virtual children by Scott Warnock

Maybe not hit your kid with a stick?

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You’ve likely heard a lot about the Adrian Peterson debacle (including a good piece on this site), but I’m not weighing in here on abuse, or whether he’s justifiably doing what was done to him, or even on the various dummies who’ve gotten some press time because of this. I’m not writing about all that.

I’m also not going to debate corporal punishment or the difference between a smack on the butt and a welt- and bruise-inducing beat-down with a stick.

But I am interested in the way this story made me pause. Peterson, as you know, beat his kid with a stick. If you are like many (most?) parents, you had a day or two when you wanted to beat one or more of your kids with a stick. Because, you see, being a parent is hard, and among the hardest things is telling someone who is doing something blatantly wrong to stop doing it and watching them ignore you. Then throw in that you love that person more than anything and you’re stuck together for life.

I am not regularly around people who ignore me when I talk to them. Imagine you are on a road trip with friends. One keeps hitting the other, even though you’ve told him 13,000 times to stop. This would raise many issues, but one thing is for sure: You would never travel with that person again.

Yet, in 2011, we drove our three kids to North Carolina. In 2012, we drove to St. Louis. In 2013, we drove to Atlanta. In 2014, we drove to Maine. The things that have gone on in the back of that car? — my god, how can I not have learned my lesson? Why do I continue to spend time in a closed vehicle with these people? But they’re my kids, and I keep going to the well.

I paused when I saw stories about Peterson’s disciplinary tactics that were juxtaposed with videos of him doing his job, which involves regularly blasting through some of the toughest people in the world. (By the way, Peterson, according to many, also has an almost inhumanly strong handshake.) My point: This guy is a masterpiece of human physiology.

I think I’m pretty tough, even at my advanced age. In fact, friends would no doubt say that one character flaw of mine (ah, just that one…) could be that I think I’m tougher than I am. Despite my delusions, if the physical monstrosity that is Adrian Peterson were coming at me angry, it would be scary. What must it be like to be four years old and see him coming at you mad? Forget Peterson. What must it be like to be four years old and see any adult coming you, giant, face distorted in anger, eyes ablaze?

Ever been that angry adult? You’ve got this wise-ass who won’t finish his dinner, who calls her mother a foul name, who punches his sibling in the neck, who steps up to you like “Yeah, whatcha gonna do about it?”, who keeps going into the street despite being told not to. You worked hard all day. Enough is enough.

We all get angry, but if you saw yourself through the eyes of that very small person would you maybe not shake him? Maybe not spank him? Maybe not smack him?

Maybe not hit your kid with a stick?

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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8 Responses to “Maybe not hit your kid with a stick?”

  1. I was going to hit my kid with a stick the other day, but I couldn’t break the darn thing off the tree. So I sent him to his room instead. I was so mad at that tree.

  2. Another home run Scott! Parents, teachers, coaches…we all should pause, take a breath and see ourselves through the eyes of our children.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always believed that corporal punishment (for any number of reasons, including those you list) is just not the best way to deal with my kids. Especially when viewed through the eyes of the target.

    However, there are times it feels hypocritical. Like when I encourage them and their friends to try new games like trivial beating or hide the belt. Seems to send an odd message.

  4. You are right. Save the sticks for beating of the wives. They’re bigger.

  5. Was thinking about what a four yr. old could possibly do to warrant a beating with a stick… came up blank, and I had an ADHD 4 yr. old. Now a 15 yr old, thats a whole different story.

  6. Maybe if kids were beaten universally across the board they wouldn’t be such assholes. Think about it, one soft parent ruins it for all. When I was in the service everyone got punished in the entire unit for one guys mistake. The peewee’s would feel such peer pressure to toe the line, no one would screw up. Think about it, just one soft English professor screws it up for all parents. Not now Kato!!

  7. I recall being hit–not beaten–with a stick twice. Once was in elementary school, when two of us went up after class to ask to be able to use the long stick to close the skylight; the teacher explained to the other kid why he couldn’t, then I thought he was going to hand the stick to me (misread his body language, I guess) so I stuck my hand out. He hit me on the head–not enough for damage, but enough to smart. He said, “That’s a lesson in needing to be nice.”

    The other was a friend who hit me on the head with a plastic ruler (12-inch) to make a Zen master point. I was enlightened. The dog said, “wu.”

  8. Scott, Scott, Scott,

    I’m so glad you’ve decided to go with more of a softball issue and stayed away from those murky gray issues that could go either way.

    Phew – on the one side, my parents didn’t spare the rod with the seven of us knuckle heads. Ok, 4 good kids and 3 loop jobs. There was a time when your’s truly decided to take the key to the basement door to school. Of course, in our Phila row home, the basement held the washer and dryer and there wasn’t any other way to get down there. When I came home for lunch from St. Martin’s, my wonderful mother broke 3 or 4 rulers across my hands for taking that key. I never took it again.

    There were also beatings that resulted in stories that we still tell to this day and laugh out loud for hours. And there are non-beatings that do the same. (my brother Andy, knowing it was coming, put extra underwear on and added socks inside the rear to pad the blows. My dad HAD to laugh!)

    Fast forward to today. I’m pretty certain I’ve never struck any of my children. I haven’t smacked, shaken nor stirred a one of them. I definitely haven’t hit anyone with a stick. Four years old? With a stick? Eeesh.

    I can’t say that I ever want to take parenting lessons from a 29 year old man with 7 children and as many mothers. I’ve learned from my father’s example and tried to put my own “Mr. Softie” spin on it. We talk in no uncertain terms about what is expected. Perfect? No, its 3 works in progress.

    Spare the rod? yes
    Spoil the child? NO WAY

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