A grandmother pulls a knife on her grandson in the car. A mom rages at her pre-teen son over his grades and forces him to come get hit even as he prays to God for safety. A mom writes a lengthy post on Facebook of her dumping her kids’ ice cream in the garbage because they forgot to say “thank you.” People cheer on a cop who body slams a young teen girl who won’t get out of her desk. A mom films two school teachers preparing to paddle her child as he begs her for help.
These are just a few examples from the recent rash of viral child abuse videos that seem to be racking up a collective applause on the internet. The videos themselves are tragic enough. The comments, as usual, are even more tragic.
You may feel like some of these examples aren’t child abuse. Most wouldn’t consider throwing your child’s ice cream in the garbage as child abuse. And while that may not be child abuse as its typically defined, publicly shaming your children on social media in exchange for hearts from friends *is* abusive behavior.
It also makes you a hypocrite.
None of these parents want to be publicly shamed, but they’re all too willing to do it to their children. None of these parents want to be assaulted, but they won’t hesitate to hit their kids and film it. None of these parents want to be body slammed by a cop, but they cheer it on when it’s a young teenage girl. None of these parents want their ice cream thrown in the garbage, but it’s a “great lesson for Facebook” when it involves kids.
What drives this? Why is this behavior on the part of parents so encouraged and celebrated that it continually goes viral for all the wrong reasons? Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to…
Many adults are caught in a generation vs generation war. They believe in the “kids-these-days” myth and the “leniency” myth. They want to prove to the world that they’re on Team Adult.
Today’s adults are in an us-vs-them leadership model. Rather than seeing a child as an innocent human being that deserves to be nurtured, children are mostly seen as wild animals that need constant behavior correction to be tamed and domesticated, else they become dangerous.
This is why mainstream parents use operant conditioning tactics, treating their children more like dogs and mice than human beings. This is why children’s lives operate more like contrived mazes than a land of exploration and opportunity.
There’s a lack of trust in children to do pretty much anything on their own. A toxic pessimism that bleeds into moral judgement. The mainstream believes that children will only be good if they’re trained to be good. And ironically, that “training” requires doing to them things we consider to be “bad” in any other context.
The story goes that the current ills of society are due to a majority of parents not training their kids well enough. “Parents are too lenient,” they say. “Kids are allowed to do whatever they want,” they say.
It’s this mentality that drives the social sharing of “this-is-my-parenting-isn’t-it-awesome” videos. Parents are thirsty for approval from their peers and nothing is hotter right now than showing Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest how much you’re dedicated to Team Adult by all the creative ways you make Team Child suffer.
“Everyone look! My kids were arguing so I forcibly isolated them together in a tee shirt with condescending phrases written on it.”
“Fuck yeah! You go girl! That’ll teach those brats. Can you make this public so I can share your parenting badassery? Maybe if we share this enough more parents will teach their kids some manners.”
Nothing like trading your child’s trust and self-esteem for likes on Facebook from people you haven’t even met, right? #ParentingToday
Of course, the “kids-these-days” and “leniency” stories couldn’t be any further from the truth. The vast majority of parents admit to hitting their children on a fairly consistent basis. Homes and schools, the two places kids spend the vast majority of their time, have never had more rules and regulations at any point in history than they do now. The implementation of authoritarianism is at an all time high.
Maybe this idea that “kids are out of control” is simply not true. And maybe in the few cases where it is true, it’s driven by the fact that they’re locked inside of the psychological prison of authoritarianism. Or the fact that they’re locked in the actual prisons of public and private school systems.
We hit them (to teach them not to hit), we rage at them (to teach them to communicate in a nicer way), we coerce them with punishments and rewards (can you teach authenticity through inauthenticity?), we discard their intrinsic desires while force-feeding them our brand of “education” and “life experience,” we teach them that their emotions are undesirable (while we rage and shame and play the victim card and bitch about everything under the sun), we love them conditionally (while claiming it’s for their own good)…
…And most of all, we see nothing wrong with *us.* It’s always the child that’s broken and needs fixing. No matter how obviously hypocritical we are as parents, the child deserved it.
But children aren’t broken. We are. Because we weren’t broken when we were kids and most of us got “fixed” by our parents. But the “fixing” we’ve come to know and use ourselves is actually the act of breaking. Literally. Breaking the body. Breaking the mind. Breaking the spirit. Breaking-in. Taming. Domesticating. Training. These terms make up the undeniable foundation of mainstream parenting.
If all of these things happened to you…you are not fine. The very fact that you advocate for these things happening to young, defenseless children is evidence that you are not fine. This idea that, “I was spanked and turned out fine” is a rationalized fairy tale told by people who are too afraid to say, “I deserved better. A lot better.”
These tactics must stop. The social shaming must stop. The psychological abuse must stop. The physical abuse must stop. It’s not authentic. It’s all a thoughtless result of exposure to CULTure. When you behave in this way you are not the solution, you are the problem.
The world will continue to be a broken place if we continue to break our kids. And it’s not unconditional love that’s breaking them. It’s not negotiation that’s breaking them. It’s not non-violence that’s breaking them. It’s not cooperation, or patience, or being a calm, assertive leader that’s breaking them.
These things don’t break, they build.
Don’t be afraid to say you deserved better. And don’t be afraid to extend that recognition to your own children.
Ditch the Team Adult jersey. Come join Team Humanity and follow your own advice for once: Treat people—including your children—the way you want to be treated as a human being. Not the way your bullshit rationalization of your childhood tells you you should have been treated, but the way you want to be treated right this minute as a living, breathing, compassion-deserving individual. Make the shift. Acquire better tools. You’ve got this.