The debate over corporal punishment is heating up again this week, with news of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s indictment for taking a “switch” and “whooping” his child. Naturally, Bill O’Reilly felt the need to inject his opinion on the matter, inviting fellow host Martha MacCallum to discuss what value there is in hitting children as punishment.
No such discussion is okay without first making a bandwagon appeal. The two began by citing surveys showing that a majority of Americans believe that corporal punishment is a-OK, and that the number reached 82% for African-Americans, and 71% for whites. And while O’Reilly agreed that causing lacerations from something “akin to a whip” was “abuse,” he felt different about a good ol’ fashioned swat on the behind with an open hand:
How about a child that runs in the street? And you say, ‘look, you can’t run in the street because you’ll be dead if the car hits you’ and the kid still runs in the street. You’ve got to get the child’s attention.
This is actually a relatively common argument in favor of smacking a child. I’ve heard this and I’ve heard the argument of the child reaching for a pot of boiling water, or trying to stick a fork in an electrical socket. MacCullum apparently had as well, because she responded by asking O’Reilly that if it was necessary to get their attention “by hitting them.”
No, I didn’t say that. I’m not going to condemn Americans tonight who have spanked their children gently or lightly, I’m not going to do that here on The Factor, I don’t think that’s right. Because each child is different. And if you’re trying to protect your child from something, and you give them a little whack when they’re younger and they remember that whack because it startles them, that might accomplish it.
This is actually different from why most people spank their children. If dad threatens to take off his belt, it’s not because he’s stopping you from running in the street. It’s because you did something wrong and he’s going to punish you. It’s disciplinary.
That word, punish, does not mean, “get your attention.” Peterson wasn’t trying to get his child’s attention, Peterson was trying to punish his child. The debate’s not about using a light tap or swat and snatching the child away from whatever will harm them. The debate should be about using actual physical abuse with a tool as an instrument of punishment and discipline. Something that, it should be mentioned, is illegal to use against adults.
But it’s not, and it won’t be as long as people continue to debate red herrings rather than discuss the actual issue.