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Monday, November 11, 2013

Child 'Abuse'

Some will take offense that the word abuse in the title is in quotation marks.  The subject is serious and should not be easily dismissed.  However, the word abuse is loaded.  It demands immediate intervention and creates partisanship.  Either the adult is guilty or innocent, the child a victim or not.  This turns into a question of personality, perception, reputation.  Responsibility is placed on the individual adult.  They should know how to behave.  Even when we talk about environmental stressors leading to abusive patterns, the focus remains on that particular adult's strengths and weaknesses.  How much can they bear?  Maybe parenting is too much for them.  We're doing a favor by removing the child.  We go down a pre-programed path instead of examining the intricate development of each 'abusive' situation.

Let's play with the language for a moment and call abuse 'non-optimal interaction'.  That's terribly sterilized.  It doesn't show the spectrum of mistreatment or the long-term consequences.  But this sort of language is necessary for us to get out of the rut of emotional reaction and pre-programed memetic responses and outcomes.  We can begin to look at non-optimal interactions as behavioral patterns within our society.

Many are aware of religiously-motivated child abuse.  Let's look at the non-optimal memeplex of Discipline.  The doctrine (the memeplex) and thus the leadership teaches faulty ideas of child cognition & development which is passed to the parents to apply in raising their kids.  They may view certain strategies as 'discipline' while others see it as 'abuse'.  If the child responds with resistance the religious memeplex frames this action as being linked to the rebellious nature of the child, signaling to the adult that they need to increase the 'discipline'.  Conversely, when a child complies with 'discipline' or even learns to respond with gratitude, the parent is taught to interpret this as evidence the strategy is working.  Both performed gratitude and genuine gratitude reinforces the parent's behavior.  The parent becomes convinced that opponents of their strategy are closed-minded and can't understand that this works for their family.

But let's not use religion as a whipping-boy.  There are other institutions which instigate mistreatment of children.  In the name of optimizing a child's current & future "success", how many parents in the USA are encouraged and comply with drugging their children?  We assume that since the Dickensian orphanages have been shuttered, institutional mistreatment of children does not exist.  We do not see mandatory mind-altering drugs as a violation of a child's rights.  We instead spin it as empowering the child to get the medical attention they deserve and we insist this is in the child's best interests.  In such an instance it is the teachers and administration which act as instigators and the parents are just middle-management deferring to the authority of the educational and medical systems. 

It is the responsibility of all to question how they may be propagating non-optimal memeplexes.  The development of a non-optimal memeplex is not a conspiracy or work of the devil.  It is a naturally evolved phenomenon.  But its continuation & propagation is due to the unquestioning compliance of adults.

Here is one final ironic thought. 

We tell parents threats and punishment are inappropriate, ineffective tools for changing behavior & educating a child.  Then we threaten to tear apart their families if they don't obey our mandates, go to counseling or parenting classes and turn their kids over to us for evaluations.  The persistence of this concept of 'good parenting' vs. 'bad parenting'; of 'abusive' vs. 'loving' parents, of parents 'deserving' or 'not deserving' to maintain custody of their children is grounded in the Christian memeplex of sin, punishment, repentance and redemption.  Adults can adopt strategies for optimal interaction based on environmental cues and observing other adults.  They don't have to grovel, repent and beat themselves up first. [In fact we find that shame and negative self-perceptions are contrary to fostering growth.]

Progressive, secular culture may have tossed out the mythology long ago, but it persists in maintaining Christianity's vision of individual failings and socially sanctioned punishment, distracting us from the larger picture.  It's time to reconsider.

Continue to Non-Optimal Elder Care

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