The Adrian Petersen situation has stirred up a lot of controversy about spanking. I have been giving it some thought because I was spanked and I spanked my children. When I was a child we called it a “whuppin”. It hurt but I was never bruised. I never left bruises. So was it abusive or not?
I don’t think I abused my children. There was talking, explanation of why it was not acceptable behavior. There were timeouts and loss of privileges. Spanking was the last resort. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn’t. One child would respond positively and the other could care less. It was a situation by situation, child by child tightrope. What worked for one may not work for the other. I believe Mr. Petersen turning himself in was a cry for help. Think about it. How else would anyone know?
So what is the answer?
I don’t think there is one answer and we need to stop making it “one” answer. We need to learn and make informed decisions. Learn what you might ask.
- First, learn your child. Talk with your child not at him or her.
- Actually listen to what they have to say. You might be surprised that their thinking might make sense even if it is not inline with your rules. At that point you can have a real teaching moment to help them understand why your rule is what it is and why you expect them to obey it. Most of our rules are for their protection.
- Make the rules simple and easy to follow. Sometimes we make compound statements that confuses the child. It is not clear what you want done.
- Make the consequences for disobedience clear and concise.
- Be consistent. If it is the rule stick to it even when you want to give them a break. Make sure the circumstances that will cause you to make it an exception truly warrants it and they understand that. Otherwise, you will be played like a violin because that is what they are good at.
- If spanking is required, don’t do it in anger or frustration. Wait and calm down. There were times I was stressed out and tired and I wish I had given myself time to calm down.
- If spanking has no affect on the child’s behavior, find another way to discipline the child. Continued spanking adds to your frustration and might become abusive.
- At this point go back to #1. Learn who your child is. Then you may discover the thing that can be used for non-corporeal punishment
- In regards to our culture playing a part in our decision to spank, I believe understanding our culture pre- and post-slavery may remove or diminish the need for that kind of punishment.
Our anger and our children’s anger are rooted in our identity crisis. We don’t talk about that but it is my opinion that it plays a big role. Consider this:
- My ethnic identity was stripped. I can’t go back to Africa and find my ancestors home. Africa is a large continent made up of many countries. What tribe am I a part?
- I go back to Alabama the state of my families home but how do I know my family began there. Could have been sold from a Georgian plantation. But in school you want me to draw a family tree. Where are my roots? Frustration.
- We tried to assimilate to be accepted by the majority culture. Straighten my hair because my natural hair is ugly and un-kept. Even now we have to fight to wear our hair in its natural state. We, the women, are told it is unprofessional. Frustration and anger
- My dark skin isn’t as acceptable as my lighter toned sisters and brothers. All things being equal the lighter skinned person will get the pick. Yet you spend much time in the sun to get brown, risking skin cancer. Frustrating contradiction.
- For those who drank the kool-aid and believed its lie, the truth revealed in the last 7 years says very little has changed. We are not in a post-racial America. Anger and frustration.
This is why understanding our culture will, along with different discipline methods, give parents better choices. Their discipline toolbox would not be limited to “spanking like I was when I was a child.”
Back to Mr. Petersen
I believe Mr. Petersen and those in similar situations need to be helped not suspended or fired. Losing income just adds stress that may cause anxiety and may lead to abuse. There are classes out there and agencies to help parents and specifically fathers. I am certified to teach one such class, “Effective Black Parenting.” There are groups for fathers, where men talk to men. Two such agencies in the Inland Empire, CA are Street Positive and Fathers Time Fatherhood Academy. These groups are not limited to CA if you live elsewhere.
Help parents, help fathers. Encourage them to learn more. Parenting is an ongoing learning process and we should take advantage of the services that exist to help us. I must also add, don’t stop thinking. With all that you learn you must still make wise and reasonable choices for your individual child. In the end the children and the family in total are the beneficiaries. I think we all would prefer a proliferation of “Father of the Year” headlines.