The Underlying Cause of Adrian Peterson’s Abuse

The Underlying Cause of Adrian Peterson’s Abuse
Is child abuse and neglect a learned behavior?

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A lot of media attention has recently been given to child abuse, primarily due to the actions of former MVP and NFL Pro Bowler, Adrian Peterson, of the Minnesota Vikings. Several issues came to the forefront, most prominently the use of corporal punishment. There was even dialogue and debate over which races and ethnicities spanked their children more! Charles Barkey, NBA Hall-of-Famer, famously stated that every Black parent in the South would be in jail now due to their use of corporal punishment.


For those who don’t remember, back on May 18, police reports show Peterson disciplined his four-year-old son using a switch on the child that resulted in bruises and lacerations to the boy’s legs, arms, back and buttocks. A routine doctor’s visit found the injuries consistent with child abuse. While a grand jury found that Peterson did not cause reckless or negligent injury to the child in Montgomery County, Texas on September 4, Montgomery County moved forward with the charges on September 12. Subsequently, another report of previous allegations of child abuse surfaced. Peterson was initially suspended from the team but then reinstated. The chorus of critics grew louder, including Minnesota’s Governor, Radisson Hotels, Anheuser-Busch, Nike, and Castrol. Peterson was placed on the exempt commissioner’s list and cannot be re-instated until the Spring of 2015.


Can corporal punishment be considered a form of physical abuse? To what degree does it have to be? That varies from one state to the next. These questions and others are so complex, with multiple layers. The questions are also controversial because it goes hand in hand with the larger conversation about a parent’s right to discipline their own child—free of the government subjecting their own personal beliefs and rules. Who wants to be told how to raise their own child from an elected official – especially from some of the ones who are in Congress right now! Yet the majority of experts ranging from the American Medical Association to the American Psychological Association all agree that striking your child does more harm than good…and that leaving marks and bruises crosses the line.


Something that did not gain as much attention were the comments that Peterson made about how the use of switches had been used to discipline him as a child. We know that often times we repeat the habits, both good and bad, of our parents. How many times have we found ourselves telling our children something that our mother used to tell us? Or making a decision that our father would have? To some degree, Peterson has acknowledged the mistakes he made, as he vowed never to take a switch to his children again. Yet, he can’t take back what he learned and experienced as a child.


The cycle of generational abuse and neglect may be the larger issue in all of this, yet it received the least attention. Most folks in the trenches of the child welfare system know the realities of a foster child’s life all too well. Many children are victims of abuse and neglect because their parents and grandparents were as well. Therefore, should we view child abuse and neglect as something learned? Is it a skewed parenting technique? Something passed down through generations like grandma’s apple pie or grandpa’s pocket watch?


The solution begins at the source. Awareness and intervention are needed in the lives of parents before it is too late for the child. Obviously, this is much easier said than done, but many organizations, such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, have begun to fight the good fight. Locally, Whaley Children’s Center has begun the Paint Our Town Blue campaign as an effort to raise awareness about local children and helping residents of Genesee County, Mich. get involved in the process. Hopefully, one day, programs and organizations like these can lead to breaking the family cycle of abuse and neglect, but, until then, we, as a community, need to continue to advocating for and protecting the very fragile victims of these horrible acts.


What are your thoughts on the issue? Have you seen any other examples in the community of folks trying to help?