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Before my son was born, I subscribed wholeheartedly to the idea of whooping my kids when I had them. I grew up with Southern parents who fully appreciated the act of “a good beatin’” when rules were broken. I got whooped, my brother got whooped and all my friends got whooped. Sometimes, if your parents trusted them enough, your friend’s parent could lay into you if you got out of line. In my childhood, there was always a kid dangling by one arm shielding their backside with the other while an adult in a centered stance was chopping away like a lumberjack on a Red Bull bender.

Now that I have a son, I consider how kids think.  I believe that while every kid has a different personality, there is a basic logic they all operate with. Between the ages of 1 and 4, the part of the brain that allows people to control their emotion develops. It’s the same part of the brain that permits tantrums. Kids that age know about 20 or so words and have no idea of how to express themselves other than with an emotional explosion. That makes whooping in response to tantrums useless. In the end, you’ll just wind up tired and angry while shorty is back to singing about Dinosaur Train.

The only lesson learned is that if they show out, they’ll get hit. It doesn’t teach them how to handle these new emotions they’re experiencing. What made me calm my inner James Evans is the sensationalism of parents beating on their kids–especially in public. Think of the widely publicized video of the Baltimore mother punching her son during the protests. People cheered and honored Toya Graham for being #motheroftheyear but what nagged at me was the feeling that it wasn’t the mom who was being celebrated, it was the beating itself. It felt like we were advocating the beating every teenager who “needs to do better” but may not exactly know what doing better consists of yet.

What I never learned from Toya’s beating was whether or not this was kid knew what his alternatives were. I get it, a child was getting himself into something more than he could handle and as a loving mother, she made a move. But was the beating the end of it or did he just go home with the same amount of unexpressed, reactive energy? I think more times than not, young people do the latter.

Papa Don’t Take No Mess  was originally published on

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