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Social Issues: Letters

From: Ross Olson <ross@{at}>
Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2014
To: Editor Star Tribune (opinion{at}
Subject: Piling On

Everybody seems to be of one mind regarding the Adrian Peterson affair but there are actually two big

One question is whether physical punishment is by definition abuse. When I was actively practicing
Pediatrics, every major conference would feature a speaker or two who stated that not only is spanking
abuse, furthermore, it is the major cause of violence in our society. It sounded reasonable, parents
using size and strength to enforce their will, until the absence of evidence was discovered. Studies that
seemed to show damage lumped severe abuse and mild spanking together, assuming the conclusion in
the design of the study. Despite the fact that most adults have experienced physical punishment as
children, the claim is made that “now we know better.” This is known in philosophy as the chronological
fallacy – assuming that what we believe is automatically superior to what was believed in the past. Also
conveniently forgotten is the demonstrable fact that was articulated 3000 years ago by Solomon, “Folly
is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” Strangely, during
the time that physical punishment has been curtailed in western society, we have probably become
more violent. For sure, America has the highest rate of incarceration of any nation on earth.

The second question is whether physical punishment can be overdone and of course, the answer is
yes. That does not automatically answer the first question. “Spanking” – it is prejudicial to call it
“hitting” of “beating” – is not to be done impulsively in anger but almost as a ritual. A child can be told
something like: “You know you have done wrong and you will get a spanking. This will help you
remember. I still love you.” To say it is abuse if it leaves marks is one simple but ambiguous way to
determine if it was overdone and misses the point of the whole context. It makes it easy for strongly-
stated but ultimately uninformed opinions.

Researcher Larzarele discovered that the year after elimination of mild spanking in Sweden, the rate of
severe abuse was more than double that in the US. D. Baumrind found that in the US permissive parents
who opposed spanking admitted more often to "explosive attacks of rage in which they inflicted more
pain or injury than they intended." Why? If you tie parent’s hands, they become frustrated. Everybody
please stop emoting for a moment and think about it.

Ross S. Olson MD,
American College of Pediatricians
Richfield MN 55423
For more on spanking, see "Spanking".

Send comments to me at ross{at}

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