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on Leading the Next Generation


The NFL’s Position: Is It Discipline or Violence?

It appears the NFL is in hot water again. This time it’s another form of domestic abuse. One of their sponsors—Anheuser Busch, the parent company of the official beer of the NFL—issued a strong statement expressing its displeasure over how the league has responded to its players being connected to incidents of domestic violence and child abuse.

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season,” a representative for Anheuser-Busch said in a statement. “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”

Visa, McDonald’s and Campbell Soup Co. said they’ve also voiced similar concerns to the league. It just seems “dark” for athletes who play such a violent sport to be using corporal punishment with their children. This response came on the heels of the Minnesota Vikings’ banner sponsor Radisson suspending its sponsorship deal with the team, shortly after the Vikings said they would play Adrian Peterson (who has been indicted on a child-abuse charge).

It’s Not All as It Seems…

photo credit: Joe Bielawa via photopin cc

photo credit: Joe Bielawa via photopin cc

Let me say the obvious: Any emotionally healthy person agrees that domestic violence or abuse is unacceptable. However, I gotta wonder if everyone’s getting on the bandwagon for the right reasons. You know the story, right? Adrian Peterson allegedly beat his son after he behaved inappropriately. As I listened to the details of the Adrian Peterson case, I saw another side to the issue with his son. In fact, Peterson began to talk about his childhood and the role of discipline and corporal punishment from his father. Peterson said:

“Discipline like I gave my son made me the football player I am today. I have always believed I could have been one of those kids lost on the streets unless my parents provided discipline like this.”

Interestingly, Reggie Bush came to his defense saying he’d done the same thing to his daughter. Bush claims the severe discipline Peterson meted out to his son was similar to what he experienced as a child. So do millions of parents, especially in certain demographics. Now, fasten your seatbelts—here’s the clincher.

In their book, NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman describe some extensive cross-ethnic and international research on corporal punishment by Drs. Jennifer Lansford and Ken Dodge. Their data suggested that if a culture views spanking as the normal consequence for bad behavior, kids aren’t damaged by its occasional use. In other words, many middle-class white families have believed that spanking is bad for kids and makes them more violent as adults. For decades, research on spanking was challenged by the lack of a control group to compare against — almost all kids (90+%) had been spanked at least once at some time in their early lives. New research shows that now up to 25% of kids are never spanked, so it’s a fair question: How are they turning out? Are they turning out better?

Surprisingly, they’re not. In fact, studies done on African-Americans, for example, demonstrate that spanking actually helps improve behavior as the children become teens. To summarize the research simply: In a culture where spanking is normal in response to poor behavior, it helps. However, when spanking is done by an adult who’s tried desperately to refrain but finally gives in, the spanking is usually administered in absolute anger and retribution. This causes unhealthy young adults.

What Do You Think About Discipline?

So—maybe, just maybe, the issue is bigger than child abuse. Adrian Peterson, and all caring adults, must ask themselves: Is the discipline I give to young people given in hopes that they improve on their conduct, or is it simply an angry reaction? Whatever my level of discipline, am I consistent with my young people?

I talk to coaches all the time who are divided on this topic. Some are old school and see kids today as wimps. Kids can’t take any harsh feedback, they wilt under stern discipline or conditioning, and you can forget about criticism. It crushes them. And then mom or dad gets involved as “snowplow” parents.

Other coaches are more progressive and believe no physical punishment should be given. They recognize it as abuse or violence and believe it’s inappropriate for students of any age. Instead, they seek other ways to correct and guide adolescent athletes. For example, “time out” (in various versions) has become a popular alternative to corporal punishment. However, new studies show that an angry kid sent to a corner to be silent doesn’t ponder and reflect on the wisdom of their misbehavior. They just get more upset and often violent. So the studies suggest adults try “Time In” instead of “Time Out.” This means, sit down and talk the issue over with your kid. Get them to reflect on what they’ve done.

This sounds great on paper, but I believe one of two results will happen most often. First, many kids are just not in a frame of mind to talk common sense in that moment. Second, some kids will misbehave simply because they want attention from the adult. This discipline actually fosters bad behavior. So let’s talk about what really works as we discipline young people.

I want to provide a platform to discuss this topic:

  • Is it ever appropriate to physically discipline a young person?
  • Can students learn to self-regulate without some corporal punishment?
  • Where is the line between “abuse” and “discipline” with students?
  • If Adrian Peterson was doing what he felt was normal, because he cares about the “future of his son… is he wrong? Is the key “consistency”?
  • How can adults help youth become the best version of themselves?

As a dad, I acknowledge that I did spank my children when they were young. By the time they reached fourth grade, I felt I could move to a different style of discipline, where I consistently talked over life’s equations and how every choice my kids made included a consequence or a benefit. It was up to them to live with it.

What do you think about this issue?


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  1. proud momma on September 30, 2014 at 6:42 am

    Being a mother of a young boy I personally feel that discipline in the form of a spanking is good for his development…having received them myself has taught me how to do the right thing and be a better person… What Adrian Peterson did might have seemed a little extreme but his intentions was never to harm his Son he was only trying to make him understand right and wrong… When the child grows up and does wrong people are so quick to blame parenting or an absentee father yet when the father is there front n center we want to bash his techniques. Let’s focus on the kids who are abused everyday and the women who are in domestic abuse situations everyday and get off the bandwagon of these athletes who paid their dues. TheNFL wants to save face rather than stand behind these men and helping them.

    • Kevin Geary on October 1, 2014 at 4:37 pm

      If you think hitting a defenseless human is good for their development, you’ve got a lot of additional thinking and consideration to do.

  2. Sarah McBroom on September 30, 2014 at 7:27 am

    We spanked both of our kids when they were younger. By the time they were in upper elementary it was no longer needed. Today they are strong healthy adult young women who are making it on their own. There is a difference between spanking and abuse. The Bible tells us to spare the rod and spoil the child. We have certainly spared the rod and now our children and young adults are spoiled and think they are entitled. It is NEVER OK for a man to hit a woman or vice versa. There is no need for that.

    I think that human services needs to focus on the real abuse and domestic violence issues. They are too quick to jump in where they are not needed.

    • Kevin Geary on October 1, 2014 at 4:37 pm

      It was never needed. Being “necessary” is a story you tell yourself. Language is important, so I can’t let that go unsaid.

  3. Michele P on September 30, 2014 at 9:14 am

    There is just as much difference between spanking and hitting or abuse as there is between talking and screaming. Spanking can be a very effective tool for discipline of young children if used wisely, appropriately and effectually with restraint. A proper spanking is administered with forethought when other forms of discipline are not appropriate for the situation, in a controlled manner not driven by anger or retribution, and for the purpose of correcting defiant behavior and addressing the issues of the heart that precipitated that behavior. I believe a spanking should be preceded by reflection by the parent – separate yourself from your child and ask yourself, ‘What is the best course of action to take right now in this given situation? How will it affect my child if I do A, B, or C (all your disciplinary options)? What will be the long-term effect if I don’t do A, B, or C? What am I teaching him? How will this shape his character?’ This reflection gives the parent time to analyze the situation and settle his own emotions. Depending on the age of the child, a spanking also needs to be preceded by a discussion over what went wrong and why she is getting spanked and followed by affirmation of her as a valuable person and of your love and your commitment to help her develop into a responsible adult of strong character. When done properly, for most children, spanking will be a rare occurrence and the child will usually choose obedience before it results in a spanking because they’ll want to avoid this consequence. When done consistently (not threatened and never followed through), the child will learn that you mean what you say and typically there will be no need for spanking beyond the age of 4 or 5. This has been my experience as a parent of 3 (now mature, responsible, respectful and respectable adults at 29, 27, 22 with whom I have great relationships), and I’ve seen other parents have the same effectiveness with spanking. I’ve seen it fail miserably, however, for parents who react with a spanking in anger (which I consider to be hitting, not spanking) or who constantly warn of discipline and never carry through on their word. In effect, they train their children not to obey until the 10th time when they explode in anger. My daughter, who is now raising two boys, uses spanking as one of her disciplinary tools when appropriate and she’s doing a great job.

    • Kevin Geary on October 1, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      “A proper spanking is administered with forethought when other forms of discipline are not appropriate for the situation, in a controlled manner not driven by anger or retribution, and for the purpose of correcting defiant behavior and addressing the issues of the heart that precipitated that behavior.”

      This is comical. First, 99% of the time, this doesn’t happen. In the 1% that it does, it’s phenomenally disgusting that a CALM parent would strike a defenseless child. At least if you’re angry you have the excuse of not being able to control yourself. Using physical violence in a calm situation is so emotionally disconnected it’s disgusting.

      The average parent spanks 936 times per year, starting as young as 6 months old. You want to make the case that spanking is effective? If it were effective, parents wouldn’t hit their kids 936 times per year for years on end. That’s called SYMPTOM #1 that your plan sucks.

  4. Patrick Washington on September 30, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Great article Tim. I’m glad you raised the question about the distinction between discipline and abuse. I believe in corporal punishment with some caveats: Model what you teach; Be consistent in your teaching, training and disciplining; Age appropriate discipline; Realize that each child is unique and discipline is not a one size fits all in terms of the mechanics of discipline; Maximize teaching moments when discipline is not involved. Spend quality and quantity time with your children. Never discipline when you’re angry and acknowledge to your children that you are unhappy with the unacceptable behavior without always waiting until you feel your only option is to yell and scream and become violent. You should not create fear of you but rather re3spect for you as a parent. Don’t allow the children to play off the parents, parents need to be on the same page and supportive of one another. When a parent says ask your mother or your father the other spouse needs to be intuitive enough to know that the .other parent is typically not in agreement with the request or the behavior and you need to stand united with them on the issue. I’m assuming that the foregoing behavior is not a habitual pattern designed to make the other parent be the “bad cop”

  5. Parenting is hard on September 30, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    I believe that discipline in the form of spanking is an appropriate form of punishment. I try to always remove the emotion first so I am not spanking when angry, sometimes the spanking has to wait until dad gets home. We have three
    very strong willed children and there are times where the only form of discipline that gets their attention is spanking, we always follow the spanking with a loving discussion on the why’s and hows of their behavior and what we expect next time and what choice they could have made instead. My husband is a coach and has also noticed that children these days can not handle any sort of criticism and that many parents will not tolerate any form of criticism of their child or discipline. I believe we are harming our children more by not disciplining them. The real world will not be kind to them and only have nice words to say. Building up a false sense of confidence is not helping them but hurting them. Confidence comes from the child doing something until he gets it right, the feeling of a job well done is one our children should experience often, however this usually takes work and effort. Don’t take this away from them We can be firm and loving at the same time.

  6. Kevin Geary on October 1, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    It’s unfortunate that you haven’t really considered this yet. It doesn’t really matter what the research claims to say about damage/no damage. Spanking can’t make it passed the hypocrisy test (you can’t spank your spouse and EVERY parent claims to teach “hitting is wrong”). It can’t make it passed the efficacy test (it’s absolutely not effective at anything other than degrading the relationship between parent and child). It can’t make it passed the love test (you don’t hit people you love). It’s certainly not necessary. It can’t make it passed the non-aggression-principle test (parents who claim they spank out of love and not frustration/anger/pain/etc. are intellectually and emotionally dishonest — all spanking is an act of aggression).

    Decades from now, hitting children will be the equivalent of hitting women, having slaves, and similar other barbaric social injustices. I’d hate to see you stay on the wrong side of this issue.

    • Michael Popp on October 1, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Kevin, I read this and your reply to a few other posts and I understand we all are coming from different experiences growing up. I’m curious if you were spanked or abused as a child. You are obviously very against any form of physical discipline and I assume either you were never touched and came out just fine or you were abused. I’m not telling you that you are wrong. You obviously feel very passionate about this. But please note, we all are coming from different experiences and all children are different, even from the same family. There is no one-size fits all discipline model.

      The other night my 12-year-old said something very disrespectful to his mom. I popped him on the mouth and reminded him he is never to speak to any adult, much less my wife, like that. When addressing him later, he said, “Dad, you hit me.” I said, “no son… if I hit you, I would have followed through and would have had to pick you up off the floor. I popped you on the mouth to get your attention so you would realize you were speaking inappropriately.” We went on to have a good talk about it and how he should handle himself in the future in that kind of situation. There was shock, but no pain in my backhand. Kids act up and I’m sure there were a lot of things I could have said at that point, but would my son have realized he was in the wrong? Would sending him to his room helped? I guess that’s open for debate, but as one who has a smart mouth that was popped often (and the reason my son also has a smart mouth), I tend to know what I needed and am hoping to help my son learn to control his tongue as well.

      Just my two cents… Have a blessed one, MP

      • Kevin Geary on October 1, 2014 at 10:03 pm

        The good thing about having principles and ethics is that they’re not situational.

        “please note, we all are coming from different experiences and all children are different, even from the same family. There is no one-size fits all discipline model.”

        This doesn’t have much to do with my comments. Of course, all children are different and must be handled differently. But there are certain principles and ethics that must be respected. I could never say to you, “please understand that all wives are different…there’s no one-size-fits-all discipline model.”

        Could I? Could I say that? No. Hitting women is not legitimate, regardless of individuality. One day, we’ll understand as a society, the gravity of not extending that respect to children.

        I was spanked, not abused (how you would define that). I don’t fit into either of the circumstances you hypothesized.

        The example you gave is quite tragic. I feel for your son. And I encourage you to fill your parenting toolbox with much more than coercion and violence.

    • Tim Elmore on October 2, 2014 at 10:27 am

      So sorry I wasn’t clear…or that you misunderstood me. I was not talking about spanking your spouse. I was talking about spanking young children. Not out of anger but out of discipline. You may be right…it may be that spanking will be equal to hitting a hundred years from now. But sometimes “old fashioned” is not wrong, even it it becomes outdated. Many traditions are now passe that were absolutely right historically. We all want to be on the right side of history…but sometimes we get it wrong. I am simply asking the question. Millions of parents get this wrong today because they assume spanking is merely an act of retaliation. If you think this…you are wrong.

      • Kevin Geary on October 2, 2014 at 10:44 am

        I don’t think it matters whether it’s retaliation or not. Let’s choose any number of factors that I brought up and take an objective look. How about the hypocrisy factor?

        If you tell a child, “it’s not okay to hit,” and then you hit them, what message does that send?

        Now, I don’t play the semantics game. Spanking is a form of hitting and all children with a pulse will interpret it as such.

        It’s blatant hypocrisy, and that’s the last thing children need from a leader.

        You say you weren’t talking about spanking your spouse. Of course, that was clear. The question is, “so what?” It used to be perfectly acceptable to hit your wife for her behavior. Why is that no longer the case? It used to be perfectly acceptable to hit a black person. Why is that no longer the case?

        It’s amazing that we have yet to extend this basic respect to the smallest, most helpless, least developed among us. The people who ACTUALLY “don’t know better.”

        Don’t you find that interesting?

        • Phil on October 4, 2014 at 9:31 am

          Kevin just to be clear. Are Saying it is never ok to spank (hitting) the child? And the 2nd question that its never ok to teach our kids to hit?

          • Kevin Geary on October 4, 2014 at 5:42 pm

            Right, I’m saying it’s never okay to spank children. As for your second question, hitting is obviously okay as self defense and there’s no problem with teaching children about that. The underlying principle is one of “non-aggression” — you’re not allowed to aggress against others.

  7. Susanne Smith on October 1, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Interestingly enough one of my first graders recently was wearing a shirt that said “shut up and hit someone”. The student was wearing this shirt because the father is a football coach at the high school and this was a shirt that the football players wear. I had to contact the parents because first graders think that “shut up” is the “s” word and because we teach them that hitting is not ok. I had to ask that the shirt not be worn at school. Talk about mixed messages! Why is it so important to teach these lessons to our children and then encourage this behavior because they are athletes? This issue is not just about parents and discipline.

  8. Michael Popp on October 1, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    My mother used a ping pong paddle on me. The thing was, I had to go get it, bring it to her, and lay myself over her knees for the “whooping.” It rarely hurt… The two times I refused to get it or hid it, then she came swinging for anything and THAT hurt.

    What she explained to me later (when I became a parent) was that by making me go get it and lay myself over her lap, I was, in essence, admitting to the misbehavior, or at least submitting to her authority about the decision. It also gave her time to calm down and she was never “hitting” me out of anger. I was certainly ready to listen to her.

    It makes me sad to think that now days, a child could tell on their parent out of spite and have them arrested. My mother did a wonderful job raising me and in an effort to protect kids from the very small percent of parents who did/do go too far, society has taken away a wonderful tool from parents today. I’m glad my boys are older now…

  9. Kandy Hilliard on October 6, 2014 at 11:26 am

    This is an interesting and kind of disturbing discussion. Disciplining children means “to teach” children. When children are hit – “spanked”, “popped”, “swatted”, “tapped”, etc., they are taught that when you do something that someone bigger and stronger does not like, it is okay for them to hit. They might call it “discipline” but from a child’s perspective it is humiliating and disrespectful. Spanking is lazy. It gets immediate results and does not require that the adult figure out how to provide consequences without resorting to violence.

    You can call it what ever you like but, if what you are doing was done to anyone other than your child, it would be called assault and you would go to jail. Our children deserve and require consequences for their actions and behavior. Adults must provide those consequences without resorting to violence. If the rule in your house is “No hitting” – then hitting is not acceptable. If hitting is the only way you can figure out how to respond – then you need to expand your parenting toolbox. “Parenting with Love and Logic” is an excellent resource.

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The NFL’s Position: Is It Discipline or Violence?