I don't think I was ever spanked as a child, certainly never with a belt or some type of external object. I think my parents would make grandiose threats in which they would brandish their open hand, but these were typically to no avail. When my father once resorted to taking away my playthings, my retort —so they tell me— was asking why, if I had been bad, my toys should be the ones getting punished?
If you are confused as to why, exactly, this should be relevant, you are not alone. Last week, Adrian Peterson, a native of eastern Texas and running back for the Minnesota Vickings football team, was arrested for causing harm to a child, after it came to light that he mercilessly beat his toddler with a tree branch (switch) as a form of discipline. Commentators and pundits galore came to his defense, or at least to the defense of physical discipline against children, with tales of their own light beatings at a young age.
Former NBA player Charles Barkley particularly got in hot water when he insinuated that the form of tough love, involving tree branches applied to bare bottoms, was inherently linked to African-American upbringings. Others have, neutral of race, tried to ascribe the behavior to traditional Eastern Texas values.
The trouble with these types of overgeneralizations is that the insinuation is not necessarily that being beaten as a child prompts a more moral or better-rounded adult. Rather, it is merely to justify the continuation of a cycle of violence. Peterson's grandpa hit his dad, so his dad hit him, etc. One does not have to think about this argument very long to see the inherent flaws in its logic.
Adrian Peterson's son is four years old. Perhaps I'm an exception to the rule, but I do not remember a single thing about that early stage of my life. I certainly do not remember any arguments I had with my parents or errors on my part that would prompt punishment. I doubt Peterson's son with either. What he, sadly, likely will remember is pain and suffering and anger.
Horwitz is an associate editor.