So what do we learn from the NFL?
The national news for the last couple weeks has been replete with stories of how Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and other NFL players have faced punishment from team management and the league over the issues of alleged spousal and child abuse.
To say that these players have been put under the microscope would be putting it mildly. The intensity of media coverage on a player only slows when another player comes along to take the brunt of public criticism – Rice and Peterson being a primary example.
There are a number of reasons for this intense media and public criticism. Players in the NFL are held to a higher standard than the rest of society because they set an example for youth to follow. When videos or photos appear of abuse, a lot of the media and public outcry is aimed at sending families the message that such abuse is not okay.
Probably the best thing that will come out of all of this is a discussion of what’s proper and what’s not in disciplining children. The problem in child discipline, though, is that for a large part, the family unit, which used to be the primary domain for disciplining children, no longer exists in the form it once did.
Once upon a time in this country, just about every family had a biological mother and a biological father, usually married, who stayed together all their lives. The nuclear family was a unit in which both parents were honored, respected, and yes, sometimes healthily feared.
With the advent of the non-nuclear family, though, and with stepfamilies just about as common as traditional nuclear families, the whole issue of disciplining children has been fraught with questions and doubts. Does a stepdad or stepmom have the same right to discipline a child as a father or mother? The fact that such a question should even be asked changes the dynamics of discipline and moves it from the family to the public domain.
Thankfully, the age in which “a man’s home was his castle” and in which there were no questions asked when a man abused his wife and children is no longer acceptable. (If you want to see a great movie about spousal and parental abuse, see This Boy’s Life with Robert Deniro and Leonardo DeCaprio.) Abuse is no longer accepted as a means of discipline by anyone.
This whole process of questioning, though, should also be extended to the family. While the definition of what constitutes a family has changed for many, the whole issue of family roles must be examined and reevaluated if we’re going to have a healthy society.
Assuming that everyone lives in a Ward and June Cleever family with Wally and the Beave is just as erroneous as assuming that abuse is okay. With the family as changed as it is, we need to look again at discipline and the many other issues that may arise for families – however they’re defined.
The future of our society depends on it.