, my grandmother loved us, and was doing her best to teach us right from wrong. She and everyone she knew had been disciplined that way as children. As far as she knew, that was how children learned. That was her culture.

But as much as I owe my grandmother, I know she was wrong about that.

Read Thomas’ column at The New York Times. 

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