Following on Cris Carter’s remarks, MaleSurvivor Executive Director Christopher M. Anderson tells us what to say to people who are on the fence about using violence to discipline kids.
This is the 21st century; my mom was wrong … And I promise my kids I won’t teach that mess to them.
You can’t beat a kid to make them do what you want them to do.
—Former NFL star Cris Carter, Minnesota Vikings WR, and Hall of Famer
Yet again an NFL superstar has come under public scrutiny for interpersonal violence. Before the suspicion of Ray Rice for assaulting his then fiancee had dropped off the back pages, Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse by authorities in Texas.
When discussing child abuse people are often quick to agree that it’s wrong. But it is also important to make sure we explain why physically striking a child is simply, fundamentally, and ethically wrong. That is not something I have heard very often in the public comments by other athletes and NFL officials. It is also important to recognize that raising attention to child abuse in this way does not detract from the important and necessary discussions that continue to happen with regards to domestic violence and the issues brought up by the Ray Rice suspension. Most forms of interpersonal violence have their root in trauma to one degree or another, and by talking about one form of IPV, we necessarily bring up issues connected to many others.
1. The attachment bond between child and parent plays a crucial role in the emotional and psychological development of a child. Primates (remember humans are a form of primate) are driven by powerful instincts to bond with parental and/or caregiving figures. When a child receives consistent, predictable, and positive reinforcement from a caregiver, it plays a powerful role in the way in which that child begins to understand and predict how the world works. When a child is neglected, or when a child is given inconsistent, and sometimes violent treatment at the hands of those to whom he is instinctively attached, it can cause severe disruptions in the child’s emotional growth. These can lead to—among other things—delays in cognitive development, difficulty in regulating emotions, and a pronounced tendency to see the world as a threatening, unpredictable, and dangerous place. For more info you can begin reading up on attachment theory here.
2. Beating a child often causes that child to perceive themselves as powerless, and sometimes reinforces negative self image in ways that resonates throughout their lives. There is still a powerful cultural acceptance in many communities of the idea that physical discipline is not just permissible, but necessary. The truth is that hitting a child is neither. It is abuse. Abuse that can cause tremendous psychological trauma and that can have lifelong effects on a victim. Although many people will say things like, “Well my dad/mom beat me and it was good for me,” these statements cannot be taken as evidence that hitting children is acceptable. These people 1) have no way of knowing who or what they could have been had they not experienced physical abuse; and 2) they are making the all too common mistake of universalizing their experiences. Just because they may have been blessed with a greater degree of resilience does not give them the authority to say what is and is not developmentally destructive to other children. Any person who endorses and defends a cultural standard that condones adults physically beating children is supporting a standard that causes far more harm than good.
IF you know a child that is being abused, please report it to your local child protective services or call the National Child Abuse Hotline.
IF your child attends a school that endorses or condones the use of corporal punishment by teachers or staff, find another school for your child.