November 24, 2014

A Silver Lining

Categories: DivorceMental HealthParents

The recent sad event of Adrian Peterson’s infliction of a “whoopin’”, as he himself called it, upon his four year old son, to “punish” him for something he did, provides a teachable moment. The “whoopin’” was severe, as the pictures clearly show.

I will not dwell upon the act itself – there has been more than enough said about that already. What I do want to reflect upon is something that has not been as discussed. – the Silver Lining, that must not be lost.

It is Adrian Peterson’s celebrity that has elicited the intense response and reaction. What he did is something that is being done daily by other parents, even as I write and you read this post. Those transgressions go largely unseen and unpunished. We are blessed by the spotlight that has been focused on this event, and affords the opportunity for a public forum.

The public forum itself is more valuable for its focus than its content. This is not a scholarly symposium of professionals and educators, filled with information and insight. Much of the content is not very helpful, which is often the case when the event causes a moral outrage. Voices emerge over the airwaves from a full spectrum of opinions, reminding us how much the issue of child abuse is intertwined in our collective heritage. Sometimes the outrage brings the curious need to inflict similar punishment on the perpetrator, not recognizing the incongruence of suggesting that the very punishment they are deploring is being urged as a remedy.

Chances are, if we ourselves were not subjected to abuse in the form of discipline when we were growing up we would not have to go back too many years until it was a reality in our families of origin. For those who experienced harsh corporal punishment as children, many of the voices that called in told us that they had made a moral commitment as parents not to impose this harshness on their children. Of course, many other voices told us that they were punished like this growing up, and it did not harm to them, and even helped them become the people they are today, and they, of course, dutifully keep the tradition alive. Spare the rod and spoil the child.

Indeed, Adrian Peterson made no attempt to conceal what he did, comfortable in the belief that he was simply exercising his parental responsibility to steer his children in the right direction. It did not take him long to realize the moral outrage his actions caused. Perhaps this will be the event that provides him with the opportunity to educate himself on the extensive literature in child development that shows such harsh punitive action to be quite detrimental, and not in a child’s best interests.

It is interesting that this behavior occurred in his home state of Texas, and legal charges have been brought in that jurisdiction. It remains to be seen how much of an exception might be carved out there to finding such behavior normal, and perhaps legal. Clearly, even if this behavior is protected in some jurisdictions, it is clearly NOT supported by the prevailing knowledge of the day. Neither does it merit consideration whether Adrian Peterson was subjected to such treatment as a child, or whether he believes it to be a positive part of his childhood. Just as a belief that slavery was lawful and legitimate could not overcome its moral decadence, neither can child abuse in the name of parenting be sanctioned.

We all have deeply held beliefs about punishment, beliefs that vary significantly from one person to another. It is not often that these beliefs are displayed publicly as they are now. It is safe to say that the direction this issue is taking is toward condemning it as being a value no longer support. Thus, the impact over time is not likely to convince anyone who is opposed to corporal punishment to now endorse it. The paradigm shift is away from such a tenant of less civilized times.

The public impact has been strengthened by the realization of professional football teams and the National Football League that such conduct is unacceptable in today’s world. This has been further supported by the impressive list of corporate sponsors who have withdrawn their endorsement of Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings, without regard to the likelihood that their position may be more driven by a profit motive than a deep moral conviction.

Another ray of sunlight I saw was the interview in the news with a local high school football program that has adopted a program that has already been developed to make the point to the boys participating in this sport that the aggression that is fostered on the field, within the structure of competition, is NOT appropriate for the way to treat people off the field, specifically calling for respectful treatment of girls I their lives.

Further proof that we are becoming more civilized.

Bruce Peck

Bruce is one of the founding members of the Collaborative Law Institute.
Back in the Wonder Years, this small group was trying to figure out what a new way of practicing family law might look like. Today the collaborative law concept has exploded, not just throughout the United States, but also internationally. For over thirty years Bruce has continued to hone his skills to provide the highest quality of services to family law clients. He helps good people make tough choices during difficult times.

Bruce is a laid back and easy going person who listens well to others. He is a shameless optimist who can always see possibility and opportunity. Being very curious by nature, he is a voracious reader. His love for words has drawn him into being an avid poet.

Bruce’s skills supports clients interests without alienating their spouse. When the parties reach agreement, it is not under duress. They have the time to discuss all decisions with their attorneys before signing the agreement. Once completed, the stipulated divorce is filed with the court for a default hearing in which neither party, nor their attorneys, ever have to set foot inside a courthouse. Learn more at

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