It Shouldn’t Hurt to be a Child

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The Article

October is Child Abuse Prevention Month. It’s a worthy goal, and I hope people take it to heart. Parents who maliciously hurt their children, either by ignoring their needs or by physically or sexually abusing them, need to be stopped.

I trust we’re all in agreement about that. What I wonder about, though, is the efficacy of these current attempts to end abuse. Purple bows may raise general awareness, but I’m afraid they’re pretty useless at changing the selfish behaviour of those who abuse kids. So what can we as a society really do to stop abuse?

Well, this may not be proper to say, but I think we need to look at the types of family formation in which such abuse is more likely.  Teen parents, or those who had their children when they were still children themselves, are overrepresented in the group of parents whose children are removed from the home.

And here’s where the problem gets dicey. Most teenage moms are not abusers, and we want to make sure they stay that way, so we support them in any way we can. In doing so, though, we sometimes cross a line, where, by trying to be nonjudgmental, we inadvertently encourage the behaviour.

So let me state some obvious facts in the rest of this column, even if they’re not politically correct. Teenagers should not be having babies. And the best way to make sure they don’t have babies is to discourage them from having sex in the first place. This isn’t as unrealistic as it sounds, since the rate of teenage sexual activity has actually been dropping for the last decade and a half, so that a majority of teens are not sexually active. That’s why I think it’s high time we stopped this “well, they’re going to do it anyway” attitude. I didn’t “do it anyway”. I know lots of people who didn’t, and we weren’t freaks. It is possible. So why not spread that message instead?       

But teenage moms are not the only high risk group of abusers. The other one is not parents at all—it’s step-parents and significant others. It may not be fair, but single parents are going to have to be extra choosy when it comes to dating, because their new significant other is more likely to abuse than a biological parent is. In fact, the Canadian journal Pediatrics reported on a study that found that a child’s risk of death shot up fifty-fold in homes where an unrelated adult is present. The safest homes were those occupied by children with both of their biological parents. A large part of stopping abuse on a societal-wide basis, then, is keeping biological parents together in the first place.

Today single motherhood is very widely accepted, and I think this actually may contribute to the number of families that break up. The consequences of raising a child alone don’t seem as grim if so many people are doing it. And indeed, most single mothers do a wonderful job. But to say that this is ideal, or even as good as two-parent families, is just false. Research consistently shows how much worse the majority of children of single parents do on every scale. My mother was a single parent (not by choice), and she’ll be the first to tell you how difficult it was. Maybe, instead of trying to promote single motherhood, we should let these single parents talk about how hard their lives have been.

Stopping abuse, then, involves more than just awareness of abuse. It means putting kids first once again when it comes to our families. So be picky about who you become involved with in the first place. Don’t fool around when you’re a teenager, choose well when you’re older, and stay committed. It won’t always work. Some relationships aren’t worth saving, and sometimes spouses betray you. But if we spread the message that a two-parent biological family is the ideal, and that not all family forms are equally beneficial, perhaps fewer families would fall into these risky categories in the first place.

All of this may not sound fair and it certainly isn’t politically correct. But it shouldn’t hurt to be a child. We have power over our kids, and with that power comes responsibility. Let’s take that responsibility seriously and start spreading the word that kids deserve better.

Latest posts by S. Wray Gregoire (see all)

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