What is Child Abuse?

February 8, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt dealt with health problems as a child, having asthma amongst other things.  His father encouraged him to be active and challenge his body.  Teddy Roosevelt is enshrined in American lore for being a “man’s man.”  Just look at him.


Without a doubt, a "real man"

Today, it seems, parents are condemned for choosing how to care for their kids.  If you’re a parent and have a sickly kid, trust in the doctors and medicate the kid until the kidneys can’t take it.  Don’t try to do anything yourself, that’s not scientific.  Don’t make a Teddy Roosevelt out of your son.

The latest childhood-moment-turned-viral-video isn’t exactly heartwarming. A controversial video a father shot of his four-year-old son running through the snow, wearing nothing but his underwear and a pair of shoes, has sparked cries of abuse.

On a visit to the States, He Liesheng of Nanjing, China, filmed his young son whimpering and shuddering during an icy run through the streets of New York City. The video, posted anonymously after dad, He, emailed it to friends, is at the center of a debate: Is this child abuse or just extreme parenting?

Just treat the instance superficially and call it abuse and be outraged and call for all legislators to intervene with new laws and make CPS do whatever it can to take away custody.  Or listen to the other side of the story:

But a source close to the family says the demands the father made on his son were borne out of love. “This child has received all sorts of forms of training since he was small,” He’s personal assistant Xin Lijuan, said in an interview with AFP. “When he was one, he started swimming in water that was 21 degrees Celsius.” Born with several health problems, the boy’s parents have used these extreme methods to try to boost their son’s immunity. And they believe it’s working, claiming the boy rarely has a cold or fever.

Oh, the Teddy Roosevelt school of parenting.  Apparently it works–just produces legendary men, that’s all.  Push the limits of a weak body and it becomes stronger.  That’s how weight training works.  The weak is strengthened by being pushed and tested to do more.  It seems the weaklings in the “army of online commenters” didn’t know about this principle.

But the physical pain endured and the threat of hypothermia the child faced have an army of online commenters and child advocates calling the incident child cruelty. “This is what we would call child abuse,” Jannah Bailey, executive director of Child Protect, an Alabama-based advocacy organization for abused children, tells Shine. “[The boy] was definitely was not enjoying it and it’s not an appropriate punishment for a four-year-old.”

Abuse is defined as “bad or improper treatment.”  Intelligent people recognize that pain is not inherently bad or improper–this seems obvious so I won’t elaborate.  Also realize that being exposed to the possibility of something harmful is not necessarily bad or improper treatment.  I’m sure Ms. Bailey of Alabama and the do-gooder commenters have no problem with vaccinating children (although maybe they should–here’s someone with a different perspective), which is simply injecting a low-dose of certain diseases, but feel it’s their moral duty to scream bloody murder when parents decide to expose their child to different risks in order to keep their child healthy.  The only difference is the amount of risk involved, and if the axiom holds true (and TR is a case study that it does), the greater the risk the greater the reward.

This is a case of self-righteous people thinking it is their right to tell other people how much risk to take and how much risk they should expose their children to.  These commenters think it is their moral duty to boss other parents around because they don’t feel comfortable with how others raise their children.  Common sense made a Teddy Roosevelt.  What has the science of the last hundred years made our children into?  why should we listen to the “experts”?  If we had done that, we wouldn’t have any teddy bears.

The experts hate the teddy bear for what it symbolizes.


In the news recently:

Dutch sailor Laura Dekker may not return home to the Netherlands after completing her voyage around the globe. Dekker, 16, wrote on her blog that she is on course to finish her journey Saturday, becoming the youngest person to accomplish the feat solo, but bad experiences with the Dutch government could keep her from returning to her mother country.

“The Dutch government was not kind to me,” Dekker writes. “I think that the nightmares will follow me for the rest of my life.”

Dekker was 14 when she announced her intentions to sail around the world, and the government was not pleased. She writes in her blog that Youth Care and other government organizations dragged her through six court cases and asked a judge to take her away from her father.

“Over a period of 11 months, I was constantly afraid that Youth Care would lock me up. Also during this period, there were intimidating interviews with Youth Care workers. It was all a frightening and traumatic experience. So often these terrible memories come to me. I can’t ignore them. It is painful. Now, after sailing around the world, with difficult port approaches, storms, dangerous reefs, and the full responsibility of keeping myself and Guppy safe, I feel that the nightmares the Dutch government organizations put me through, were totally unfair.”

The most discouraging part of the story is that we are being told to constantly to be safe, to be careful.  Riskiness is literally outlawed by governments around the world. Even risk only to oneself.

Outlawing risky behaviors is stupid or harmful, depending on how you look at it.  It’s stupid because those who are willing to take risks will still take the risk even with after outlawing it–making the risk-taking illegal just increases the risk and the subsequent adrenaline rush.  It’s harmful because it erodes initiative and conditions people to eschew living for death.  As Tolstoy wrote, “Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.

When you feel like you are pressured to live the “most simple and most ordinary life,” when you know you behave as you do because you are scared, when you know you are a rat in a race and not a human on a beautiful earth, you should know that your life is “most terrible”–that you are dead and not alive.