Community conversation on child discipline

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Adrian Peterson's case created a community conversation about child discipline.

Peterson, 29, was indicted in September for beating his four-year-old son while disciplining the boy.

The situation shines a light onto the work of a Minneapolis organization dedicated to preventing child abuse. The Family Enhancement Center was founded in 1993 by three passionate social workers who saw the worst of child abuse while working at Twin Cities hospitals and decided prevention was necessary.

Executive Director Libby Bergman, one of those founders, says a majority of American parents still use physical punishment.

"It is possible to be a strict parent without using physical discipline," said Bergman. "There's 31 countries that don't allow any physical discipline on their children, and it's interesting and now we can look down the road and see how they are turning out, and what we find out when they haven't had physical discipline growing up, we find they have lower suicide, less depression, less chemical dependency, less juvenile delinquency."

The Family Enhancement Center works to counteract the five main reasons parents hit or spank kids: anger, stress, fear, lack of information and a belief that physical force brings respect. Bergman and more than 20 staff encourage parents to use other options beyond physical discipline, like consistency and positive reinforcement.

Client Angie Lawless, a single mother of four of Brooklyn Center, came to the Family Enhancement Center on a county referral when she some of her children were going through a tough time.

"I feel talking to them is more important than hurting them. When you feel you got hurt in your past, that doesn't make you feel so good. Parents need to now there's resources out there," said Lawless. "When my kids are having a fit because their hair may be the wrong way, their shirt may not be clean, I hear it all, but we walk through it, express our feelings and express our emotions and say it's okay to be upset, okay to be frustrated, but it's not okay to have somebody hurt me."

After more than two years of therapy and counseling at the Family Enhancement Center, Lawless reports her children are thriving. She encourages other parents who may be struggling to realize resources do exist.

"I've been actually been more open with my kids. I haven't had so many talks before with my kids and I didn't realize that," she said. "My older daughter's grades have been skyrocketing up, she's happier and she's got her cheery mom back."

The Family Enhancement Center currently works with an estimated 150 local families, a majority referred from social service agencies, but some families do call on their own to learn better parenting skills.

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