Children should remain silent, and they are ‘good’ when they’re quiet, but ‘bad’ when they are not, because they are disturbing the adults and causing trouble. This attitude runs through the way people interact with children on every level, and yet, they seem surprised when it turns out that children have been struggling with serious medical problems, or they’ve been assaulted or abused.
The most common response is ‘well why didn’t the child say something?’ or ‘why didn’t the child talk to an adult?’ Adults constantly assure themselves that children know to go to a grownup when they are in trouble, and they even repeat that sentiment to children; you can always come to us, adults tell children, when you need help. Find a trusted adult, a teacher or a doctor or a police officer or a firefighter, and tell that adult what’s going on, and you’ll be helped, and everything will be all right.
The thing is that children do that, and the adults don’t listen. Every time a child tells an adult about something and nothing happens, that child learns that adults are liars, and that they don’t provide the promised help. Children hold up their end of the deal by reporting, sometimes at great personal risk, and they get no concrete action in return. Sometimes, the very adult people tell a child to ‘trust’ is the least reliable person; the teacher is friends with the priest who is molesting a student, the firefighter plays pool with the father who is beating a child, they don’t want to cause a scene.
Or children are accused of lying for attention because they accused the wrong person. They’re told they must be mistaken about what happened, unclear on the specifics, because there’s no way what they’re saying could be true, so and so isn’t that kind of person. A mother would never do that. He’s a respected member of the community! In their haste to close their ears to the child’s voice, adults make sure the child’s experience is utterly denied and debunked. Couldn’t be, can’t be, won’t be. The child knows not to say such things in the future, because no one is listening, because people will actively tell the child to be quiet.
Children are also told that they aren’t experiencing what they’re actually experiencing, or they’re being fussy about nothing. A child reports a pain in her leg after gym class, and she’s told to quit whining. Four months later, everyone is shocked when her metastatic bone cancer becomes unavoidably apparent. Had someone listened to her in the first place when she reported the original bone pain and said it felt different that usual, she would have been evaluated sooner. A child tells a teacher he has trouble seeing the blackboard, and the teacher dismisses it, so the child is never referred for glasses; the child struggles with math until high school, when someone finally acknowledges there’s a problem.
This attitude, that children shouldn’t be believed, puts the burden of proof on children, rather than assuming that there might be something to their statements. Some people seem to think that actually listening to children would result in a generation of hopelessly spoiled brats who know they can say anything for attention, but would that actually be the case? That assumption is rooted in the idea that children are not trustworthy, and cannot be respected. I’m having trouble understanding why adults should be viewed as inherently trustworthy and respectable, especially in light of the way we treat children.
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JUST IN CASE YOU APPARENTLY NEED AN EMERGENCY ONE FOR RELIGIOUS SERVICES?
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"Should parents read their daughter’s texts or monitor her online activity for bad language and inappropriate content?"
Earlier today, I served as the “young woman’s voice” in a panel of local experts at a Girl Scouts speaking event. One question for the panel was something to the effect of, "Should parents read their daughter’s texts or monitor her online activity for bad language and inappropriate content?"
I was surprised when the first panelist answered the question as if it were about cyberbullying. The adult audience nodded sagely as she spoke about the importance of protecting children online.
I reached for the microphone next. I said, “As far as reading your child’s texts or logging into their social media profiles, I would say 99.9% of the time, do not do that.”
Looks of total shock answered me. I actually saw heads jerk back in surprise. Even some of my fellow panelists blinked.
Everyone stared as I explained that going behind a child’s back in such a way severs the bond of trust with the parent. When I said, “This is the most effective way to ensure that your child never tells you anything,” it was like I’d delivered a revelation.
It’s easy to talk about the disconnect between the old and the young, but I don’t think I’d ever been so slapped in the face by the reality of it. It was clear that for most of the parents I spoke to, the idea of such actions as a violation had never occurred to them at all.
It alarms me how quickly adults forget that children are people.
Apparently people are rediscovering this post somehow and I think that’s pretty cool! Having experienced similar violations of trust in my youth, this is an important issue to me, so I want to add my personal story:
Around age 13, I tried to express to my mother that I thought I might have clinical depression, and she snapped at me “not to joke about things like that.” I stopped telling my mother when I felt depressed.
Around age 15, I caught my mother reading my diary. She confessed that any time she saw me write in my diary, she would sneak into my room and read it, because I only wrote when I was upset. I stopped keeping a diary.
Around age 18, I had an emotional breakdown while on vacation because I didn’t want to go to college. I ended up seeing a therapist for - surprise surprise - depression.
Around age 21, I spoke on this panel with my mother in the audience, and afterwards I mentioned the diary incident to her with respect to this particular Q&A. Her eyes welled up, and she said, “You know I read those because I was worried you were depressed and going to hurt yourself, right?”
TL;DR: When you invade your child’s privacy, you communicate three things:
- You do not respect their rights as an individual.
- You do not trust them to navigate problems or seek help on their own.
- You probably haven’t been listening to them.
Information about almost every issue that you think you have to snoop for can probably be obtained by communicating with and listening to your child.
Part of me is really excited to see that the original post got 200 notes because holy crap 200 notes, and part of me is really saddened that something so negative has resonated with so many people.