Peterson case reopens corporal punishment debate

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The indictment of Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson has revived the debate over a parent's right to discipline their child using corporal punishment.

On Sunday morning, former Viking and ESPN analyst Cris Carter spoke with a voice filled with emotion about physical discipline, relating it to his own childhood.

“This goes across all racial lines, ethnicity,” the Hall of Fame receiver said on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. He related that his mother raised seven children by herself.

"This is the 21st century; my mom was wrong," Carter said. "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.”

Peterson, 29, was indicted Friday by a Texas grand jury on a charge of injury to a child. He is accused of whipping his four-year-old son with a "switch" at his home in Texas last May. Peterson was deactivated by the Vikings for Sunday's game in light of the allegations.

An Associated Press story on corporal punishment noted that laws vary around the nation, but in every state, a parent can legally hit their child as long as the force is “reasonable.” The story added that "...what’s considered reasonable varies from place to place and in many instances the question is left up to a jury in a kind of community-standard test." The story said that in Texas, punishment is abusive if it causes injury; a blow that leaves a bruise, welt, or swelling, or requires medical attention, could be judged abusive.

Peterson's attorney has said that Peterson used the same form of discipline that was used on him in his childhood in east Texas. An expert consulted by the Star Tribune called that “intergenerational transmission,” a term that refers to parents using the same methods of discipline they experienced.

“Most of these parents are hitting their kids because they think it’s the right thing to do and they don’t know any other way,” said University of Texas associate Prof. Elizabeth Gershoff. She has studied how parental discipline affects child development and how poverty, neighborhoods, schools and cultures affect children and families.

Her research has shown that African-Americans are more likely to use corporal punishment and have argued that it’s part of their culture. Sports analyst Charles Barkley, a former NBA basketball player, spoke to that issue on a CBS Sports broadcast Sunday morning. Barkley, who is black, discussed the cultural differences between black and white parents, as well as those from the South vs. the North.

In light of the Peterson case, the Washington Post reprinted an earlier story about punishment in the African-American community, which said that telling a misbehaving child to get a switch "...is part of being black in America — part of a cultural tradition that sought to steel black children for the world, forge their characters, help prepare them for the pure meanness that waited out there, just because of the color of their skin. Many black parents who whipped felt more was at stake if they did not scourge their children."

The story, by Post staff writer DeNeen L. Brown, continues, "...the wielding of the switch and the belt and the wooden spoon is not a practice unique to black people. Most races spank their children, especially Southern whites who are fundamentalist Christians. But the stories of beatings done in the name of love, beatings that were endured by many — not all — black parents, are like a familiar song."

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