Get Well Wednesday: How Spanking Affects Your Children’s Health

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Dr. Stacey Patton is an adoptee, child abuse survivor, and former foster youth turned award-winning author, journalist and child advocate.

Her reporting on issues of child welfare, race relations, and higher education has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Al Jazeera, BBC News, TheRoot.com, The Chronicle of Higher Education, ForHarriet.com, and Dame Magazine. She has made appearances on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, FOX News, CBS, and Democracy Now.

Dr. Patton has won numerous journalism awards and citations from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, National Association of Black Journalists, Scripps Howard Foundation, New York Women in Communications, and the Education Writers Associations. In 2015, Dr. Patton was awarded the Vernon Jarrett Medal for her national commentary and reporting on race.

As a nationally recognized child advocate, Dr. Patton travels the country delivering keynotes and professional trainings focused on combating racial disparities in child abuse cases, criminal prosecutions for child abuse, foster care placements, the over prescribing of psychotropic medications to children of color in foster care, the school and foster care-to-prison pipelines, corporal punishment in public schools, diversion and restorative justice programs. She works as an intermediary between social service and law enforcement agencies seeking to improve services to communities of color.

Dr. Patton also provides workshops for youth in care, and those aging out, with a primary focus on enhancing their communications and conflict-resolution skills, and developing strategies to help them prepare for productive lives.

Her trainings have reached thousands of children and professionals since 2010. For her efforts, in 2016 the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children bestowed her with the Outstanding Service and Advancement of Cultural Competency in Child Maltreatment Prevention and Intervention Award.

Dr. Patton attended Johns Hopkins University and New York University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She earned her Ph.D. in African-American history from Rutgers University. Her dissertation, “Why Black Children Can’t Grow Up: The Construction of Racial Childhood in America, 1880-1954,” focuses on the acceleration of Black children’s maturity into perceived adulthood is a core feature of anti-black racism both institutionally and socially.

She examines how the racialization of the life stages of the child – embryonic development, birth, infancy, adolescence, and puberty – were seized by medical practitioners, psychologists, social scientists, educators, child welfare and juvenile justice professionals who used their respective disciplines to promote discriminatory polices targeted at Black children.

Those policies indelibly shaped Black parents’ sometimes harmful counterintuitive discipline practices, which explain how African-American children have come to experience disproportionately high rates of abuse and fatalities in our contemporary culture.

In addition to her child advocacy work, Dr. Patton is an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of That Mean Old Yesterday – A Memoir (Simon and Schuster), Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America (Beacon Press), and the forthcoming book Strung Up: The Lynching of Black Children and Teenagers in America, 1880-1968 (Beacon Press).

The rate at which Black children lose their lives as a result of physical abuse is consistently three times higher than the rate of child abuse-related fatalities in other races.  “When we look at these awful statistics,” writes journalist and child-advocate Stacey Patton, “a disturbing truth emerges: in addition to the threats from trigger-happy police and gun-toting men ‘standing their ground,’ the safety of Black children is under peril from a culture of whuppings.”

Patton, who has written widely on child welfare and race, and is herself a child abuse survivor, is the author of the forthcoming book SPARE THE KIDS: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America.  Setting forth the abundance of research that has failed to change opinions or practices, she asks Black parents to come to terms with the destructiveness of any level of hitting children, including the negative impact on brain development.

“I understand the immediate urge to defend Black spaces, Black parents, and Black culture and identity,” writes Patton. “But we should consider that maybe—just maybe—white supremacy has done a masterful job of getting its victims of centuries of racial oppression to continue its trauma work and convinced us to call it ‘love.’”

Tracing the ways in which corporal punishment of Black children is linked to white supremacy, Patton draws on some surprising data, including that 19 states still allow public school students to be hit with wooden panels—and that most of today’s top ten paddling states were also the top ten lynching states in the early twentieth century.

She also  examines how Black boys who’ve been whupped by their mothers grow up to mistreat other Black women, how hitting daughters can trigger early puberty, why many Black churches encourage corporal punishment, and why Black comedians joke about whuppings.

The book’s release date is March 21st.

Dr. Patton answers your questions below: 

What happens when the kids or teens fight the parents and the kids were never spanked before?

Thanks so much for your question. I would like to know more about the history of the parent-child relationship because kids and teens don’t just come into the world swinging on their parents. Have there been other types of violence in the home that has caused the child to normalize this behavior?  Has there been a deep disruption in the family unit? Are there other types of issues like drug use?  Medical or psychological issues?

Now is not the time to start whupping the child. Parents should protect themselves and do their best to try to de-escalate the violence. It’s tempting to react to the behavior and to react to violence with violence.  But as a parent, you have to find out what is causing it. Every behavior meets a need. What’s behind the child’s behavior?

Dr. Patton, I now confine my 16-year-old to his room with no phone, no iPad no radio, no TV. But he’s still mouthy. What else do you suggest?

I congratulate you for using consequence-based discipline by taking away your son’s gadgets. Based on your question, I assume that you’ve been punishing your child for being “mouthy.”  Even though this annoying and never pleasant, this is normal teenage behavior.

Is it safe to say that you acted the same way during your teen years? You should read a great book called Parenting the Teenage Brain by Sheryl Feinstein.  To adjust your expectations and how you react to your teen, you have to first understand how his brain works.

Being a child of talk discipline, I was so surprised to learn that my niece slaps her 5-year-old son in the face to “get his attention.” I feel stuck and don’t know how to STOP this or help her.

Slapping a child in the face is abuse!  You should talk to your niece and ask her why she slaps the child. You might discover that she was probably slapped, too, as a child. Make it a long-term project. Don’t make it a one-time thing. Have continuous conversations with her to discover what’s behind her behavior.

Gently talk with her about alternatives that don’t involving any hitting. Give her more information. If she completely pushes you away and continues striking her son in the face then it is time to seek professional intervention for the safety of the child.

Dr. Patton, how do I avoid yelling at my son?

Children can work your nerves. But a whole lot of hollering doesn’t help you or the situation. When your kids lose their mind, you have to remember that you are the adult. You are smarter, more creative, more articulate. Try to use self-control methods to distract yourself from the tension of the moment and help you keep control over the situation.

Sometimes it is as simple as looking up at the ceiling and sighing or praying, “Lord Jesus please help me. I don’t want to hurt these kids. Father please give me the strength to endure.” You can count to 30 and just breathe. Leave the room and close yourself off in a closet or bathroom until you are calm. It’s sort of like giving yourself a “time out.”

It is normal and human to have moments when you get angry. But yelling makes the situation worse and teaches your little one that it’s okay for him to act that way when they get upset. You might think this is a bit radical, but when you do yell, apologize to your son and tell him something like: “Mama was frustrated. I’m sorry I yelled at you.” Then, tell them what you’re going to do differently next time. This models for your kids what they should do when they make a mistake and how to communicate more effectively.

Make a plan to help you stay calm. Identify what makes you feel like yelling. Write down what your kids do that causes you to lose your temper. Be specific. Include when and where the behavior occurs. Identify what happens to you before you yell, so that you learn to recognize your warning signs and take steps to calm down before you begin yelling. Write down what you will do differently such as taking a deep breath, leaving the situation for five minutes or using positive self-talk. Staying calm is not easy, and you have to work at it.

Do you have kids and if so, how do you discipline them?

This is a question I get all the time. Sometimes out of genuine curiosity, and sometimes out of an attempt to derail or shut down the discussion about the impact of whupping children.

I am not yet a parent. But unlike a lot of people who do have children, I haven’t forgotten what it feels like to be a child. Some folks tell me that I don’t have a leg to stand on in this conversation because I don’t have kids. But I ask, “If I am a doctor who wants to treat prostate cancer, should I be required to have a prostate and cancer?”

I am surrounded by children. I’m like the auntie in “the village.”  I’m a mentor to scores of foster children and students. No matter how frustrated I’ve gotten with any of them, I have never once felt compelled to hurt their bodies by striking them.

That’s because I’m connected to my own humanity, which allows me to show them empathy, understanding, patience, and respect for their bodily integrity. Children are people who are separate from their parents.They have their own identities, thoughts, feelings, opinions, and personalities.

On my website, www.sparethekids.com, I showcase blogs and parenting tips that can show parents alternatives to hitting.  My site educates parents about brain development and how to set reasonable expectations for their children. If we are going to make changes and open ourselves up to non-violent alternatives, then we must first figure out where this parenting practice came from.  It is not native to us!

PHOTO: Courtesy of Dr. Patton

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