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A Conversation with Rev. Jesse L. Peterson

Yesterday I was invited to appear on “Manhood Hour” with black conservative minister Rev. Jesse L. Peterson.  We had an interesting, to say the least, conversation about corporal punishment, forgiveness and a range of other related topics.  Listen in  . . . 

Why I Believe Creflo Dollar’s Daughter

                                                              
This week I was interview by Loop21 for my thoughts about Creflo Dollar’s alleged assault against his daughter.  Check out what I had to say in Tara Pringle Jefferson’s wonderful piece.  Courtesy of Loop21.com.

 

By Tara Pringle Jefferson

When Creflo Dollar took to the pulpit on Sunday, the congregation at World Changers International was waiting to hear if he would address the allegations that he was involved in a violent altercation with his daughter only a few days prior.

He would.

Standing in the pulpit, Dollar assured his congregation, “I would never put any fault on my children. As Jesus would never put any fault on me. I love her with all of my heart. Amen. There are two things that are certain in the life of a Christian parent. Number one is that we win. And number two is that tests will come to try and shake your faith.” He added, “As a church family, I want you to hear personally from me that all is well in the Dollar household.”

But is it?

The police report says that Dollar’s 15-year-old daughter called 911 after her father assaulted her, an argument had escalated after he told her she couldn’t go to a party.

“The truth is she was not choked, she was not punched. There were not any scratches on her neck,” Dollar said to his members. “But the only thing on her neck was a prior skin abrasion from eczema. Anything else is exaggeration and sensationalism.”

So what did happen then?

“She was not choked.”

“She was not punched.”

Where is the responsibility or the denial of responsibility? What about, “I did not choke her”? “I did not punch her.” It’s almost as if he was distancing himself from the charges with his words, but of course he has a reputation to protect. As the founding pastor of a booming megachurch, he wouldn’t want any allegations to cause harm to his brand, er, calling.

News reports say his congregation wholeheartedly supported their pastor, which I suppose is their right. But what does it say about our society that we are more concerned with protecting Dollar than protecting his teenage daughter? Dollar’s supporters are quick to say, “We don’t know the whole story.” Or the ever-popular “Teenagers can really take you there,” insinuating that whatever happened was a result of what the daughter did or didn’t do, versus a grown man having full control over his emotions.

If you think I’m trying to paint Creflo Dollar in a negative light, believe me I’m not. What I am trying to do is examine why people are so quick to rush to his defense. There is a difference between the two. He may very well be innocent, but his daughter -— and her 19-year-old sister -— claimed something wicked went down in his house, so I’m going to believe them until I have a reason not to. I know teens can be difficult. My children are still young but as a 20-something mother, I was an unruly teen not too long ago. I remember how I would push boundaries and stay out later than I was allowed, and my parents were there to check me and my foolish decisions.

But never did they ever raise a hand to me.

We say physical discipline is about keeping our children on the straight and narrow, about giving them a chance to learn those hard lessons at home so they don’t leave our homes and fall into a life of crime. We say we want our children to fear us and to know that what we say is law, that there is no negotiating with children who do not pay the bills or buy the groceries. We cling to that oft-misused phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child” to justify leaving our children with bruises and welts. We say, “I was spanked/beaten/whooped and I turned out fine.”

Kudos for you. But the research suggests — no, proves — that spanking doesn’t work. A 2010 Pediatrics study showed that the children who had been spanked were “more likely than the non-spanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals.” Yeah, that sounds healthy and exactly what parents are going for when they reach for the belt or the switch.

Stacey Patton, child abuse survivor and creator of the Web siteSpareTheKids.com, an online extension of her positive parenting workshops, has dedicated her life to empowering parents with other, non-physical parenting tools so they can leave forms of corporal punishment in the past.

“Black people need to understand that the problems our kids have aren’t because they aren’t being beaten enough,” Patton says. “We’re only becoming co-conspirators against them. It’s not helping them get along in society.”

Patton works with many social service agencies, spending a good chunk of time with children in the foster care system, where instances of abuse are high.

“You just see the kind of trauma they’ve gone through,” Patton says. “Our cultural conversation needs to change. We live in a society where it’s legal to assault children. We need to start talking about hitting children in the same way as we talk about hitting women.”

Patton knows that part of the problem is that people tend to parent in the same way they were parented — and they aren’t interested in new techniques.

“People who beat their kids do love them — I’m convinced of that,” Patton says. “They just don’t have the tools. I hear people say, ‘I’m not reasoning with a child’ — that actually means having good communication skills.”

Patton says the Creflo Dollar case is an example of Christian theology run amok. “It’s really irresponsible for a black pastor to stand up in front of his congregation and sanction being violent toward children,” she says. “‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ — that’s not even what that scripture means. Nowhere in the Bible does a shepherd pick up a stick and beat the sheep.”

I’m not here to get Creflo Dollar’s head on a platter. What am I here for is for violence against youth to stop. If the allegations are true, if the daughter’s version of events are what really went down that night, will all those “let’s wait and see”-ers feel shame?

There comes a point where we have to believe our children. We have to do better by them and it starts with giving them jurisdiction over their own bodies. I have a firm rule in my household that I will not discipline my child in any way that I would not like my husband to do to me. So kicking, punching, spanking, slapping — all of those are out.

I read an amazing run-down of the Creflo Dollar case over at the Crunk Feminist Collective (worth reading in its entirety) that sums up my feelings on where we need to go from here: “It is because I believe in Jesus and feminism, that I don’t tolerate violence against women in any form from the men in my life, and I for damn sure, am not gonna sit up and hear violent ish coming at me from the pulpit. Black women have to become as serious about demanding that our churches are spaces where we can tell our testimonies about the violence done to us and be believed.”

Shall We Imagine That Trayvon Was White?

                                                                

What will it take for us to imagine Trayvon Martin as an innocent youth, gunned down for being black? 

As everyone from the Florida State Attorney’s Office to the FBI endlessly weighs evidence, probability and possibility in this high-profile tragedy, I ask you: do you need to close your eyes and imagine Trayvon as a young white teen to see his innocence and to consider him worthy of simple justice? 

New evidence in this tragedy seems to emerge every few days, sending all forms of media and experts into a race-drenched frenzy of analysis, pontification, and debate. A Time Magazine round-up of “The most relevant new pieces of information in the trial of George Zimmerman from the Florida special prosecutor’s new 183-page report” gives a few examples:

1.    New video of Trayvon Martin before the incident doesn’t show any 
       aggressive behavior.
2.    George Zimmerman’s injuries appear consistent with his claims to 
       police.
3.    Martin was shot at close range. 
4.    There are so far no witnesses to the beginning of the 
       confrontation.
5.    One witness said the fight had ended by the time the shot rang out.
6.    George Zimmerman may have been profiling black males.
7.    George Zimmerman was accused of having racist views.
8.    Trayvon Martin had traces of THC in his blood.
9.    Trayvon Martin may have been running from Zimmerman at first.
10.  The lead investigator felt that there was enough evidence, based on 
        what he saw, to charge Zimmerman.

I propose that this case is not simply about whatever evidence is used to determine whether George Zimmerman goes to trial, and if so, the outcome of that trial. This case is really about the fact that black children in America have never been seen as innocent, as pure, as deserving of protection or worthy of justice. 

This current discourse about Trayvon Martin reminds me of a scene from the movie, A Time to Kill, which I saw as a teenager. In that 1996 film, based on an earlier book by John Grisham, Tonya Hailey, a little black girl is viciously raped by two drunken white men who then commit several more acts of violence against her. The girl’s father, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is accused of murdering the men who raped his little girl, and goes to  trial. 

This excerpted version of the courtroom summation given by the father’s attorney, Jake Tyler Brigance, played by Matthew McConaughey, paints an unforgettable picture of what it takes for us to see black children in a different light: 

“I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes 
while I tell you the story … about a little girl walking home from the 
grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl. 
Suddenly a truck races up. Two men jump out and … drag her into a nearby 
field and they tie her up and they rip her clothes from her body … First 
one, then the other, raping her, shattering everything innocent and pure 
with a vicious thrust in a fog of drunken breath and sweat. And when 
they’re done, after they’ve killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for 
her to have children, to have life beyond her own, they … start throwing 
full beer cans at her … so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her 
bones. Then they urinate on her … They have a rope. They tie a noose. 
Imagine the noose going tight around her neck and with a sudden blinding 
jerk she’s pulled into the air and her feet and legs go kicking … The 
hanging branch … snaps and she falls back to the earth. So they pick her 
up, throw her in the back of the truck and drive out to Foggy Creek 
Bridge. Pitch her over the edge. And she drops some thirty feet down to 
the creek bottom below. Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body 
soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to 
die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine 
she’s white.

Is that what it takes? 

Do we have to close our eyes and change Trayvon’s  skin to white to stop trying to make him out to be a huge, drug-addled threat to George Zimmerman rather than an innocent teenage boy walking home from a nearby store? 

Even as a teen, younger than Trayvon was at the time of his murder, I knew that something was very, very wrong with the notion that the little black girl who had been so horrifically victimized could not be seen as innocent unless the jury pictured her as white.

Is there any hope of justice for black children if we cannot bring ourselves to imagine or see their inherent goodness and innocence beyond the projection of another identity? The notion of blackness as threatening, evil, dangerous, bad, guilty, and suspicious is so deeply ingrained into the American psyche that even in death, Trayvon cannot find sanctuary. 

Even in death he is being demonized. Why else would the media and the experts make so much of the fact that he had marijuana in his system, or some marks or scratches on his hands? And if he had fought back, does that exonerate Zimmerman and justify the cold-blooded murder of an innocent and unarmed teenager? 

In death, Trayvon is being portrayed as a man, as Zimmerman’s physical equal, so threatening that they’re scrambling to justify his murder. Why can’t we imagine Trayvon as frightened by a strange man tailing him in a car, and then jumping out of the car, armed with a weapon, to question his place? Why are we trying to criminalize the possibility that Trayvon might have fought back to defend himself against a stalking stranger? 

Do we have to close our eyes to pretend that he was scared, vulnerable, under attack, innocent, that he had the right to bodily integrity, to stand his ground in the face of danger? 

This scenario is not new. 

During the Jim Crow period, in southern news reports of lynchings of black boys, city officials and the press often defensively “aged” adolescent and teenage victims in their descriptions.  For example, the 14-year-old Emmett Till who was murdered in 1955 in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman, was described as “looking like a man” – an ironic reversal of the “boy” appellation given to black men. 

Things haven’t changed.  Jim Crow is gone.  But today’s black parents still have to worry because Trayvon Martin is this generation’s Emmett Till, killed in his own suburban, gated community where he lived.  Maybe the class status of some blacks has improved, but not the way in which their children are regarded.

If George Zimmerman goes to trial, will the prosecuting attorney have to follow the lead of the fictional attorney Jake Tyler Brigance from A Time Kill and ask the jury to close their eyes and imagine that Trayvon Martin was white for any chance of justice?

How Some Teachers Contribute to Child Abuse

 

32-year-old Johnny Allen charged with child abuse

In Memphis this week, two black parents, 33-year-old Mary Higginbottom and 32-year-old Johnny Allen, were charged with aggravated child abuse http://wreg.com/2012/05/17/parents-jailed-for-beating-child-over-report-card/ after they beat their son over a bad grade on a report card.

According to a police report, the 10-year-old boy received a “non-satisfactory” grade for conduct.  He told police that he changed the grade from “N” to “S” for “satisfactory,” and gave it to his mother to sign.  When his mother noticed that the grade had been changed, she and her husband took turns whipping him.

The next day, the boy returned to school with “open flesh wounds on his arms, head and face.” 

33-year-old Mary Higginbottom charged with child abuse

LaVerne Simms, a neighbor, told a local reporter that the boy probably got a “non-satisfactory” conduct grade because he was being bullied at school.  The boy had confided in her about being teased by other students.

“He said, ‘Miss LaVerne, they don’t like me at school.’ He said, ‘They pick on me all the time.’ And I said, ‘Well…turn the other cheek, walk the other way, and say, the Good Lord be with you.’”

Another neighbor, Maxine Fowler, said that Higgonbottom and Allen are good parents who don’t deserve to be in jail.

Whether or not they “deserve” to be in jail, this case is indicative of two things:

One, what happens when changing attitudes and policy conflict with what used to be commonplace practices; i.e., spanking a child for anything a parent or adult might consider misbehavior, including a “bad” report card; and

Two, what happens when the punishment leads to unintended consequences that not only far exceed the inciting infraction, but have the potential to cause serious, long-term harm to an individual or, in this case, an entire family, rippling out to touch their community.  

Higginbottom and Allen acted, as many parents do, out of frustration, anger and fear that their child would not progress through the education system in a positive manner. Perhaps they had a pre-defined and mutually understood rule that anything less than a certain grade on a report card would automatically result in a whipping.  Maybe that’s what led their son, out of desperation, to try to change the grade on the report card.

Years ago, even a child attending school the next day with visible open wounds might not have led to the parents being jailed.  But laws regarding child abuse have evolved to the point where legal intervention is increasingly common, and where one family’s definition of “discipline” can easily run afoul of the legal definition of child abuse.

I doubt that Higginbottom and Allen gave this a thought.  They possibly figured that “a really good beating” would solve the issues of misbehavior in school, and the failed attempt to falsify the report card to hide the misbehavior.    

Today, they sit in jail, with their son potentially in or headed to the foster care system—thereby increasing his risk of becoming fodder for our nation’s voracious cradle-to-prison pipeline.

Due to these Draconian measures, this small family is not being given a chance to learn from this situation, to grow, or to do better next time. In a 10-year-old boy’s mind, he might be reasoning that bullying leads to beating leads to institutionalization. The chances of him emerging unscathed from this scenario are slim to none. 

The parents are in jail, deprived of the opportunity for positive intervention to introduce them to safer and healthier options for disciplining their child, and for creating a family culture where the boy felt safe sharing the fact that he was being bullied.

So many “teachable moments” have been lost in this scenario, including the very important opportunity for teachers to consider the potential consequences of their communications with parents. The teachers, who are simply doing what is required of them by assigning grades and behavior indicators for parents via report cards, might not learn to understand the potentially painful and dangerous consequence that await some children when that information is received and acted upon by harshly punitive parents.

And, as we know, the lessons a child learns from being beaten are more likely to lead to an increase in problematic behaviors down the road. What parents who spank and beat their children are doing is setting the child’s hard-drive to subconsciously expect and accept that violence is an acceptable response to frustration, fear, displeasure and anger. 

It is easy to see how parents experiencing these feelings, promise a teacher that they will work with their child to improve the behavior and/or grades in question. Then, when parents receive a communication from the teacher—whether through a report card, a mid-term progress report, disciplinary notice, telephone call or request for a parent-teacher meeting—telling them that the problem has not been solved, this might make it more likely that the child will experience corporal punishment.

In addition to helping parents move beyond beating their children to include more effective disciplinary tools in their repertoire, teachers must receive training to make them culturally aware and sensitive to how their communications might lead to unintended consequences for their students and families.

No willful crimes were committed in this case, not by the boy, or by his parents. Yes, the mother and father clearly went overboard and yes, intervention was warranted for the level of physical abuse suffered by their son.

But shoving another family—especially an African-American family—into the prison-industrial complex and its feeder foster care system, not only escalates the level of trauma experienced by the poor boy and his misguided parents, but makes it all but impossible for the underlying issues of bullying, limited parenting skills, etc., to be addressed and remedied.

This case is a sad and painful reminder at every level of how bad things can become when the “remedy” is worse than the condition it is supposed to cure.

 

 

 

When Child Abuse Hits Home

                                                            

This past Friday I concluded my National Child Abuse Prevention Month tour that extended from Sonoma County, California to Gary, Indiana.  In each of my workshops and keynote presentations I emphasized to my audiences that child abuse knows no cultural boundaries.

What does child abuse in America look like today?  It looks like all of us—like me and like you.

It looks like poor families, middle-class, and yes, even wealthy families.  Child abuse looks like suburban, urban, and rural America.  It is, in many ways, an invisible epidemic, hiding in plain sight across class lines, socio-economic strata, and zip codes.  

Over 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States.  For context, let us consider:

·  A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds

·  More than five children die every day as a result of child abuse

·  Approximately 80% of children that die from abuse are under the age of 4.

·  It is estimated that between 50-60% of child fatalities due to maltreatment are not recorded as such on death certificates.

·  More than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way.

·  About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse.

·  About 80% of 21 year olds that were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder.

·  The estimated annual cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States for 2008 is $124 billion.

· Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.

That last factoid, while not the most graphic or shocking, might be the most surprising.  Most of America associates the horrors of child abuse with “lower-class” people.  Even if we know better intellectually, these stereotypes are so plentiful and pervasive, that it’s easy to slip into the dangerous waters of denial about just how widespread this epidemic really is.

It is tempting to assess a situation at face value and, if the outside looks neat and pretty and prosperous, we can be lulled into a false sense that it happens “over there, to those other people, the ones existing on the margins of society, barely hanging on.”  We can too easily believe that this ugliness has no place in suburbs and subdivisions, with manicured landscaping, well-tended lawns, sparkling cars and all the accoutrements of “the good life.”  

The issue of child abuse is about much, much more than just the numbers.  It’s about the many ways in which abuse robs children of their innocence, of their childhood, of the chance to grow up feeling safe, feeling cherished, feeling loved and protected by the adults who you depend upon.

I know this first-hand. 

My early years were impacted and shaped, in large part, by my adoptive mother, who plucked me from foster care at age 5 only to inflict horrendous physical, mental and emotional abuse upon me until I escaped at age 12. 

Nobody came to help me because nobody suspected that these terrible things could be happening behind the doors of our lovely middle-class suburban home.  My adoptive parents were hardworking people with a nice home and good standing in their community.  My adoptive father was a Pentecostal preacher, someone who was looked up to, a leader who provided guidance and advice for others.   

I am a witness to the fact that this epidemic transcends many of the borders that humankind uses to categorize ourselves and others. I am proof that none of us should “believe the hype” about child abuse being more prevalent in urban communities, in poor neighborhoods, or in families that might not fit the American Apple Pie fantasy of “the norm.” My adoptive family, when viewed from the outside, did fit that norm: married parents, a comfortable environment, private schools, and strict religious upbringing.  Other than the abuse that took place behind closed doors, the home in which I spent most of my youth appeared to be everything a child could dream of.

When I was growing up, there was no such thing as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  The topic was not widely discussed or publicly examined.  In the last 20 years or so, awareness has climbed to the point where professionals who work with children—teachers, doctors, dentists, and so on—are required by law to report any suspicion of child abuse.  That is progress, and I believe it can make a big difference in the fight to save our children.

But simply reporting suspected abuse is not the end of the process.  This epidemic impacts victims in complex, often continuing multi-generational patterns that require multi-dimensional approaches to healing, prevention and treatment.  

Child abuse prevention is about hearts.  It’s about seeing beyond the obvious to search for deeper truths.  Truths that might be uncomfortable for you to acknowledge.  Truths that might be painful to confront. Truths that have the potential to turn what you think you know upside-down and inside-out, opening your eyes to the realities of what so many children are facing and fighting and doing their best to somehow survive.

In a world where, despite some superficial outer differences, my story could be yours and yours could be mine.  Child abuse is not just a phenomenon that happens “over there” and to “those people.”  For many people, it’s hard to confront when it hits home.

 

 

Do Abusers Love Their Children?

                                                                 

“I whoop you because I love you.”

My adoptive mother would say this to me before and after her beating rituals.  But the pain never felt like love.  And fortunately, I’ve not become one of those adults who has looked back on those frightening moments and rationalized her behavior as a healthy way to love and protect a child.

You’ll NEVER hear me say: “I was hit as a child and I turned out fine,” or “I didn’t end up in prison because I was whipped as a kid,” or “I’m the person I am today because of the beatings I got as a child.” 

I find this kind of logic problematic, especially among African Americans whose history in this country seems to have conditioned far too many of us to accept that having somebody control and beat us when we are young is somehow at the heart of our success and ability to become law-abiding productive adults.  The fact that so many black people legitimize abuse as a form of responsible parenting, effectively demonstrates how the intergenerational transmission of trauma continues to mentally shackle us and perpetuates rampant abuse which feeds a disproportionate number of young into the foster care and juvenile justice industries.

But as today marks the beginning of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I am struggling to admit that despite her degrading and violent acts, my adoptive mother really did love me.  As hard as it is for me to say that, I am beginning to realize that she abused me not because she hated me (even though I often thought she did), but because she lacked important parenting tools: patience, empathy, communication skills, and the ability to solve problems.

My adoptive mother, like others who sexually and physically abuse their children, had her own set of childhood traumas.  As children those who abuse their own children were exposed to alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence or sexual abuse, a parent in prison or absent and a host of other issues.

My adoptive mother brought her pain and lessons learned as a child to her parenting.  Some of that baggage was collected in the home where she grew up and the rest of that emotional weight was joined by historical injuries that she and older generations of black people sustained under Jim Crow racism.

My adoptive mother, like so many parents who end up in the child welfare system, was severely damaged by her childhood experiences.  She should have never been considered as a potential adopting parent without intensive therapy and parenting classes.  It is clear that social workers did not carefully look into the foundational period of her life to see if she had the ability to overcome her own pain and trauma to parent a little girl in healthy, non-violent ways.

Over the next few weeks I will be hitting the road again.  I’ll be delivering keynotes and leading workshops on a range of issues, from educating child welfare professionals about the relationship between historical trauma and child abuse, to the importance of understanding the emotional journeys of children in foster care. 

But this year, one of my major points of emphasis will be to urge child welfare professionals to appreciate WHY some parents are incapable of nurturing their children in healthy, non-violent ways. 

To fight child abuse, it’s not enough just to remove children from dangerous situations, or to investigate allegations of child abuse.  Social service professionals and others engaged in the fight need to become culturally competent by developing a stronger understanding of the link between child abuse and the history of personal and cultural trauma.

Simply put, some child abusers hurt their children, not because they don’t love them, but because they too were hurt and have not freed themselves of the weight of their own personal and historical traumas.

What A Mama Bear Can Teach Humans About Disciplining Children

By Stacey Patton, Ph.D.

Sometimes, when I’m watching Animal Planet or Nat Geo TV, I observe the family dynamics of animals in the wild.  More than once I’ve thought that human parents could learn a lot about disciplining their children from “wild animal” parents.

Animal parents don’t have 18 years, plus four years of undergraduate school, to prepare their young for survival and adulthood.  Nor do they have endless “experts” offering parenting advice—everything they do is strictly from instinct.

The true purpose of discipline is not to wound a child, but to teach them.  Let’s look at how one Mama Bear approaches this universal challenge without striking her cub. 

This four-photo sequence comes from the British news blog, www.dailymail.co.uk. Check it out: 

Photo 1: Mama Bear picks up Baby Bear by the scruff of his neck (common in mammals) and swings him around.  Obviously, I do not recommend this for human babies.  Shaken baby syndrome, a dangerous and sometimes deadly issue, is no joke.  While this first step might be appropriate for Mama Bear, I think the human version could simply be picking up a child to stop their behavior and making eye contact to focus their attention, and reinforce the parent-child bond.  No swinging or shaking though, please!

Photo 2: Mama Don’t Play That!  She gives Baby Bear the Mad Mama Eye (which is obviously universal), as he looks guilty and sheepish.  Then she backs him into a corner for “time out” and roars her disapproval.  Translation: she has his attention, and she communicates—through touch, expression and voice—that she is displeased.

Photo 3: Their mutual gaze speaks volumes.  Clearly, Baby Bear has received and fully understands his mother’s lesson: that his behavior was not acceptable and will always have consequences.  Her expression is stern but loving.  His is contrite and apologetic. But he does not show any signs of fearing his mother.

Photo 4: The most important part of the “lesson”—a warm hug to reassure Baby Bear that Mama Bear loves him unconditionally, but does not like, approve of or accept it when he misbehaves.  All is forgiven, and love prevails!

If a bear—a wild animal with “savage” instincts—can effectively discipline her cub without striking him, or harming their bond—why can’t humans do the same?  How is it that an animal parent can have more control, more discipline, in expressing its anger, frustration and displeasure to their child, than humans do, and we’re supposed to be more civilized?

Maybe it’s humans that are less evolved when it comes to dealing with anger at our children.  And maybe we can try the Mama Bear glare-and-hug sequence next time.  All positive discipline literature emphasizes coming down to the child’s eye-level to make the connection and impart the lesson.  This is wisdom, straight from nature. 

Child Beater’s Redemption ‘Song’ Goes Wrong

                                                 

The beauty and power of the Internet and the digital age is that it gives everyone the opportunity to tell their side of the story, especially in a controversial situation.

Let us consider the case of Devery Broox, a young African-American man mentoring a 7-year-old boy at the request of the boy’s grandmother and great-grandmother. The boy, who has no father or father figure in the home, had been “acting up” in school for some time.  A few months ago, Broox videotaped himself “straightening out” the young, misbehaving boy by beating him with a belt, shaving his hair and eyebrows , and then forcing the boy to run and do push-ups, all the while heaping him with verbal abuse, Marine Corps Officer Boot Camp-style. The result: one traumatized child. 

The video, which I posted here on October 15, quickly went viral. While Broox begins the video by claiming that he is whipping the boy to save him from the penal system, ironically, he was arrested for child abuse after a viewer called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Fast forward to today, where Devery Broox, in a crudely narcissistic attempt to clean up his public image, participates in a video “interview” where he tells his side of the story after the fact, on WFTV.com.

In this video attempt at redemption, Broox is calm and soft-spoken as he presents a larger context for the initial video. He explains that the 7 year-old boy’s grandmother contacted him to mentor the boy, which he had been doing for more than a year. He says that he made the first video, which began with the message that it “takes a whole village to raise a child,” to “get out there” about “the injustice against black men.”

He provides details such as the fact that the boy has a fungus condition requiring his hair and eyebrows to be shaved periodically, and that he, as a mentor, opted to use that as a method of punishment, knowing that the boy didn’t like it. 

Overall, Broox admits that the original video “doesn’t tell the full story, doesn’t tell anything outside of corporal punishment, and doesn’t portray the message that I wanted it to deliver.”

He also describes himself as a “testament of corporal punishment working,” referring to the spankings he received in his youth. 

Broox doesn’t seem like a bad individual. In fact, he represents a significant portion of the African-American community who has internalized the propaganda about corporal punishment being a positive, character-building, behavior-controlling method of disciplining children and keeping them out of trouble—i.e. the criminal justice system.

Every parent of an African-American child lives with the fear of their son—or daughter—being fed into the cradle-to-prison-pipeline that represents one of our nation’s biggest and most profitable industries. The reality of that risk is well-documented, not only in the daily mainstream news, but in Michelle Alexander’s brilliant book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  

Many an African-American parent or caregiver, when challenged about the wisdom of corporal punishment in a society that is hyper-alert for any signs of potential child abuse and mistreatment, staunchly maintains that spanking the child will keep them out of “the system.” Am I the only one who hears and feels the echoes of slave parents beating their children into submission to help them endure and survive that horrific institution?

I don’t know whether Devery Broox had ever been in “the system” prior to serving jail time for abusing his young mentee, and we have no idea whether he will run afoul of the law in the future. What we DO know is that the belief system underscoring the corporal punishment of America’s children, particularly our black children, MUST be challenged if we are to move forward.

Broox, who rambles on in the second video about wanting to inspire others to step up and work with the children in their communities, is clearly aware of the power of online video in sending a message. His crude attempt at turning a “discipline” session gone wrong into a public service announcement for challenging the flow of young men of color into the prison system may have backfired in terms of the consequences he ended up experiencing, but it brought a lot of attention to a topic that begs to be addressed.

That second video, which plays like a Jekyll-Hyde public relations response to the first, is useful in demonstrating how he has carved out his own space—however flawed his methods—in the public arena.

Both videos spotlight the failure of Broox—and many proponents of corporal punishment—to evolve past the notion of “saving black children” through physical violence, and then justifying their actions as “tough love” or “community responsibility.”

Meanwhile, the 7-year-old boy was left with permanent physical scarring, and who knows what kind of emotional damage, not just from the incident, but from the endless humiliation of having his abuse witnessed by millions of strangers, in an episode that will live forever in cyberspace. Where is the video of the boy telling his side of the story, describing the effects of this incident on his young body and mind? 

Where is the video of Broox sharing what he himself learned from being arrested for abusing a child he was supposed to nurture and guide into manhood?

Devery Broox’s video “redemption song” is a kind of pitiful, solo call-and-response that serves not to exonerate him as an abusive adult, but instead puts the entire culture of beating black children on trial.

What will WE, as judge and jury, decide to do next?

If You Hit Your Child, They Can’t Date My Child

  • January 29, 2012
  • By admin
  • In Blog
  • Comments Off on If You Hit Your Child, They Can’t Date My Child

                                                        

By Dr. Stacey Patton

Let’s get this out of the way first: I am not a parent. I don’t have children. But in my work as an advocate for children, I work with and am informed and educated by many wise people who are parents, and we talk openly and honestly about all kinds of parenting issues. Including, of course, corporal punishment.

The other day one of my coworkers told me a few days ago about riding the D.C. Metro and seeing a woman clench her fist and punch her young son squarely in the chest. Horrified by what she was witnessing, the coworker, who is the mother of a young boy, said her first thought was: “Oh my god, my son is going to have to grow up with that kid.”  She also said that she wouldn’t want her child playing with that poor young boy, because he was being socialized to believe that violence was okay.

Another friend, whose son and daughter are college-age, puts it this way: “If you spank your child, they won’t be dating mine.” While acknowledging that she doesn’t literally have control over who her son and daughter date, she does feel strongly that a child who grows up with physical punishment will consider it an appropriate way to express fear, anger or frustration in an intimate relationship.

Are my friends off-base?

Pediatrics magazine published a 2010 study by researchers at Tulane University of nearly 2,500 youngsters. The findings, reported in the May 3, 2010 issue of Time magazine, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1983895,00.html#ixzz1ku7weGQk included this:

“As 5-year-olds, the children who had been spanked were more likely than the non-spanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals. The reason for this may be that spanking sets up a loop of bad behavior.”

What happens when those 5-year-olds become 15, 20, 25? If their emotional and psychological “hard drives” have been wired for physical outbursts in their tender, formative years, what would stop them from hitting a romantic partner?

That seems like common sense to me.

I’ve read many studies on corporal punishment that make similar conclusions. Beyond research though, doesn’t common sense and a basic understanding of human nature suggest that it’s important to set the tone for interpersonal relations in the parent-child relationship?

We all know that feelings of anger, frustration and fear—often combined—are a normal part of parenting children of any age.  But parents who find constructive ways to manage those emotions and communicate their feelings to their children in constructive ways might be providing a valuable service by teaching them the skills they’ll need to thrive in intimate relationships when they’re older.

That “loop of bad behavior” mentioned in the Time article seems to point to the risk of dating violence. Maybe you wouldn’t see a mother punching her child in the chest and think of that child’s relationship to your son or daughter, but what would your reaction be? The person in power is using their size, their superior role, and their “authority” to perpetuate physical violence on someone who is vulnerable and helpless. What went through that little boy’s mind, what lesson was his mother teaching him?

Please share your thoughts.  I genuinely welcome your responses, as long as they don’t advocate violence of any form against children. 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Not Alone in Standing Up For Kids

                                            

By Dr. Stacey Patton

Yesterday, The Times of Trenton officially announced that I will receive the 2012 Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award from Womanspace of Mercer County, NJ.  This recognition has been bestowed on 18 stellar women, including artist Faith Ringgold, television personality Star Jones, journalist Diane Sawyer, and Rutgers University basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer.

To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Womanspace selected me to receive its annual for my work on behalf of children who have been abused or neglected.

It’s always nice to be recognized for your work, especially when it’s work you do from the heart.  While my “official” professions are author, journalist and historian, my “passion project” is speaking to and working with youth and adults around issues of foster care, adoption, and domestic violence.

As you know, I am one who includes the spanking of children—corporal punishment in the name of discipline—in my definition of domestic violence. When I share this perspective, and my commitment to giving parents options to use in their child-rearing toolkit, some people react very negatively. I’ve received countless insults, typed attacks and threats on this site and elsewhere for suggesting that physical violence might not be the best way to communicate with a child. 

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of those people who are most adamant about spanking and beating children (you know, the ones who loudly and proudly advocate “whuppin’ that a**”) often have hostile reactions to my advocacy work.

Fending off attacks is nothing new for me: I spent my childhood trying to survive an abusive adopted home. So the vicious comments and accusations only fuel my determination to grow this movement until the beating of children is viewed as socially unacceptable.

So in addition to being an honor, I appreciate Womanspace’s recognition of my work, not only because I have deep respect for their organization, but because it is so profoundly validating of my efforts to make a difference. This is especially important these days when, despite rhetoric to the contrary, the well-being of kids is not a national priority.

The Children’s Defense Fund reports that Black children are facing the worst crisis in America since slavery. Their statistics paint a grim and frightening portrait of young Black life in our nation. There are many areas for progress and improvement: health, education, poverty, fractured family structure, and risk of crime and incarceration. Why then would we add corporal punishment to the already daunting load of challenges faced by Black children today?

Womanspace is a nonprofit that provides help for victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and they have upgraded their child advocacy program this year into a full-service therapeutic children’s counseling division. They get it!

I will humbly and gratefully accept their Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award on behalf of every parent who has struggled with anger, fear and frustration; every child who wonders why the person they rely on for survival is hurting them to “teach you a lesson;” on behalf of the countless women and men in social services; and in tribute to those advocates and activists who came before me. It means a lot to me, for all those reasons.

But the most important message that this honor conveys is that, despite the often hateful response to standing up for children, I am not alone in this struggle, the most important of my life.

The Womanspace fundraiser will be held on May 9, in the Westin Hotel at Forrestal Village. Please help support their work by purchasing a ticket, or making a donation at www.womanspace.org, or calling them at 609.394.0136.

 

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