"NFL running back Adrian Peterson’s recent arrest for allegedly abusing his 4-year-old son has once again sparked the debate over whether spanking is an appropriate form of discipline. Though some contend any form of physical correction equates to child abuse, there is a giant chasm between a mild spanking properly administered out of love and an out-of-control adult venting their emotions by physically abusing a child.
Parents have been entrusted with the incredible privilege and responsibility of shaping their children’s behavior in a positive direction. Unfortunately, each of us enters this world with desires that are selfish, unkind, and harmful to others and ourselves. Spanking, then, can be one effective discipline option among several in a parents’ tool chest as they seek to steer their children away from negative behaviors and guide them toward ultimately becoming responsible, healthy, happy adults.
It is vital, however, that spanking be administered within proper guidelines. The reports about the punishment meted out by Peterson to his son, and the consequent injuries his son suffered, indicate his behavior on that occasion was far outside those boundaries. These kinds of experiences are why this whole issue is fraught with controversy.
Generally speaking, corporal discipline should only be applied in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority—never for mere childish irresponsibility. And it should never be administered harshly, impulsively, or with the potential to cause physical harm. Along those lines, parents who have a hard time controlling their temper to choose alternative forms of discipline. There is never an excuse to abuse a child.
For parents who do choose to spank, the proper philosophy and approach is extremely important. To begin with, as with all forms of correction, the concepts of punishment and discipline are absolute opposites. Punishment is motivated by anger, focuses on the past, and results in either compliance (due to fear) or rebellion and feelings of shame, guilt and/or hostility. On the other hand, discipline is motivated by love for the child, focuses on the future, and results in obedience and feelings of security.
The term discipline derives from the root word “disciple” which means “to teach.” Parents have an ongoing opportunity and responsibility to teach our children how to love well and live life as effectively and healthfully as possible. What we want children to understand is that the gentle sting of a spanking is connected to the greater and often long-term pain of harmful choices. Simply put, prevention is easier than cure.
A child should always receive a clear warning before any offense that might merit a spanking and understand why they are receiving this disciplinary action. If he or she deliberately disobeys, the child should be informed of the upcoming spanking and escorted to a private area. The spanking should be lovingly administered in a clear and consistent manner. Afterward, the lesson should be gently reiterated so that the child understands and learns from this teachable experience.
Many parents view themselves primarily as their child’s friend and recoil at the idea of administering discipline. Children, though, desperately need their parents’ love and affirmation as well as their authoritative guidance and correction. Disciplining our kids is part of the tough work of parenting, but it will pay big dividends in the long run.
The author of the Bible’s book of Hebrews writes, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, HCSB). So spanking, when used judiciously, appropriately, and in combination with other disciplinary techniques, can be a helpful part of training our children.
Peterson has apologized for his behavior and expressed his desire to be a good father to his son, to, in his words, “teach my son right from wrong.” I earnestly hope he has learned from this serious mistake, and I wish him well in his desire to be a good father.
Parenting is a hard job. None of us do it perfectly. And none of our kids come with an instruction manual attached. But our children need us to do it to the best of our ability, with all the wisdom, love, gentleness and strength we can muster. We won’t go wrong if we exercise a firm and consistent hand with a soft and loving heart."
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