Being Unsentimental About Children

Just occasionally, I have the impression that we confuse sentimentality with caring. An old person dies after weeks of neglect and we trumpet our indignation, but were we there when he/she needed help? Were we ready to do the caring ourselves or do we merely want to blame others for what we perceive to be their shortcomings?

Children are always in the news because of the terrible things adults do to them, especially if they involve sex, but I think that there, too, we operate a double standard. We want our children to be ‘innocent’, but we know very well that our society sexualises children from a very young age. The Crown Prosecution Service has criticised one of its barristers for describing a 13-year-old sex abuse victim as ‘predatory’ and ‘sexually experienced’. While we shrink, rightly, from the use of such language, at the back of our minds there may be a slight hesitation. Should we be surprised if children adopt sexual attitudes and behaviours inappropriate to their age and understanding if we bombard them with sexual messages from their earliest years?

Perhaps if we were less sentimental and more honest, we would make better carers.  Seeing people as people rather than as consumers or, worse still, commodities would be a good place to start.


10 thoughts on “Being Unsentimental About Children”

  1. I agree with you.

    There is a lot of emotion attached to the vulnerability of children, but we hear or read a continuous stream of stories of either abuse or neglect of children, many which it seems someone must be blamed for. But, do we examine our own behaviour to ask, what would we have done in the circumstances – would we have acted or turned a blind eye.

    In addition, not knowing the circumstances can cause complications. We’d been concerned about a young girl living close to us as she seemed to be in emotional state often, shouting and screaming. Only when we had a conversation with her mother did we discover that she has many issues on the Autism spectrum, and her mother (father left years ago) is having real difficulty in getting support, or even getting a statement of her special educational needs.

    We, having some past experience of the system within our local authority were able to point her towards someone who might be able to help – and we know that some progress is now being made. She is being supported now in school and her outlook and behaviour seems to be much more settled than before.

    Making that effort was worthwhile, rather than just worrying, or complaining about it. But we are well aware that a lone parent trying to cope with a child in these circumstances is difficult, particularly as she works full time and has to find appropriate carers for her two children, which is difficult with a child who is disabled by autism, which only exhibits in behaviour in certain situations.

  2. It is frustrating – I cannot suggest any way to reduce the sexualisation of our children, unless if the parents apply themselves assiduously to protecting their children from all such messages (if that were possible). As long as children are a good source of sales, there will be adverts aimed at them. Perhaps reducing their available money might help in the long run, but it would require a massive effort by the parents en mass.

  3. We face our shadows, but do we respond in any useful ways? who actually protests at the sexily-worded little t-shirts for children – for babies! Someone must buy them, or they wouldn’t be stocked!
    How much responsibility do parents truly take to know what their children are seeing on tv, or who they are chatting to on facebook, etc.
    An informal, small survey suggests that many parents feel Facebook is their child’s ‘thing’ not to be intruded into . Really?
    If parents are busy with their own facebook/Twitter conversations, is a child actually able to break in on that so as to express fears of cyber-bullying, or is it ‘not now, go away’.
    Rather than deploring all these things, and the real tragedies that are so often in the media, we could choose to do one positive thing each time we go to shop [online or High Street] – a recent protest has convinced Tesco to insist that Editors tone down the ‘lads-mags’ covers and also to put the explicit ones behind shields.
    We can do SOMETHING! each attempt will make some difference, even if it is in other people’s acceptance of the ‘inevitable’ as being open to challenge.

  4. Children are great mimics, they copy adult behaviour until they are told otherwise. Adults have to define their boundries for them if they are to have a childhood. Adults on the otherhand have developed the ability to make conscious choice and can understand the consequences of their choices. There is nothing wrong in regaining an ability to say no to children, adult to child, that’s how good parenting works. Marketing forces are driven by the ‘yes’ word and thrive because of parents who avoid conflict the ‘no’ word brings. Encouraging parents to admit that they want innocence in their children is a starting place, giving them permission to object to market forces is another. Many parents don’t realise that they can empower themselves and others to make changes.

  5. Children who have been abused- and many children in these cases have been abused serially by a range of adults from a young age- often display very overt and sexualised behaviour. I once attended a group for survivors of abuse (I was abused myself) and one survivor explained that her sustained abuse had left her “without the word “no” in her vocabulary” and also “determined to “test” all men to see if they would take advantage as all the others had.” I’d expect a judge who deals in abuse cases to understand the extent of damage that childhood abuse can cause. The word “predator” implies that the current adult perpetrator is the victim.
    I think we can be sentimental in our views of children. Ironically, a focus on children as innocent can make them more vulnerable- for example we might assume our children would not search for porn on the internet or that a child who repeats a sexual joke or comment no longer “innocent”. We also think people either are or aren’t in a state of innocence – we talk about “losing your innocence” – but in truth most innocence is lost in degrees and how dangerous would it be to arrive at adulthood entirely innocent of the world? Rather than think about this in the rather abstract terms of innocence, we should look at who is in the position of responsibility here in a legal sense, and an adult of 41 is clearly responsible for their sexual behaviour whether or not a minor has made advances or not- as you have pointed out.
    Our children do also live in a terribly sexualised culture with incredible double standards. It has always been a bit like this, of course, but it seems to be getting worse. Children need a lot of love, stability and support to help them navigate this minefield of pressures and contradictions.

  6. Hi Sue, I am so sorry that you’ve suffered such a terrible trauma and it’s had such a lasting effect. We must never allow our judges to reverse the rolls of adult and child no matter how grown up a child might seem. If the adult world does not protect a child’s right to be a child for as long as possible then what hope is there for some of the most vulnerable of society? If judges lose the ability to discern this then people begin to lose sight of how truly precious children are. Every statement and judgement from a judge made in the public arena is meant to set moral standards for all of society.

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