When a Spanking Becomes Abuse

Does discipline in the black community go too far?

Greg Horn (ibtimes.co.uk)
Greg Horn (ibtimes.co.uk)

(The Root) — Thanks to a shocking new video, many Americans got a troubling reminder of why we still need National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is designated in April to raise awareness of the issue. Last week, footage surfaced of Ohio father Greg Horn mercilessly beating his two adolescent daughters, allegedly as punishment for posting videos of themselves engaged in the sexually provocative dance known as “twerking.”

Though the father was subsequently arrested, even more disturbing than the abuse was the reaction to it. Sample comments on media outlets with predominantly black audiences included the following:

They got off light … So … dad caught them doing wrong, punished them and told them why. Sounds like old-school parenting to me.

Old-school parenting, good to see it’s still alive and folks applying it when warranted. I tell you what, those girls wont be Twerking no damn more on Facebook or no other social media.

Making the reaction even more disturbing is that African Americans lead other races when it comes to rates of child maltreatment, which includes both abuse and neglect, and have the highest rate of fatalities by abuse (pdf). (I was spanked as a child and don’t consider myself anti-corporal punishment, but I agreed with law enforcement’s determination that the video in question constituted abuse.)

Cynthia Grace, director of psychology at Harlem Hospital, which has a child- and adolescent-treatment service, said that she is not surprised at the rates of child abuse in the black community. This is in part because of cultural and religious differences between the black community and others.

“One of the factors that concerns me the most is the belief in corporal punishment — spare the rod, spoil the child — which is still alive and well in the African-American community despite efforts to raise awareness that that is not the best way to discipline a child,” she said.

Grace recalled the one time she spanked her own daughter. It is something that she regrets and never did again, and she doesn’t believe other parents should do it, either. It took some time for Grace to finally reach this conclusion.

She hesitated when I asked if she believes that corporal punishment should never be used, under any circumstances. She finally said that she believes it should not. Grace said that the potential for damage to a child, not just physically but also emotionally, is simply too great. She also said it is easy to forget that a child’s interpretation of events can be very different from an adult’s, meaning that the potential for long-term damage to the parent-child relationship is very real when any physical punishment is involved.