WASHINGTON, September 20, 2014 — Adrian Peterson seems to have genuinely believed when he whipped him that he was not abusing his son. After all, it is technically legal to hit a child in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
However, the states differ widely about what precisely is allowed; most states say that physical punishment must be reasonable or not excessive.
Public opinion is on the side of a good spanking; a 2013 Harris poll says that 81 percent of Americans think that it is “sometimes appropriate” for parents to spank their children.
In Texas, corporal punishment becomes child abuse when it “results in substantial harm to a child.” That means punishment that leaves a mark, like bleeding and bruising, as Peterson allegedly did.
What is intriguing is the response from Blacks, both in the NFL and on talk shows, who say that whippings and whoopings were common when they were children and that they were good for them.
Fear of mom and dad beating the “bejeezus” out of them kept them from getting caught, if not offending in the first place.
Sir Charles Barkley says, “every Black parent in the South is going to be in jail … We spank kids in the South”
But then we have responses from dads, like Reggie Bush, who says he disciplines his one-year-old daughter harshly, but is careful he does not leave a bruise.
“I think the way I discipline my children, my daughter, is private and I should have kept it private,” Bush said. “Obviously, some of the words were taken out of context and that’s fine, it happens all the time. That’s really all I have to say.”
Those comments may have Michigan child welfare advocates investigating his home. And one has to wonder how Bush could ever raise a hand in anger, or discipline to a child he so obviously adores.
So what are the rules about “whooping” your kids?
In Delaware, parents may not hit a child with a clenched, or closed fist. But they can In Oklahoma where a parent can whip a child with a switch, but only “ordinary force.”
Adriane Peterson’s ordinary force is probably far different than mine.
Arizona and Alabama allow the use of “reasonable and appropriate physical force.” Again what is reasonable for a man, a strong man, may be different than what is reasonable for a woman.
And this is not to say that a woman, a mom, could not lose control of that reasonable and appropriate physical force” any more or less than a man — dad — did, because when you are “using physical force” against someone a fraction of your size and strength, does it make a difference if it is mom or dad, man or woman?
Louisiana makes no mention of spanking your child but does allow “reasonable discipline” that doesn’t “seriously endanger” the health of a child.
Speaking with TIME, Director of the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law Howard Davidson said, “It’s a very complex subject. I personally favor parents knowing what the law says in terms of what they can and can’t do and just saying ‘reasonable’ doesn’t provide a lot of guidance.”
The watermark between abuse and discipline seems to be, as Bush says, leaving a mark or a bruise.
Maine corporal punishment is lawful if it results “in no more than transient discomfort or minor temporary marks.”
Georgia simply forbids any “physical injury.”
It may be that the 50 states and District of Columbia need to change the law so that hitting — hitting a child, a woman, a man, a spouse — hitting anyone, anytime is assault.
Thirty-nine countries, including Malta, Bolivia, and Brazil, have banned corporal punishment of children.
There are numerous studies that show that children who receive corporal punishment are more likely to suffer from suicide, depression and anti-social behaviors. A study by the University of Manitoba, Canada reports that there is link between non-abusive physical punishment and emotional or mental disorders.
Tracie Afifi, author of the study published in Pediatrics, says that approximately 2 to 7 percent of mental disorders in the study were linked to physical punishment. “Individuals who are physically punished have an increased likelihood of having mental health disorders.”
According to Afifi, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, Canada, “The study’s findings add evidence to the argument that physical punishment should not be used on any child, at any age.”
Deb Sandek, program director with the Center for Effective Discipline says corporal punishment of any kind causes psychological trauma in children and should be banned entirely.
“There are effective discipline strategies that teach children right from wrong,” she said. “Why not go in a more proactive strategy and help children learn to problem solve and handle conflict without aggression?”