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Too Many Americans Think Spanking Is an Acceptable Form of Discipline


When TMZ published a video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his then-fiancé in an Atlantic City elevator, the response was unanimous: what Rice did was unacceptable in any form. His two-game suspension was too weak and the Ravens could no longer keep him on the team. Within days, Rice was cut and the NFL had extended Rice’s suspension indefinitely.

A similar progression of events has unfolded in the past week after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was arrested for hitting his 4-year-old son with a switch. Peterson missed the Vikings’ game Sunday before the team reinstated him on Monday. Facing a public backlash, the Vikings admitted they made a mistake and placed Peterson on the exempt list Wednesday, meaning he is banned from all team activities until the completion of his case.

But while virtually nobody defended Rice’s actions, many have offered quasi-defenses for Peterson. Yes, Peterson went too far, they say, but he was simply disciplining his kid—something parents do all the time. “Whipping—we do that all the time,” former NBA star Charles Barkley said Sunday. “Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.” Peterson offered a similar defense. “I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser,” he said. “I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury…My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that's what I tried to do that day." Many other NFL players reacted similarly.

This is a big problem. More than 60 percent of Americans still believe that corporal punishment is an acceptable way to discipline children. But as Stacy Drury, a professor at Tulane and expert on early childhood development, explained to me, that’s simply not true. Among the psychiatric profession, there is widespread agreement that not only does corporal punishment have long-term negative consequences on kids, it also isn’t effective as a form of modifying behavior—which is what discipline is ultimately supposed to do. Read my full interview with Drury to understand why that is.

The problems in the Peterson situation stems beyond this individual incident. Corporal punishment is not the same thing as domestic violence. But it still deserves to be condemned. It’s not acceptable and it doesn’t work. The fact that so many Americans believe otherwise—and are willing to state those beliefs openly—shows how far we still have to go.

Danny Vinik

News from Wednesday:

ECONOMY: The Federal Reserve announced that it was reducing its program of asset purchases—officially known as quantitative easing—by $10 billion. The big news was that the Fed still intends to keep interest rates at zero “for a considerable time.” Ylan Mui explains the history of that phrase. (Wonkblog)

CLIMATE: It’s the People’s Climate March and United Nations Climate Summit next week, so there are a lot of announcements and new reports coming. Here are a few: A new environmental study finds climate change could add $60 billion in additional wildfire costs by 2050. (Cindy Carcamo and Michael MuskalLos Angeles Times). Washington, D.C.’s favorite sites could be flooded within the century (Lori MontgomeryWashington Post). And three times as many people lose their homes to natural disasters than war. (Suzanne GoldbergThe Guardian)

EDUCATION: A group of debt activists born out of Occupy Wall Street has managed to cancel $4 million in debt held by students who went to for-profit colleges. (Alan Pyke, ThinkProgress)

Stories worth reading:

Banning Abortion: Erika Eichelberger writes about three state ballot measures that seek to make abortion effectively illegal. (Mother Jones)

Thwarting Obamacare: Charles Ornstein explains how insurers are tinkering with prescription drug coverage in ways that penalize people with chronic illness. (The Upshot)

Death and all his friends: Jason Millman reports on recommendations, from the Institute of Medicine, of how to improve end-of-life care. (Wonkblog)

Will the NFL make amends on domestic violence? Amanda Hess takes stock of the league’s recent moves and offers a mixed assessment. (Slate)

What’s the matter with Thomas Frank? Ezra Klein defends political science—and himself—in a response to Frank’s recent polemic. (Vox)

Stories we’re watching:

The Senate plans to vote on the continuing resolution to fund the government  through the midterm elections.


Fighting climate change may be cheaper than we thought. Rebecca Leber explains a new report on the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Danny worries that the president won’t be able to keep his promise not to put boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria.