The Place for Using and Abusing Children

When children return to school, most will be safer there than at home. In spite of all the nostalgic attempts to keep us believing “the American family” is an idyllic refuge, statistics say that home is the most dangerous place for children.

It’s hard to believe because schools are a place where the violence taught by adults to children also gets acted out. But if the figures of victimization of children in our schools were even close to those for our homes, we’d be declaring it a national epidemic.

Making schools safe for all children, such has LGBT kids, continues to be a struggle. What should be a no brainer – we want every child to be safe in our schools – finds the right-wing objecting to it because it might promote the mere tolerance of “homosexuality.”

It’s the endorsement, one objector said to the Safe Schools Movement in Minnesota schools, “of homosexual propaganda.” From there the objectors rise to hysteria and fear tactics.

LGBT kids are hardly safer at home. A 2006 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study found that 42 percent of homeless teens identify as gay. They’re out there because their families threw them out. And this doesn’t even count the on-going abuse of these kids in the home when they stay.

But this is a part of a larger problem – families are the place where children are most often abused and used. And it’s not a set of isolated incidents.

A study of 991 American parents reported in the November 2003 issued of the Journal of Marriage and Family, reported that most parents bully their children. One of the researchers, Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire concluded: “nearly all parents, regardless of other demographic characteristics, used at least some psychological aggression as a disciplinary tactic.”

Fear that children’s later problems are caused by lack of strict punishment might make parents and authorities reluctant to label the types of aggression they use on children as abuse. But, Straus reminds us: “There is no empirical evidence to indicate occasional psychological abuse, such as the frustrated parent ‘blowing off steam’ is harmless.”

If this were all, we might slip by. We’d certainly like to write this off as over-concern.

But in spite of all the “stranger danger” scares pumped up by the mainstream media, study after study has shown that children face the greatest danger from violence and sexual abuse from people they know – parents, relatives, family friends, and caretakers.

A 2006, 5-year report from the US Department of Health and Human Services looked at the 905,000 children under age 18 who were victims of abuse that had risen to the level of reporting it to the authorities. 83 percent were abused by parents and another 10 percent by foster parents, daycare staff, unmarried partners of parents, legal guardians, or residential facility staff.

In terms of sexual abuse, 26 percent were abused by their parents and another 29 percent by other adults they already knew.

In the same year, a Centers for Disease Control report said 91,278 infants under a year old experienced nonfatal abuse or neglect, including nearly 30,000 who experienced maltreatment in their first week of life. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, three children die every day in the US as a result of abuse or neglect.

Add to all this the adult exploitation of their children – parents using children to fight their own insecurities, childhood hurts, and feelings of inadequacy. The question such children get when they arrive home isn’t “Have you been good?” or even “Have you done good?” but “Did you win?”

Take the 5,000 child beauty pageants held in the US each year. This $5 billion market-driven industry provides a source of huge profits for many interested parties based on parents consenting to the exploitation their children.

New York Times columnist, Frank Rich, responding to the whole JonBenet Ramsey affair wrote: “Today the merchandising of children as sexual commodities is ubiquitous and big business – not just in beauty contests for toddlers, but everywhere – from the increased garishness of Barbie displays at the local mall to the use of Sally Mann-esque child models in home-furnishing magazines.”

In 2007 the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls reported a strong connection between the endurance by young girls of premature emphasis on sex and appearance and “three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression or depressed mood.”

Our boys are also used to make up for the insecurities of their parents, often on the playing field. SportingKids magazine conducted a survey of 3,300+ parents, coaches, youth sports administrators and youth that found that 84% witnessed parents acting violently (shouting, berating, using abusive language) during athletic events. The most violent examples to make the news have included the fatal beating of a youth ice hockey coach in Massachusetts by an irate father and the assault of a youth baseball umpire by a coach in Florida.

Even at home, violence can be used to keep sons within the boundaries of acceptable masculinity. It can be accepted that violence is just a part of a boy’s life through punishment, with the message that he should take it like a man and realize that it’s a part of the power relationships between men.

It’s not a pretty picture or one we want to accept. Alice Miller, child psychologist and prolific author on the effects of Western child-rearing practices sees all this as a part of the “poisonous pedagogy” that results in grown children’s fascination with an ever-violent culture and its entertainment.

She goes even further to write: “Human beings feel the urge to be destructive only if they were subjected to cruelty at the beginning of their own lives. A child who had been loved and respected will have no motivation to wage war on others.” (The Truth Will Set You Free, 2001)

This is more than we want to face. Change the subject back to schools. Quick!