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TRIGGER WARNINGS: examples of youth abuse, mental health abuse, systemic abuse
This is an article about the biological family unit, the phrase “Think Of The Children,” the abuse that youth face in the household, how laws permit society to destroy the lives of youth, and how “traditional family values” are the lynchpin in this abusive system.
First, let me tell you a little story about my experiences in psychiatry. This isn’t a blog post about psychiatry, of course, but please bare with me - there’s a point to my relatively short sob-story, beyond simple narcissism.
Two Examples Of Atypical Youth Abuse
When I was 11 years old, in 1999, I was taken to an institution which specializes in youth/child psychiatry. This was due to me being ruthlessly bullied at school - I had weapons pulled on me not-infrequently, like a razor-sharp broken glass bottle, for instance - and the school, in the middle of a time of extreme austerity within my province in Canada, offloaded me to these psychiatrists instead of punishing the bullies.
At the time, my mother was suffering from multiple physical health issues, as well as severe depression and anxiety. She would frequently tell me I was a “mistake” and that I “ruined her life,” screaming and hollering as she did so. I was not on my best behaviour, either, but I was also a confused, in pain transgender youth trying to isolate herself from the entire world which only seemed to cause her pain, only to be dragged out into the light every day at 6AM by this horrible person who told me that she hated me. But at the same time, she was also able to put on a good face for the psychiatrists, and so they never heard her telling me that I literally destroyed her life, that I’m a failure, and so on. They also didn’t see the amount of pure physical labour she required me to do - every chore you can imagine, including shopping at the supermarket alone, returning hordes of empty alcohol containers, running legal errands, cleaning the house from top to bottom, and so on. The intensity of the chores left me feeling sore the next day almost invariably, but I was still shoved out the door with a shrill screaming every morning regardless.
She also had ‘sole custody’ over me, which she frequently told me was an excuse to “do whatever [she] wants with [me].” I was not allowed to leave, or hide at my one friends place (who I wasn’t allowed to see anymore, technically), or to dispute my role in the household. I was the slave, and she was the Mother. I would respond to her as most free individuals would respond to their captor - willful defiance.
If I were a adult worker, I’d be going on strike, or walking out of the job. As a youth, I was not afforded that luxury.
Later, I developed Fibromyalgia Syndrome from the prolonged stress of my youth, now leaving me disabled at the ripe old age of 25 - a disease which has no cure, and is not understood. We do know, however, that it disproportionately affects women, especially those who were abused as youth, or kept in stressful situations constantly as youth.
I had no scars, bruises, or blemishes on my body from her actions. The psychiatrists used the lack of physical evidence on my body to determine that I was not, in fact, being abused, and the case was closed.
There’s more to my story, but it’s mainly just details. Technically, I was physically abused, but in an atypical sort of way. I was also very severely emotionally abused, which by itself is de-facto erased by child psychiatrists as ‘lacking evidence.’ Because youth cannot point to where emotional pain hurts on their body, their pain is not considered real - or, if their emotional pain is considered legitimate, the first-line treatment is a powerful antidepressant, most of which are not indicated for use in people under the age of 20.
Now that you have an anecdote of what abuse is and how it is systemically erased, let’s now rewind a bit, and get back to the main topic of this article: systemic child abuse, caused by the biological family unit.
The statistics for child abuse in the United States are marred by the inability of the adults running the institutions to figure out what is, and is not, child abuse. In the same way that exclusively cis men doing research on issues that primarily affect (cis/trans) women does not sound like the best idea, the concept that children are too stupid to understand what abuse and pain feel like essentially gives these organizations carte-blanche to re-define abuse as they will to drive down the numbers of child abuse cases. After all, organizations, especially publicly-run organizations, essentially keep themselves tied to a ‘quota’ of cases to ‘solve’ and ‘deal with’. Considering that close to 80% of child abuse is perpetrated by parents - as far as we know - it’s not hard to see the conflict of interest for parents working at such organizations.
For instance, these people may not consider taking away an XBOX gaming system away from their youth as ‘child abuse,’ yet in situations where the youth feels helpless, alone, confused, and in pain, the XBOX may be the only thing stopping them from hurting themselves. It may be their only support network in a world they hate, be it a book, an iPod, a computer, or even an XBOX.
In this situation, I have actually been to the city where the youth died - Barrie, Ontario, Canada. That city has absolutely no infrastructure set up to give people like Mr. Crisp any sort of option to play, explore, or even just get from point A to point B, without the direct supervision of their parents. If you do not own a car in Barrie, you simply cannot go from one end of the city to the other without it taking hours or being dangerous, as pedestrian traffic is de-prioritized over cars, as the city is designed around the car. In Ontario, you need to be 17 years old in order to drive alone, legally. This means that the youth likely had no or very few friends due to the severe social isolation that exo-burbs like Barrie tend to cause in young people, and that the XBOX was likely his only escape from his loneliness. Upon having his escape taken away, in a fit of pain and rage, he stormed out of his house, and wound up lost and dead in the woods.
Of course, the media refuses to talk about these issues - social isolation, lack of transportation and autonomy for youth, etc - and instead made it an issue about “video game addiction in children” and so on.
Little do these people know that almost all addictions - gambling, drug use, video games, whatever - are almost always caused by external stressors in a person’s life, such as abuse, confinement, trauma, and so on. In this situation, I find the label of “addiction” someone darkly funny and tragic at the same time - in trying to blame the victim, they’ve actually said more about their own involvement than Mr. Crisp’s true motivation.
The Biological Family Unit
The biological family unit places too much power in the hands of parents. Not only that, but it stresses the parents out, as now they both have to work essentially thankless jobs from early in the morning to late at night, and maintain the life of a small person who has not been taught the right skills to survive even within a relatively controlled environment like a parent’s home. This too can and does contribute to youth abuse on a wide scale. When people are stressed, people get irritated, and when you have a young person in your household begging for a chance to be let out of their cage, you can end up snapping at them and destroying their senses of self-esteem.
Many parents essentially refuse to actually talk to the youth about what concerns, disturbs, and depresses them. This is due to the impression that the affairs of youth are not worth worrying about, as they can’t possibly have any ‘real’ issues like adults do, with money, politics, employment, etc.
For example, while we may consider forcing someone to pay money to another person as ‘extortion’, or a person getting punched in the face as ‘assault’ in the adult world, in the schoolyard, we simply refer to all acts of violence and sociopathy as ‘bullying.’ This belittles the language and implies that the issues of the youth are not the same issues as those facing adults, and, by its word choice, indicates that it is not as serious.
Even in situations in which a youth such as Mr. Crisp may end up talking to a shrink about his ‘addiction issues,’ the shrink would almost invariably be serving the interests of the parents instead of the interests of Mr. Crisp. It is the parents who drive them to and from the psychiatrist, after all, and are the ones who decide if the youth will continue treatment. In a privatized system especially there is a huge incentive for the psychiatrist to play into the parent’s demands, lest they lose a lucrative client (or, potentially, upwards of 3 clients, if the shrink convinces the both parents to buy some therapy time as well). In a socialized system, it is more ideological - the child psychiatrists truly believe that the youth is ‘acting up’ and that the parents have no responsibility in the matter, or, if they do have responsibility placed on them, it is always equal to the responsibility to the youth, never more.
Youth have responsibility placed upon them without the benefits of that responsibility. In that sense, it’s similar to taxation without representation, except instead of money being taxed, it’s emotional energy.
But What About The ‘Bad Kids’?
There is a statistic known as the ‘Prevalence of Antisocial Personality Disorder’ (otherwise known as ‘psychopathy’ or ‘sociopathy’) which is applied to all of humanity. It says that around 2% of the world’s population suffers from the inability to feel empathy or to sympathize with anyone in their surroundings except themselves.
However, that 2% of the population does not equal the double-digit percentage of youth in this system. I would then posit that it is not a true case of a most youth being ‘bad’ or ‘misbehaved,’ but rather reacting to their situation. For as many ‘bad kids’ there are in the system, a significant portion of them are considered ‘bad’ due to circumstances beyond their control, such as abuse, capitalistic exploitation, and so on.
Not only that, but we are now starting to see the medicalization of youth who are just now becoming adults, as if the problems they face are somehow their fault, and not the fault of the parents who screwed them up in the first place.
Why are the youth-becoming-adults today being called a bunch of narcissists, when we are the ones coming together, collaborating, developing social media and sharing everything we possibly can with each other? Why are we the ones forming communities, while it was our primarily white parents who ran to the suburbs so they could have their dream home at the expense of their and their children’s lives and happiness? If we were truly self-absorbed, we’d just curate a small group of Yes-People around us, and then never see the light of day again, just like my narcissistic, now-deceased 91-year-old grandmother. Even in the ‘bubbles’ created by some social media, it is still more permeable than any other type of social interaction that we’ve had in the past. Before, you’d be locked geographically to who you could talk to - your next door neighbour, or maybe the kind old man running a small Mom & Pop shop down the street.
After all, new experiences and new people can challenge a world view, so if we were actually so conceited, we wouldn’t be here. Not only that, but the generation of the Baby Boomers are the ones who popularized unsustainable economic policies such as globalization, oil production and consumption, and mass production for the sake of mass production, for their selfish, idealistic dream, which is now crumbling around them as the already-anemic infrastructure of the suburbs begins to decay with it.
It is this decay that is leading to the huge problem of depression in youth who are in the suburbs - close to 1 in 5.
The Baby Boomers are The Me Me Me Generation. We, the Gen Y’ers, are The Collaborative Generation, and we are paying the price for the half-century of progress held back by those who wanted eternal infants in their household.
Schools are another part of the problem. Here is an excerpt from a foundation focused on sleep disorders, talking about how much sleep an average teenaged person requires.
“If teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep to do their best and naturally go to sleep around 11:00 pm, one way to get more sleep is to start school later.”
If you are required to get up at 6AM, as with most public schools, you’re getting maybe 6-7 hours of sleep, and if you’re in a stressful environment such as an abusive household (or an abusive school you hate going to), those 6-7 hours of sleep are probably anxiety-filled and essentially worthless as rest as it is, since you’re always worrying about the next day to come. The second problem with their solution is that school is essentially timed to start and stop when the average nine-to-five worker goes to and leaves their work, and that is sacrosanct as far as some overbearing parents are concerned.
If we actually cared about the health of youth in schools, school would start at 10 or 11AM, not 8AM. But, instead, we pump them full of unhealthy food (watch any of Jamie Oliver’s TED Talk videos on the abhorrent state of food in North American public schools if you’re interested), medications, force them out the door far too early in the day, and then on top of that, load them up with chores while they’re already struggling to keep up in their schooling, and probably trying to cope with social violence (i.e: ‘bullying’).
School itself, especially in the United States with its metal detectors, bomb/drug-sniffing dogs, armed guards and strict policies about attendance makes it feel like a prison. In fact, one young woman in Texas (an honours student no less) was put in prison for missing school due to circumstances beyond her control. Her appeal is pending, as far as I know.
(Article TW: vivid depiction of youth rights violations)
This is, of course, to say nothing of the systemically-approved social violence that occurs in school, by teachers, staff and students alike. But that’s a whole other blog post in itself.
What can we do to empower youth?
In my grand, impossible utopia of the future, I think youth should be taught the following things starting at the same time they’re learning their ABC’s and 123’s.
That’s it, but even in those six points, I’m already flying in the face of what our society considers ‘sound logic.’ Though, if you actually consider youth to be human beings in need of human rights, you will find little flaw or error in my reasoning. But more importantly, we cannot rely on services to give youth these rights - these rights must be as inalienable to youth as they are to adults, and youth must be able to access them at-will as adults are able to.
I am arguing that a 10 year old youth should be able to live as a 20 year old adult. They should be able to have their own place in the world, which is theirs, and in which nobody can trespass upon without legal ramifications. We could easily teach the skills for them to succeed in this system, as I’ve listed above. So why aren’t we?
Very rarely do services ever consult the actual people in question - in this case, the young people under the ages 16 or 18 (depending on location) - to ask them what is wrong, and then place them in the centre of the picture. Frequently, it is the youth who is told to keep quiet and to let the parents define what ‘child abuse’ is. In many cases for services geared towards abused youth, they are assuming that a majority of abuse comes from outside of the family, such as strangers on the street, or perhaps someone a bit closer, such as a teacher. Parents NEVER admit that one of the most abusive situations a youth can be in is living with their parents. In fact, based on that link I posted above, and according to the US government, over 80% of ‘child abuse cases’ are perpetrated by the immediate family, primarily the mothers, but also the fathers. Every other family member, community member, or random creep on the street, comes in distant third. Combined.
This brings me to my main point again: youth essentially have no rights if they’re not granted them by their parents, or ‘benevolent’ institutions which constantly redefine what ‘abuse’ actually is (such as Child Protection Services). Youth can be stolen from, confined, forced onto drugs and relocated against their will, especially if someone such as a psychiatrist insists that all of those things are actually “treatment” as long as it’s done with them on board. What is the point of services to help youth when this is the legal reality of the situation? Services become band-aid solutions to a widespread systemic and social problem, which then ends up stripping autonomy from youth at the same time by telling them what to do.
As far as families themselves providing services to their youth, we of course know the age-old tradition of parents throwing all of the ‘effort’ they placed into their youth into the youth’s face, as an attempt to emotionally manipulate the youth into doing their bidding. While this is not a universal trait of all parents, it is a harsh reality that many youth face, especially when the parents feel like they’ve ‘sacrificed’ so much to keep the youth in their household, especially in times of recession, in a large social and political system that does not give any stability to households. But, instead of blaming the system for not giving them the resources to help them, their youth and not be completely stressed out, they blame the youth for existing, as they are young, owned by the parent, and therefore an easy target.
Until services such as this are completely overhauled, and the youth has the ability to determine when and how they access these services, then they are beyond useless, and right into harmful territory. It becomes a matter of forced charity at best, and ‘charitable abuse’ at worst.
More is not necessarily better, in both parenting and services, especially not when it’s the wrong kind of ‘more.’
When Does A Youth Become A Person? And Traditional Family Values
According to some theories, around the ages of five to six years old is when a young child’s ego truly takes hold, and they begin having beliefs, forming interpersonal relationships, telling jokes, experimenting with reality, and so on.
Why is it, then, that it takes three times as long (age 18) for us to give a youth the right to self-determination? Youth make mistakes, but adults self-destruct and annihilate their future in life all of the time. If youth are ‘too stupid’ to fully understand the world, then what do we say to the people who gamble all their money away at a casino? That they’re ‘too stupid’ to be capable of having money on their person? Of course we don’t - that’d be a violation of their human rights.
EDIT3: added this example
The phrase “Traditional Family Values” essentially reinforce suburban family values more than any other type of family, especially including families that are not white and do not adhere white culture. The problem with the phrase is that is it almost always used by the Baby Boomers to refer to the time they were growing up in the suburbs of the 1950’s and 60’s. Unfortunately, it takes more than two generations for something to become what one would call “tradition,” yet this phrase is used it almost every election in the US and Canada.
"Traditional Family Values" typically reinforce this violation of youth rights by essentially infantilizing children at every stage of life until they’re over the ages of 18 - or, in the case of some suburban parents who are still living as if it’s the 1980’s, they still think their 28 year old offspring is still somehow a ‘child’ and must be coddled. It is the idea that the parents of the household ought to be able to enforce any values they want, both socially and politically, throughout an entire country. It is an extremely hegemonic viewpoint.
In some cultures, a form of killing called an “honour killing” is supposed to restore honour to a disgraced family. Typically this can be anything from theft, to assault, and so on - as long as an honour killing is deemed necessary by someone. In the country of Canada, it is legally considered unlawful homicide.
I will not comment directly on honour-killings, as I am not a part of that culture, but I will mention one thing in particular that stood out in this article. It is about an honour-killing criminal case in Canada.
“The trial heard from teachers, vice-principals, police officers, social workers and youth protection workers, who intervened at various times when the Shafia girls made allegations of verbal, emotional and physical abuse they encountered with their family.”
The prelude to familial homicide situations is almost, invariably, extreme abuse of every kind. In this case, the young women were severely abused, and, of course, two out of the three young women were youth - the other was technically an adult at the age of 19.
But in white culture, we do not believe in ‘honour-killings.’ In white culture, the youth are often thrown onto the streets unceremoniously, leaving them to fend for themselves, often with the final sentiment of, “I hope you die in a ditch.” Often, it is stratified youth, such as queer youth, who are the direct survivors of these situations. It is either that, or they are neglected, abused and isolated to the point where they see no value in living, and thus commit suicide. Isn’t it great then, that the largest, primarily white-religion in our society, Catholicism, says that people who commit suicide won’t go to heaven?
In that sense, abusing someone into suicide is no different than an honour-killing, and if we want to pretend that we actually care about the safety of youth, we have to admit that this happens in our own, quote-un-quote “enlightened” European culture.
On Side-Stepping And The Age Of Consent
Some people, probably reactionaries, will likely argue that this blog post is a veiled attempt to justify intimate relations with youth. That is not the case, and leads me into my final point.
I don’t think a youth and an adult, under our current system - or any conceivable system we could come up with in the next 100 years - can have a relationship that isn’t steeped in the horrible power dynamics I’ve mentioned above. That alone makes abuse and manipulation far too easy on the side of the adult for a truly egalitarian relationship to exist, especially since youth are taught to “respect their elders (at any cost)”.
Until such a system exists that youth have the rights to autonomy, self-protection, self-mediation, the right to their own safe domicile and so on, such a question - if the age of consent should be lowered - is useless to posit, and even more useless to discuss.
More to the point, I think that if a society respects youth as a matter of fact, youth will be able to end their own abusive situations and that things like sexual abuse of youth will plummet in numbers. In fact, I believe every abuse statistic will fall through the floor once youth have these rights.
EDIT2: Here is a particularily good example of why Age Of Consent laws are essentially worthless under a system which affords youth no rights.
I Have A Dream
I want a world in which no longer will young people grow up thinking that being forcibly confined, drugged, and moved against their will is the ‘norm.’ I want a world in which no longer will young people grow up thinking that they’re worthless because they didn’t have the energy to run an entire household at age 10. I want a world in which no longer will young people think that having their privacy violated is allowed. More importantly, if young people are taught these values, their self-esteem, self-respect, and their hand in life will improve, and not only that, but they’ll also pass these values onto their offspring, shortly before their offspring are allowed to fly off and make a name for themselves.
Youth rights are a human rights issue, a feminist issue, a men’s rights issue, a government and corporate policy issue, an economic issue, a design issue - it affects literally all people from all walks of life, as we have all been young at some point. I know that most of you reading this can identify with at least one portion of what I’ve written, because these issues affect you, no matter where or who you are.
I don’t have all the answers, but we’ve needed to start talking about this last century. Let’s get on it.
And that’s what “Think Of The Children” should really mean.
(YOUTH OF THE WORLD, RISE UP!)
Disclaimers: I am a 25-year old white disabled transgender woman living in a big city. I have lived in both the city and the suburbs for extended lengths of time during my life, including in both rich and poor neighbourhoods and schools.
EDIT: grammar and spelling
EDIT2: added ‘using child porn laws against children’ reference in Side-Stepping
EDIT3: added preamble, and “Traditional Family Values” section