As the parent of a 4-year-old, I’ve had my moments. Moments that won’t get me nominated for Parent of the Year.
So I’ve tried to not be too judgmental when it comes to the Adrian Peterson case captivating our region.
But then I come back to a core question I can’t shake: What kind of naughty or dangerous behavior could a 4-year-old do to deserve naked lashings with a stick by one of the NFL’s strongest and most intimidating players?
It doesn’t compute.
The star running back for the Minnesota Vikings says he was disciplining his son the way he was disciplined, an approach he believes helped form him into the man he’s become.
That’s a telling synopsis. These things tend to repeat themselves generationally.
Many who see it Peterson’s way are rushing to his defense. They see this as a parenting rights issue and perhaps another defining moment in where our society is headed.
“If I was out of line, I got the belt, and I turned out just fine,” some argue.
And they might be right.
But does our society still accept this, and where do we draw the line between acceptable punishment and child abuse?
I sought that answer from a couple of men who routinely face these questions.
Rick VanCamp is one of two supervisors in the child protection unit of Cass County Social Services.
His job is to review investigations and help determine what ought to be done about them.
VanCamp says his co-workers will investigate any case brought to their attention, even spankings.
In most cases, they aim to educate parents or guardians on what is or is not acceptable. Of all the cases brought to their attention, about 15 to 20 percent are determined to be maltreatment.
Cultural and generational differences to child discipline add a layer of complexity to the issue.
“Over time, we are becoming a more civilized society,” VanCamp said. “The use of physical methods are not being tolerated today.”
Christopher Johnson agrees.
“Norms are not an excuse for not evolving,” says the executive director of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo.
He looks at intent when trying to differentiate abuse from discipline.
If a child runs into the street and you swat the child to convey your concern for his safety, it might be considered a corrective action.
If in that same instance, you ceremoniously beat the child with a stick, it might be considered abuse.
“Was my intent to correct your action or was it meant to make you suffer?” he asks.
Knowing what he knows of the Peterson case so far, Johnson also asks: “What does a 4-year-old have to do that justifies that intervention? I struggle with that.”
In talking to VanCamp, he mentions a situation that almost everyone has encountered at one time or another.
While at a store, you observe someone using force to discipline a child. You think it’s out of line. Do you intervene?
In most cases, yes, says VanCamp.
“Ask them if you can help,” he says. Most of the time, social pressure does make a difference.
“As a society,” he says, “how we treat our young ones is how we should expect to be treated.”