Adults harm children more than they help. Debate.
It’s hard to wade through the sludge of child-bashing these days. If you were a visiting alien species, you might be forgiven for thinking adults were perfect, unsuspecting angels who selflessly endure a barrage of maltreatment from the worst possible demon seeds. I think not.
Exhibit A: Penn State. The Freeh report is so devastating I can’t even find words to express my disgust. Read here for an accounting of the “total and consistent disregard” for children’s welfare at every level of the university. As an early childhood educator and former teacher, I can only say that it is literally inconceivable that so many powerful adults could behave with such cruelty and impunity. When I taught, I was required as a mandatory reporter to respond to the most innocuous potential threats to children. So I really can’t understand what planet these people were living on that made them think the “humane” response required ignoring child rape (and would everyone please stop calling it ‘abuse’!?) and putting future children in ongoing danger. Equally repulsive in some ways: the outpouring of loyal alumni who stood by these spineless perpetrators (all of them, in their own ways) and tried to destroy the credibility of the victims and the media sources covering the story. That is beyond shameful. It’s truly frightening. This story is only secondarily about college athletics. It’s another story of America’s contempt for children.
Exhibit B, C, D…X, Y, Z: We’ve read and seen them a million times. The mistreatment of children is so commonplace that only the most egregious examples get noticed. I always think if we had more empathy for children – if we could remember back to being a child ourselves – we might do a better job of caring for them. And that’s why I want to leave this post with a long excerpt from one of the best reflections on the horrors adults inflict on children that I’ve ever read: Such, Such Were the Joys, by George Orwell (written in the 1940s about his childhood in the Edwardian era):
The real question is whether it is still normal for a school child to live for years amid irrational terrors and lunatic misunderstandings. And here one is up against the very great difficulty of knowing what a child really feels and thinks.
A child which appears reasonably happy may actually be suffering horrors which it cannot or will not reveal. It lives in a sort of alien under-water world which we can only penetrate by memory or divination. Our chief clue its the fact that we were once children ourselves and many people appear to forget the atmosphere of their own childhood almost entirely. Think for instance of the unnecessary torments that people will inflict by sending a child back to school with clothes of the wrong pattern, and refusing to see that this matters! Over things of this kind a child will sometimes utter a protest, but a great deal of the time its attitude is one of simple concealment.
Not to expose your true feelings to an adult seems to be instinctive from the age of seven or eight onwards. Even the affection that one feels for a child, the desire to protect and cherish it, is a cause of misunderstanding. One can love a child, perhaps more deeply than an adult, but it is rash to assume that the child feels any love in return.
Looking back on my own childhood, I do not believe that I ever felt love for any mature person, except my mother, and even her I did not trust, in the sense that shyness made me conceal most of my real feelings from her. Love, the spontaneous, unqualified emotion of love, was something I could only feel for people who were young.
Towards people who were old – and remember that ‘old’ to a child means over thirty, or even over 25 – I could feel reverence, respect, admiration or compunction, but I seemed cut off from them by a veil of fear and shyness mixed up with physical distaste. People are too ready to forget the child’s physical shrinking from the adult. The enormous size of grown ups, their ungainly, rigid bodies, their coarse wrinkled skins, their great relaxed eyelids, their yellow teeth, and the whiffs of musty clothes and beer and sweat and tobacco that disengage from them at every movement! … All who have passed the age of thirty are joyless grotesques, endlessly fussing about things of no importance and staying alive without, so far as the child can see, having anything to live for.
Only child life is real life. The school master who imagines he is loved and trusted by his boys is in fact mimicked and laughed at behind his back. An adult who does not seem dangerous nearly always seems ridiculous.