Is It Too Much to Ask to Treat Children as Human Beings?
On March 12th, 2015, British newspaper The Times opened the front page with an article on the extent of the mental health crisis among children. The children involved are those hurting themselves, suffering from depression or other disorders. According to experts, we should look for the causes in the consequences of “exam stress, school bullying, and social media”.
What nonsense! This is the standard excuse used to protect society’s parental figures because the real cause of such large-scale mental problems among teens lies in their emotional neglect by modern parents with full-time jobs: the women’s emancipation that enabled mothers to have careers forgot about the children.
That isn’t “women’s fault”, but the fault of a society bent on profit maximization, one that reduces people to gears in the careers of others, and one that puts the emotional well-being of its citizens in second place. For a healthy psychological development, children happen to need at least one caretaker that nurtures them around the clock with the love, care and personal regard that they need. That caretaker may be the father or the mother, but even better both.
When neglected generations of children collectively grow up having personality disorders, then our entire civilizational model is at stake. It is time to make the youth’s interests the focal point of our society again, or perhaps even for the first time. It is time for the emancipation of the child.
Warnings from the Past
Not a single child deserves his maltreatment, whether intentional or not, accidental or not. The pioneers of the ACE-study (Vincent Felliti et al.) on adverse childhood experiences have brought science and society a step closer to the emancipation of children, namely the insight that children are people who deserve an upbringing free from violence. According to some researchers, that could mean the end of war and violence in the world.
The ACE-researchers weren’t the first to link violence in childhood to aggression in adulthood. Recent history offers countless calls to a revaluation of childhood. I want to cite a few.
In an article from The Milwaukee Journal dated January 2nd, 1941, anthropologist Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu writes that hitting babies could be the psychological root of hate. Just as Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller, Montagu concluded that maltreated children learn to repress their panting anger over their maltreatment, but that these repressed emotions lead to a violent outburst later in life:
“In childhood, this aggressiveness is displayed in bad temper and in general naughtiness. Such conduct almost invariably results in further frustration—in punishment. At this stage, the child finds itself in a state of severe conflict. Either he must control the expression of his aggressiveness or else, suffer the punishment and loss of love which it provokes.
Such conflicts are usually resolved by excluding the painful situation from consciousness and from direct motor expression—in short, by the repression of one’s aggressive energies. But the evidence renders it overwhelmingly certain that these energies are never to any extent destroyed. Being a part of the total organism, they must, in one way or another, find expression. The ways are innumerable. Race hatred is merely one of them.”
In his book From My Later Years (1950) physicist, Albert Einstein criticizes the authoritarian oppression of school students. He makes a case for the reversal of that authority. According to the Nobel Prize winner, children ought to be able to spend their playful energies on activities they find positive:
“To me, the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force, and artificial authority. […]
The most important motive for work in the school and in life is the pleasure in work, pleasure in its result and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community. In the awakening and strengthening of these psychological forces in the young person, I see the most important task given by the school.”
Schools aren’t supposed to be factories that indoctrinate children with undemocratic rituals. Isn’t it absurd that schools still use bell rhythms to direct students from class to class? Or that students must ask the teacher for permission to go to the restroom? Why are there fences around schoolyards in order to shut young people in, as if they’re a danger to society?
Folklore about Accidents
In 1989, Everett Koop held a speech before the SAFE KIDS symposium in Washington. He called on society to stop protecting parents that physically abuse their children:
“There’s still a lot of folklore about ‘accidents,’ about fate taking a hand in this or that. In other words, a lot of folklore that relieves adults of responsibility. And changing that totally erroneous mindset is our most serious challenge.
We must not allow the adults of America to ‘get off the hook’ that easily. We need to explain to them and convince them and get them to believe right to the depth of their souls that childhood injuries are no accident… […]
There never was a time when a major social problem was solved by beating a child. And there never will be such a time… For centuries adults have injured children and have lied about it, and other adults have heard those lies and then merely turned away… When a child gets hurt, we must no longer automatically perpetuate the mythology that [the injury] must have been the child’s fault or that it was the result of another mysterious ‘accident.’
Instead of that, we must begin putting the blame where it belongs: perhaps on some other human being—most likely an adult—who did the wrong thing unintentionally or intentionally, but not accidentally…”
Koop spoke of physical abuse, but the same words of warning hold true for emotional pain. Aggressive children weren’t born ‘unmanageable’ or ‘difficult’, but often first become victims of aggression themselves. Depressed children aren’t too weak to deal with life’s ordinary setbacks, but are victims of abuse, verbal violence or emotional neglect. Children with mental problems were not born crazy, but are victims of dysfunctional households.
Parenting without Punishment
Teacher Norm Lee came up with the system ‘parenting without punishment’. In an anecdote, he explains where exactly raising children goes awry:
“In a recent lecture to a group of parents, I opened a book and read aloud: ‘Start discipline early; make clear rules, enforce them promptly and consistently. Reinforce obedience with, ‘Good boy, that’s a nice girl,’ together with pats and hugs. After disciplining, tell them you love them, but it was for their own good.’
There were unanimous nods of agreement, some voicing approval quite heartily. But when I showed the book’s cover, they gasped in shock:
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DOBERMAN PINSCHER”
Is it too much to ask to understand that children aren’t dogs, but people and that people aren’t for hitting?
Ben Watson, “Ben Watson Interviews Frank Zappa,” MOJO Magazine, 1993.
Rosemary Bennett and Kaya Burgess, “True Scale of Child Mental Health Crisis Uncovered: Times Campaign Calls for Revolution in Treatment,” The Times of London, maart 2015, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/health/child-health/article4379577.ece.
Charles L. Whitfield, “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 14, no. 4 (1998): 363.
Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu, “Spanking the Baby May Be Psychological Seed of War,” The Milwaukee Journal, 194122 januari 2, 22, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19410102&id=y6VQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ryIEAAAAIBAJ&pg=1656,197900.
Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (New York: Carole Publishing Group, 1995), 33–35.
Eric Hoffer, “Colleges Aren’t for Kids: June 9, 1968,” in The Syndicated News Articles (Titusville, New Jersey: Hopewell Publications, 2010).
Norm Lee, Parenting Without Punishing, 2002, 5.