Hitting is Hitting is Hitting



On March 27th, 2014, an NFL player named Ray Rice was indicted by a grand jury for third-degree aggravated assault on his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer.  This past week, the website TMZ released footage of him punching Palmer, which led to the Baltimore Ravens terminating his contract.

Also this week:  Adrian Peterson, another player with the NFL, was indicted for child abuse when his child’s mother noticed whipping injuries on their 4 year old son’s legs, and took him to a doctor who contacted the authorities. Peterson was benched by the Minnesota Vikings, but was reinstated three days later.

Like most people, I’m angry and saddened and frustrated by these stories of violence in the news.  In this instance though, the disparity of the public’s reaction to these two similar cases has left me particularly cold.  I would say I was shocked, but sadly I’m not.  This is 2014, and children are still seen as second-class citizens.

While few are defending Rice – people overwhelmingly, and rightly, realize that it’s not okay to use physical violence against your partner – many are rising up to speak out in support of Peterson, who was just as violent, only against a small child.  

“He should be able to discipline as he sees fit.”

“That’s just the way people are raised in the South”

“People need to butt out and let him parent however he wants.”

“I don’t get why he’s in legal trouble for disciplining his own kid.”

“Someone explain what Adrian Peterson did that was considered child abuse?”

“I don’t see what the big deal is.  I got my ass whooped as a child, and I turned out fine.”

Let me be very, very clear when I say this:  There is NO defense for what he did.  There is no defense or justification or excuse for hitting a small child, ever.  What he did was wrong.  It pains me to have say it out loud, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  It is wrong.

And to the people who are out there saying, “Yeah, he took it too far.  There is a difference between spanking and beating.  There’s nothing wrong with spanking/some kids need it/they have to learn, etc,”  I humbly offer that you are indeed part of the problem.


Stop making it a game of semantics.  Stop pretending that it’s okay to hit children if you add certain qualifiers.  Stop refusing to see spanking for what it is.  Stop believing that children are lesser beings than other humans.  Stop perpetuating the cycle of violence.  Stop ignoring the fact that if you’re still advocating for hitting people smaller than you that you are not fine.  Stop equating DISCIPLINE with PUNISHMENT.  Stop defending people who hit their children, and start speaking out for the people who can’t speak out for themselves.

And to my fellow Christians?  Stop using misinterpretations of the Bible as an excuse for hitting children.  It’s an unending conversation, and I’m not having it anymore.  I will no longer publish, acknowledge, or respond to any comments that claim the Bible commands us to spank.  Read Jesus the Gentle Parent.  Read Gentle Firmness. Read Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me (this one is a free download).  Read the words of the people who have put in the time and the research and the study that shows that the Bible just doesn’t say what you think it says.  Don’t let ignorance be an excuse.

As a Christian (and just as a caring human being), I believe that relationships should start from a place of love and respect.  I believe this to be true of ALL relationships, but especially the relationship between parent and child. Hitting has no place in any loving relationship.  Our children look up to us.  They learn from us how to navigate the world.  How to solve problems. How to get along with others.  How to deal with conflict.  Hitting our children, for any reason, raises them to be people who believe that hitting is a reasonable, acceptable way to interact with others.  It raises them to be people who, unless they fight to break the cycle, will hit their own children.

It raises them to be individuals who defend people like Adrian Peterson.

Stop the justification and the word games and the Bible-verse-slinging.  Spanking, swatting, switching, popping, tapping… paint it any color you’d like.  It’s all hitting, and it’s all wrong.

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Filed under gentle discipline, gentle parenting, headlines, parenting

34 Responses to Hitting is Hitting is Hitting

  1. beth

    Thank you. I commented on someone’s post in his defense that if he can’t handle his own emotions as an adult and deal with how treat his child in a respectful manner, than maybe this is a really great wakeup call for Peterson. Hitting a child is an anger based action, does not actually deal with the root issue, and teaches nothing. And benefits no one.

  2. chris

    You are wrong.

  3. Mama Mo

    Amen! I agree wholeheartedly. Hitting is hitting, no matter how you mince words. Thank you for your unequivocal stance on this. My 4.5 year old twins are not hit, spanked, swatted, or popped. Nor do they “rule the roost”. Nor are they in need of a “lesson” that involves physical violence. And they truly are fine. Great, even!

  4. Alan Marshall

    Your inability to provide any reasoning or evidence for that assertion reveals clearly that you are thoughtlessly defending an ill considered belief.

  5. Patrice

    Yes. This article should be read by every parent.

  6. Joan

    Thank you thank you. Years ago I was on a bus trip and there was a woman with two children sitting behind me. It was a long trip and the kids were acting up as kids will and the little girl did something and the brother started hitting her. The mom looses it and starts to hit the boy saying, “I told you don’t hit your sister!” After calming myself with a few deep breaths I turned around and after saying something in a very non judgmental manner about long bus rides being tough on everybody I asked her in a polite manner if she had considered that by hitting her son to get him to stop hitting might at the same time kind of tell him it was ok to hit. Poor thing was so responsive and just undereducated and feeling helpless left with these two children. I gave her some names of books and a short course on alternatives like loosing and earning privileges. It’s a good feeling when you actually seem to get through to someone.

    I also have to add how important it is that people understand just because it’s always been done this way does not mean it’s right and should not be taken at face value.

  7. Carrie

    “Stop equating DISCIPLINE with PUNISHMENT.”

    Yes! I want to shout this from the rooftops.

  8. Joel

    I spank my wife all the time and she’s doesn’t see it assault.

  9. Michele Kendzie

    Hitting is indeed hitting. No reasoning or evidence needed to prove that fact. Why do some people not understand?

    • jen

      Knowing the person who made the reasoning and evidence comment, I’m pretty sure it was directed at Chris who said, “You are wrong,” and not at me. 🙂

  10. Joylyn

    Thank you. Using this in my classroom. We are reading Huck Finn, who gets “licked” by his “Pa” and have been discussing this.

  11. Jennifer

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I have been arguing with people about this for almost 20 years! I truly hope that in my lifetime children will be treated as human beings and not their parents’ property. If you hit your child when he or she is 0-17 it is “discipline.” Hit that same child at 18 and he it she can have you arrested for assault. I have never understood spanking and never will. I feel for Adrian Peterson’s children but hope that maybe some people will change how they feel about spanking. Not likely but one can hope.

  12. Riley

    If you are really that convinced smacking only begats violence, why believe in a God who smote his own son? Obviously consequences given to children, are not always about violence or perpetuating it.

  13. “Whipping Injuries”…that sounds like a Michael Pearl method to me. :O(

  14. Michelle

    I am so, so, so very tired of hearing people say, “I was spanked as a child, and I turned out OK.” I was *beaten* as a child. I had black stripes on my legs from the belt, bloody lips, and black eyes. I was also raped (twice) as a teenager. I’m OK. I’m actually a very successful adult in a happy marriage with two wonderful children and an amazing career. So by that reasoning, child abuse and rape must also be acceptable.

  15. Cheryl Kasson

    Thank you so much for this post today. I’ve been saying this for years too. There is no excuse for striking a child. Spanking a child, with your hand or a switch, with any degree of force, in abuse, not discipline. You should not be able to keep calling yourself a Christian if you strike your child.

  16. Jeff

    I’m a bit peeved that the only two male responses are oppositional. So, I feel like I should provide some positive feedback. You are right on all accounts, Jen. People forget that physical action has more repercussions than those visible to the naked eye. Children are impressionable and corporal punishment is a tremendous contrast to the feeling of safety and love that most parents cultivate in their child’s early years. So, when a kid gets a “whoopin” they’re faced with two sides of a parent that their immature minds can’t comprehend and they end up like me- a 22 year old who is seemingly “fine,” but emotionally distant with his father out of fear that was instilled at an early age. Bottom line: physical discipline doesn’t send the message you want it to send.

  17. Paul Gosling

    I agree that in some cases parent’s use of smacking (or spanking as my US cousins call it) can be excessive but is most parents use a short, sharp shock to bring their kids into line. I was smacked as a child and I knew from a very early age what behaviour was acceptable and what wasn’t, I only fear that the children of today know only too well what buttons to press and use the, “you can’t hit me” card to their advantage.

    • Natalie™

      You talk about kids as if they’re some kind of opponent to dominate; like their goal in life is to “press buttons” and play whatever card they can to out-maneuver their parents and get away with stuff. Maybe it’s that view of children that is the underlying problem – that they are a force to compete with, rather than small, learning humans who need bigger, more knowledgable humans to come *alongside* them with guidance, empathy, gentle firmness, and clear communication. I think kids really only tend to “press buttons” and “play cards” when they feel uncertain or unsafe, like when their parents are being tentative or confusing about setting boundaries, or aren’t listening to them, validating their emotions, or giving enough positive attention. (And to be clear, boundaries totally can and SHOULD be set clearly and with firmness, but NOT with violence or other punitive methods that again make the child the “opponent”). Most of the time, kids are quite eager to cooperate if they are approached with respect by a trusted adult and asked to be part of the solution to whatever problem or task is at hand.

      I also was hit as a child, in a way that was probably similar to what you describe in your own childhood. I’m glad you don’t seem to think it did you any harm, but I can tell you that for me, it most certainly did. As “mild” as it was in comparison to what most of my friends were getting at home, it left me broken, afraid of my own feelings, afraid of my own actions, ashamed of myself and who I was, passive-aggressive because I didn’t feel safe or allowed to say what I really thought/felt (even into adulthood), full of hate for my own body because of how worthless and disgusting it must be to deserve to be treated that way… I could go on. And I maintain that my body has ALWAYS belonged to me, and no one has EVER had the right to hit me; I didn’t grow into the rights to my own body at some random age. I was born with them. So what was done to me as a little child was wrong.

      Discipline is a process that takes patience; children learn at a different pace and through different means than adults, and we need to respect that. There is ALWAYS a better option than hitting, and since hitting a child is a direct violation of that child’s body and personhood, hitting should NEVER even be an option.

  18. Natalie™

    “Stop ignoring the fact that if you’re still advocating for hitting people smaller than you that you are not fine.”

    THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I HAVE BEEN SAYING FOR YEARS!!! “My parents did it and I turned out fine.” Okay. But you believe that it’s OKAY for a big person to hit a little person if the big person doesn’t like what the little person does. How is that fine? Also, you believe it was somehow okay for YOU to get hit when you were small and vulnerable and learning – what a terrible thing to believe about yourself! That you deserved to have your body violated for making mistakes – that is NOT fine!!!

    Thank you for this.

  19. Jennifer,

    Pretty humbled to be connected to all of the resources you mentioned in this article.

    Very honored to have written the foreword for Jesus The Gentle Parent. Very honored to have been acknowledged in Stephanie Cox’s book. Plus so honored you mentioned my own book.

    Thank you so much.

    Best wishes from Jerusalem.

    Samuel Martin

  20. I couldn’t agree more.
    My mind is blown by people defending the abuse of that child. Where I live, he would not only have a CPS investigation, it would involve a criminal investigation and charges of child abuse.

    • Prudence Dagg

      Perhaps it technically should in his state also. (I haven’t kept up with the story.) However, as the saying goes, “Money talks.”

      (It is interesting that money didn’t keep this from hitting the news, though.)

  21. Nicole

    I’m opposed to spanking, but I also think it’s problematic to equate a child being whipped with what most people call spanking. Under that thought pattern, either Peterson does not deserve to be charged and lose custody, or the vast majority of parents in the US deserve to be charged and lose custody. I can tell you the later would be absolutely devastating, along with completely impossible to pull off.

    It also devalues the trauma children who are abused go through by pretending a kid who is ‘swatted’ on their fully clothed bottom on occasion with a kid who is systematically and violently whipped to the point it causes injuries to his genitals. The fact that neither is good does not mean they are equally bad.

    I also think it makes parents rather defensive to go down this path, rather than attempting to engage and teach more effective discipline techniques that will work for them. Parents often spank because they are frustrated and lack the emotional and social support they need- I would venture to guess most parents who spank don’t like that they do it. If we can engage and support those parents, it would be extremely helpful to both them and their children.

    • jen

      My website is full of support, resources, and ideas for people who wish to stop spanking, for exactly those reasons.

    • Courtney

      Thank you Nicole and jen. I appreciate this important conversation, and especially Nicole’s input. I think any family that uses spanking as a consequence is going to be defensive about it. It’s a tool that is used when all others are spent; when parents are beyond their own abilities and resources. I have found parenting to be the most humbling process and it has brought to light my own weaknesses time and time again. I feel vulnerable, embarrassed, ashamed even and at the same time so very responsible for helping my children become people who respect and obey and make good choices. I hear your message jen, but appreciate Nicole’s understanding and willingness to see very loving, thoughtful parents are trying to navigate these waters as well.

      • jen

        Courtney, please understand that this is just one tiny post of thousands, each with a different feel & purpose. This one was born out of a desperation and and frustration aimed at the people who are lauding Peterson’s behavior as normal and healthy… not at the people who are so trying to do better. I absolutely understand and recognize that loving and thoughtful parents are, as you said, trying to navigate these waters as well.

  22. Emily S.

    Thank you very much for this post! I was ‘spanked’ as a child. No I didn’t have bruises or welts, but it still felt wrong somehow. Really, looking back now that I’m an adult, the only lesson I learned was that if the parents didn’t see it or find out about it then it never happened. I learned to be sneaky, and tell half truths. I turned out OK, but it could have been so much better.
    Then I became a parent myself, and I felt so sure of myself. Until she started testing the boundaries I had set. I didn’t want to spank, but every person I talked to and every resource I read (including the Pearl’s book, which left a bad taste in my mouth) said to spank. I was only sourcing ‘good christian’ resources and talking to people from church at the time. I didn’t know there was another side. I spanked my sweet girl up until about 3 years ago. I never stopped looking for resources, and I found them. This blog is one of them. I am slowly learning and growing past the urge to spank, but it is not easy! I want my daughter to learn that there is a better way and we don’t have to violate children’s rights just to teach them.

    • lili

      Emily, you and I both shared the same story. I got the book from dr. Dobson “the strong willed child” at a yard sale in our church not knowing I’d regret those .25 cents the rest of my life. I’m in the gentle journey now, but it’s been so rough to conquer my own emotions and self control. I love my boys and I hope I can cover all the wrongs with His love and kindness. Praying for you 🙂

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