Adrian Peterson was right to spank, wrong to break the skin.
The star running back for the Minnesota Vikings is in trouble with the law and with the NFL for spanking his son with a switch, spanking him hard enough on the back of the legs to break the skin. There are photographs of the scabs that formed on the places where Peterson hit his son hard enough to cause bleeding.
In the mad rush to hang Peterson from the nearest tree and further criminalize parenting, we will hear voices arguing that spanking itself is a form of child abuse. It isn’t.
In fact, the Bible indicates it is a form of child abuse to withhold corporal punishment when a child needs it. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24).
In other words, parents should never say to a child, “I love you, but I’m going to have to spank you.” They should say, “Because I love you, I must spank you. I love you too much not to correct you when you need it.”
The purpose of discipline is to turn a child into an adult, who develops the capacity to make intelligent, mature, life-affirming choices because he has learned that making foolish, unwise and disobedient choices only brings pain. That’s the way life works. The purpose of spanking in the life of a child is for him to connect disobedience with pain. He learns that sin is costly.
This is why spanking should only be administered in cases of willful disobedience and not in cases of childish immaturity or accidents.
Spanking is necessary because every child is a fallen, sinful, self-directed creature by birth. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,” says Solomon in Proverbs 22:15, “but the rod drives it far from him.”
The writer of Proverbs, you will note, refers to a “rod” rather than to the parent’s hand. This may be so the child associates discipline with an object rather than the hand of his parent. Thus the parents’ hands are only extended to the child to comfort or to help.
Many parents have discovered that a wooden spoon works wonders. Applied to the bare bottom of a misbehaving child, it smarts, it stings, but it does not wound or bruise or break the skin. And trust me, kids get the point.
But corporal punishment must be measured and controlled. It’s purpose is not to wound but to correct. Properly administered, it is a necessary and important part of raising a child to maturity.
When we spanked our young children (up to about the age of 8 or so), we first had them explain to us exactly why they were being spanked and verbally acknowledge what standard they had disobeyed. This was so they would know the spanking was for disobedience, not because we were ticked off. We spanked them five times in rapid succession on a bare bottom. Thus, discipline was restrained and controlled. It’s never right for a parent simply to haul off and start whaling on a child.
We also had a rule that the parent who administered the discipline was also the parent who supplied the comfort. Some of our tenderest moments with our children came when they sank into our chests for comfort after a needed spanking. Their will had been broken but not their spirit.
Peterson’s problem is not that he spanked his child, but that he went too far. Let’s hope in dealing out discipline to Adrian Peterson, civil authorities and the Vikings don’t make the same mistake.