There is a new campaign on Facebook to “raise awareness about child abuse.” I’ve been hearing about it all weekend and no matter which way I look at it, I can’t help feeling angry and frustrated by these supposedly well-intentioned efforts to bring an end to what is the greatest ongoing tragedy in human history.
I first heard about the campaign yesterday when a friend mentioned it to me. Then I started to notice all of the cartoon profile pictures that began popping up in my news feed. Friend after friend began posting the same status:
“Until December 6, change your profile pic to a cartoon character from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same. The object of the game–to not see one single human face on FB to raise awareness of the fight against child abuse.”
Promoting the empathetic, compassionate and humane treatment of children is one of the greatest passions in my life so I’m all for “raising awareness,” whatever that means, if it’s going to open people’s eyes to the devastating effects of child abuse. But I’m skeptical of this approach. How many of these people posting these past few days really want to talk about child abuse and are seriously committed to ending this atrocity by doing something more involved than throwing up a politically correct Facebook status? Not many, I’d wager.
If this campaign leads to a serious discussion about the causes of child abuse (And let me be clear: When I say child abuse, I am referring not only to the beatings usually referred to with that term, but also to spanking, pushing, pinching, screaming or any type of emotional manipulation), which usually stem from the parent or caretakers’ own unresolved childhood trauma or personal history, then I think that’s great. If we’re actually going to talk about the fact that even spanking or screaming at a child results in brain damage and retards their emotional and intellectual development, then by all means, let’s get that conversation going on Facebook. But I really doubt that that is going to happen.
I suppose I also feel anger around this issue because I am fortunate enough to know some truly incredible people who are taking heroic steps in their own lives to process their own histories and the abuse they suffered. Their actions, honesty and integrity actually do make the world a better place for kids to grow up in, so I have a hard time applauding those who merely pay lip service to the cause but refuse to do anything substantial to protect and defend children.
I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend seriously considering the campaign and I keep thinking, “What’s the point? How will this impact the life of an abused child?”
My guess is that the answer to that second question is not at all. I’m a teacher. I work with children every day. I know for a fact that some of the students I teach come from abusive homes where, if they are not regularly physically and verbally assaulted themselves, they witness their fathers beating their mothers on a regular basis. The question of how I can help these kids, even just a little bit, is constantly on my mind. I am often at a loss but I know that changing my Facebook status and posting a cutesy picture to my profile for a day will not affect them one single bit.
Instead of copying and pasting a feel-good phrase into the status bar, why not do something that might actually make a difference in a young person’s life?
-Stand up for a child you see being screamed at or spanked by their parents. Physical violence and aggression toward a child is never acceptable or morally correct under any circumstances.
-Show the children in your life compassion and curiosity, be honest with them and don’t send them the message that force, fear and intimidation are loving or considerate ways of interacting
-Explore your own history with abuse, and encourage those close to you to do the same, so that future generations of children won’t have to suffer under the weight of their parents’ unresolved traumas
Those things can be terrifying. I know. They’re hard and they’re scary and often the most painful actions a person can imagine taking. But they’re also absolutely essential if we’re serious about ending child abuse and protecting kids, who are the most precious and most vulnerable members of society. And those things are going to mean a hell of a lot more to abused children than a Facebook status and a picture of some cartoon.