UPDATE/EDIT: This was written before pictures came out. Also the age of the child was 11, not 4, as was my understanding at the time of publication. I'm leaving the general article as is but please keep that in mind when fully reading this, and see my comment in the comments section about my current thoughts.
In the wake of the TOTALLY AWESOME news surrounding Adrian Peterson, I was honestly very surprised to see a lot of people on Twitter wondering aloud what a switch was, or what switching meant. As someone who has experienced the loving embrace of the switch*, allow me to educate- not only for curiosity's sake, but also to me, to somewhat (possibly) exonerate AD from some of the rush judgments people are making.
*A switch has nothing to do with an embrace, and the only sense that it could be called ‘loving' is the tough love any punished child is enduring. Seriously, it SUCKS.
Apparently, the use of a switch is either a Southern phenomenon, or a country one- I've heard both now. But regardless of its origins/ use regionally, a switch is essentially a very thin branch taken from something such as a weeping willow, a hibiscus (the source I enjoyed), or other such plants. It is also possible that it could be a cord, such as a power cord from a TV. Typically, a switch is lashed against your butt or the back of your thighs a few times. It leaves some welts, and if you were really bad, it might break the skin. Also, the thinner the switch, the worse it is- leading to the common additional punishment of making the child go and pick the switch, which is psychological torture at its finest. Seriously. You know you don't want to pick the thinnest one out there, but G-d help you if you pick one too thick, because then they're going to go and find that thinnest one and it's going to be extra lashes.
I know this very well because as a child, I was subject to it a handful of times. My grandmother is an old southern woman, and this was how she knew to discipline a child. (This may be hard to believe but I totally deserved it each and every time. If you can just trust me on this, I was a bit of a cut-up as a kid. I know, I know- just believe me.) My grandmother was also the most loving and self-sacrificing grandmother out there, and I would take serious umbrage to anyone who accused her today of ‘abusing' me as a kid because she switched me. Seriously, she's still alive (the old battleaxe) and I love her to death, switching memories and all. I had absolutely zero ‘trauma' from the punishment, and again, I'd tell you time and time again I deserved every single lash.
It's also very important to point out that, like any other form of spanking, the physical damage was relatively minimal, and was gone within a day or two. I don't bear scars or anything crazy like that, the worst part was sitting down in a hard chair at school the next morning. But that was kinda also part of the point because typically, I'd earned it from something I had done in school, and it helped me remember to, oh let's just say, not moon the class again.
Before I continue there are two legitimate points that should be brought up. One, there are many parents in America who are strongly against corporal punishment- be it spanking with a hand or belt, switching, or anything of the such. And honestly I am of the type that, generally speaking, I judge no parent on how they wish to raise their child (again, generally speaking). Some think some spanking/ switching/ what-have-you is fine; others disagree. So long as you're loving your child and honestly doing everything with the mentality that it's for their best, I say fine. (And most parental figures- my grandmother included, hold very much to the point that it hurts them more than the child; my grandmother has told me now that I am older how she would then go off to a room where I couldn't see her and cry for a good hour.) BUT, to equate a basic spanking/switching to ‘child abuse'- that I do strongly disagree with.
The second point here is that yes, switching can go wayyyy too far. If someone is indiscriminately beating the living hell out of their kid with a television power cord, whipping them in the face, the body, etc., THAT is some freaking child abuse right there. Again, the point is to NOT leave any form of serious or permanent damage. And it again is supposed to come from a point of tough love that is painful on both- NOT from some unbridled rage. If AD did something like that, then THAT is child abuse, and he needs to face serious punishment.
But I will say, based on AD's reputation (and probably also blind homerism, to a point- although I like to think it's far more about his reputation as a good and loving father), I choose to believe that's not the case here. Did he switch his kid? Sounds indisputable at this point. But is that outright child abuse? No. And to tie that in to the abuse that cost him one of his other children's lives last year is to me just wrong, at least again right now. AD is from Texas; I'm guessing that state has a ‘proud tradition' of switching, and he probably experienced it as a child himself. (All guessing again, of course.)
So there you have it. That's your definition of switching, it's purposes, and why those who are assuming the worst right now need to- in my opinion- back up a bit and let the facts come out. Yes, Adrian Peterson may be guilty of something absolutely heinous right now, but calling just switching alone ‘child abuse' is totally incorrect in my book.