The Adrian Peterson dilemma has just about every major news outlet on fire. Some have stepped up on their highchair of righteousness, condemning Peterson for whipping his child to the point that the child began to bleed, while others have come to his defense and right to discipline his child as he sees fit. Hidden within it all are the subjective and cultural experiences of viewers across the country.
Child-rearing is a very personal aspect for adults. There are several considerations that affect strategies for raising children. They tend to speak to the esteem in which we hold those we love the most—our parents. Child-rearing, like religion, is passed down generation to generation. And while parents by generation seem willing to provide their children with greater freedoms and autonomy because of the availability of technology, methods in child discipline seem to be one dynamic of parenting very resistant to change.
The reason why is obvious. While parents’ being open to letting their children drive cars and possess cell phones makes life more convenient for the parent, child-disciplining possesses a greater challenge. Children need explanations to understand deviant behavior. Most commonly, consequences serve to illuminate understanding on a basic level. If the consequence is abstract, many children are developed to understand behavior based on its’ consequence rather the wrong of the action. For example, leaving your child locked out of the house for leaving his keys at school is an example of a consequence associated with the action, giving a child a clear genesis in the flaw in their behavior. However, beating your child for waking up late will prevent the children from understanding why waking up late is such a bad idea (save for the fact that he might get beaten).
Enter the NFL. After the Minnesota Vikings deactivated their All-Pro running back from their week 2 matchup against the patriots, they responded by essentially suspending him indefinitely because of the outrage the public expressed at Peterson’s behavior. The general public seemed to be astonished that parents whoop their children to this extent and with such impunity. He used a tree branch, beating his child until the skin is shown, including the private area of his four-year old son.
Aside from being curious about what the child did to invoke such rage from Peterson, I was reminded of a stand-up comedy routine by the late Bernie Mac, who once alluded to beating children “’til the white meat shows.” Those who have come to Peterson’s defense—aside from those advocating parental rights—are pleading for viewers to understand that Peterson is a product of his cultural upbringing, and that this is a common thing amongst black people.
Whopping your child is not a black thing—it’s a global practice. Children are whipped to one extent or another by adults every day. And while it would be easy to just call it a cultured practice (in an attempt to justify it), Peterson’s actions are likely not the best methods in child-rearing. And it is Adrian Peterson who has the most to lose.
Peterson is no different than any loving parent who forces their child to participate in an activity the child dislikes but the parent believes it is for the “better good.” He is no different than the parent who forces their child to do house labor for deviant behavior. Parents love— and love hard—not realizing the way you did it is not the best way for your child to do it.
Or maybe Adrian Peterson is a tired parent. Perhaps he’s one of many who do not have the time or patience to explain things to their children. It’s possible that he is too time-strapped to consider more creative and relevant ways to encourage desirable behavior. Instead, like most parents, probably just believes if the consequence is harsh enough, the child will learn to fear that instead of understanding the wrong. The fastest way to get the desired behavior, unfortunately, is the most preferred; as it helps us all get back to business.
And NFL is doing the exact same thing.
Peterson may have tried to suggest to his beaten child that it was done with the best intentions and “out of love”, or that it’s “his house, his rules.” When the consequences are not aligned with the actual behavior, it’s usually because the action simply bothered you, not because it is intrinsically wrong. However, at least Peterson has right to be so paternal, irrespective of how misguided such paternity is. The NFL? Not so much. The law has already created disincentives for domestic abuse, namely, the denial of freedom and constitutional rights. The NFL needs to realize they are partners with the players, not parents of the players.