Child Discipline: Spare the Switch?

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him”

Proverbs 13:24 (ESV)

The recent news about Minnesota Vikings Running Back, Adrian Peterson whooping his 4 year son excessively with a switch has sparked a lot of discussion throughout social media. Even using the word excessively could cause great frustration with those who would say I’m using language to cover up child abuse. In the end, child abuse could very well be the verdict in the legal process. But I will let the process take its course.

Let me start by saying that there are a number of issues at work here. The first is the cultural differences and opinions about child discipline. When I say cultural differences, I’m not purely focused on race or ethnicity. Values and behavior within this issue can be based on demographics, economic class, and one’s own childhood issues. The second issue is the value placed on children in our society. Some are reacting based on their love for football, not children. Some are reacting based on defending an African American male that they feel is being made an example of within the powerful institutions of the media, the NFL, and the ever-growing public opinion. But even this category doesn’t seem to put children first. Some people are reacting based on what they went through as a child and the unresolved issues around how they were disciplined. I wonder what our discussions would be if we put children first.

I was spanked and whooped as a part of being disciplined by my parents. This was the cultural context in which I grew up. I have never doubted that my parents loved me dearly as a child. I also know that they took a different approach in disciplining me than how their parents disciplined them. Now that I’m a parent, I discipline my children somewhat different than my parents disciplined me. I know this: though I received spankings and whoopings growing up, my doctor never saw marks on my body that raised concern. I’m not here to judge Adrian Peterson. I’m here to say that we need to be willing to regularly revisit the complex issues around disciplining our children. Here are some thoughts:

1.) Never discipline your child when you are angry. Cool off, explain to your child why you are disciplining them, and when it’s over hug them and tell them how much you love them.

2.) Ask yourself: Is physical punishment of some kind is needed? Are you doing it because it’s all you know? Or are you too tired to think through other options?

3.) Don’t parent in isolation. You should have other family members, friends, and even professionals who you allow to speak into your life about how you discipline your children.

4.) An arrogant parent is an ignorant parent.

I’m not telling you to spank or not spank your child. I’m not telling you to whoop or not whoop your children. What I am saying is this: continue to grow as a parent. Don’t do something just because your parents did. My parents listened to 8 tracks, but I don’t. It’s a different day. Be wise, be loving, be consistent, and keep learning when it comes to being a parent. As a Christian, I ultimately want to be directed by God in how I parent. What directs and guides you? Speaking of Christianity, I would encourage you to study all of the interactions of Jesus with children. Also, reflect upon what could become the thin line between discipline and abuse. Finally, as a society we must wrestle with how much we truly value children in our society. We are so quick to judge and defend celebrities while our kids become second-class citizens.