Kids are great for making you feel better when adulting sucks. Sure, there are good things about being an adult (chocolate for breakfast, pants-free work-at-home days) but the whole spiel can be pretty stressful. There’s money to worry about, work, the house, the relationships, the whole mortality thing. It can also get pretty lonely—and adults’ needs often go unmet. Sometimes, it’s nice to hang out with a kid and remember the good old days when the livin’ was easy.
But putting adults’ needs above children’s needs can become problematic. Are we talking about neglect and abuse here? Not always, but consider some of the following:
The need for physical affection
Adults are often touch-deprived. Our workplaces are conscious of sexual harassment, and society has broadened culturally so it might be inappropriate to casually hug someone who you might have, without a second thought, hugged 30 years ago. Busy lifestyles and situations like single parenting can leave an adult craving any kind of human physical contact.
Our need for touch is often fulfilled by children. Often, it’s as simple as “Mommy’s had a hard day. Come here. I need a hug.” This seems harmless enough until you consider the fact that we’ve taught our children to obey adults without question.
Does fulfilling our physical needs always result in assault? Of course not. But not effectively fulfilling adults’ needs can lead to some adults seeking an easy solution to their problems (as most child molesters are not attracted to their victim), and this can cross the line into active abuse.
Platonic physical touch between family members is normal and healthy. But it also has to be mutual. If adults acknowledged their need for touch, for affection, for sex, and found healthy ways to deal with it, perhaps children wouldn’t end up being the easy targets.
The need for purity, innocence
In this world of frequent negativity, bullying, and violence, there is always a need for purity and innocence. Without that breath of clean air, there’s not much hope. Where better to find that wholesomeness than in children? We stop beside playgrounds to watch them; we look at cute photos and videos people put on the internet; we check on our children when they’re asleep.
Children and baby animals are often our sole sources of relief for the darkness in the world, so we insist on their wholesomeness.
With that in mind, it’s easy to ignore the darkness that children experience.
For example, most children spend 6-8 hours per day, 5 days per week, at school. Schools are common places for sexual assault, but adults prefer to think of schools as bright, primary colored places of education. It doesn’t fulfill our needs to consider the horrendous things that might happen during those 6-8 hours, so we don’t even train people to look for the problems.
A 2016 study of 450 teachers “revealed that over half the teachers, 65.3% (n = 294), had never received any type of training in child sexual abuse education and that the majority were not familiar with methods of identifying child sexual abuse, 90.7% (n = 279). Various mistaken beliefs were identified among the participating teachers, such as pathological profiles of abusers, that the vast majority of child sexual abuse implies violent behavior, and that there cannot be abusers the same age as the victim.”
Parents depend on these untrained teachers to inform them of possible sexual abuse during the school day. Keep in mind, though, that most teacher-student ratios are about 1:25; therefore, chances of the one teacher picking up on everything are just about nil.
By the time parents and children get home from work and after-school care, the rush of dinner and homework and evening classes makes it difficult for a parent to notice the changes that might be warning signals. Exhausted parents are trying to accomplish all the things that must be done so, during the week, there’s little time for lengthy, relaxed talks in which the child might drop a hint. By the end of the week, the child may have found their own coping skills and believe the parents don’t need to be bothered.
Our need to see school as a place of innocence has led us to forget the adults we’ve hired to teach our children. Our adult need for purity and innocence in children has led to a great deal of ignorance, which in turn leads to harm to children. Need proof? A 2017 review of K-12 sexual assault in Canada revealed that 86% of people who offended in a school setting were certified teachers.
We know that sex education prevents abuse, which is (or should be!) everyone’s goal, and we know that it’s cheaper to pay a good sex educator than to imprison and regulate people who have sexually offended. We can do better.
The need for power and revenge
From our own experiences, we know what happens when a child says “no” to an adult. Imagine the normal, daily situations where an adult would freak if a child didn’t agree: getting out of bed, going to school, eating vegetables, doing chores, being nice to people, taking a bath. Adults need children to obey.
What happens when that stealthily transfers to those dark situations adults don’t like to think about? Kim Cavill of Six Minute Sex Ed hints at the implications:
So, of course, when an adult says, “Do this”, the child does; when an adult says, “Don’t tell anyone”, the child doesn’t.
How do we get around this? Adults need to ease off the “obey your elders” approach and spend time teaching their children about critical thinking. “Because I said so” can no longer be a response to the incessant demands for explanations. “But why?” will have to be met with longer explanations and details that many adults might prefer to avoid.
We know that children typically delay disclosing abuse. They do this because they’ve been trained to submit to the power trip adults need in order to have things run smoothly. Though we intend to protect our children, having them fulfill our need has backfired terribly.
As well as a need for power, adults have a need for revenge—to right a wrong by exerting their power. If someone hurts a child, adults are all for harsh prison sentences and life-long registries.
If someone is planning to volunteer or work with children, we expect them to go for a criminal records check, to see if they’ve ever been convicted of an offense against children. Now, as people who have sexually offended have only an 8% reoffense rate, this is not even an ounce of prevention. It satisfies our need to deprive criminals of employment, but it does nothing to protect children. The criminal system we have set up depends on at least one child suffering at the hands of an adult before another adult steps in to help.
Clearly, adults need to check their behavior to make sure children are not being used as objects to fulfill our need for revenge.
The need for upheld morals
We are not perfect. We’d like to be, but no human can manage that, even when they theoretically know the rules. Every time we mess up, we hear an adult voice—parent, grandparent, religious advisor—in our head asserting some rule or moral guideline. This is a particular issue when it comes to sex, which is always caught up in morality.
Have you ever put on an outfit that was just at that edge of “too much”, only to take it off and replace it with something more conservative? Have you ever flirted with someone you shouldn’t have? Whose voice lectures you?
Now, who lectures the 8-year-old girl who dresses for school in short shorts and a spaghetti-strap tank top? The word “inappropriate” is most likely used. Is it because of the weather or because she is showing too much skin? Would she be sending the wrong messages? Perhaps this girl has just put on the first thing at hand, yet we turn it into a shameful situation that blames her for the shape of her body and the way other people look at it.
And it’s not likely the 8-year-old boys in the class will be thinking about her body in a sexual way. We are trying to protect that girl from the gaze of adults who are fulfilling their sexual needs by using a real, live child.
When that girl is 18 years old and wears a similar outfit, the same comments are made. She cannot go to school, work, or the mall without someone commenting on how inappropriate or dangerous it is. She might, after all, get sexually assaulted. The adults take their morality and inflict it on the girl, again using her body as the cause for adults harassing or abusing her.
When the child’s sexuality becomes more obvious, puritan morals begin to bloom: faces turn lobster-red; articulate people begin to stutter. Sometimes, adults take it to extremes:
At some point I had to confess one of my relatives that I masturbate. She was outraged. She said I’m going to go insane and end up raped, that I’ll seek sex everywhere. She also used it as a tool of manipulation and threatened to tell my other relatives about it when I misbehaved, and she eventually did.Lecter
Where does this get us when a child has been sexually assaulted? It places the burden on the child—even when the child becomes an adult.
As the decades have passed, I’ve become resentful that I am constantly pressured to be full of anger and pain, to have strangers exaggerate—even wish something worse had happened to me—to satisfy their own need to turn sex, a natural thing, into something ugly and harmful.Samantha Geimer
The adult need to repress sexuality—to keep it quiet and hidden and shameful—leads children being kept quiet and hidden and shamed.
Back in 2018, we wrote about how our morals are affecting teen sexuality when it comes to sexting. Our laws are based on adults’ needs to uphold some moral that is clearly no longer relevant to modern society.
Maybe, the adult in question isn’t proud of their current “morality”—however they may define that. Perhaps they’re trying to prevent their child from becoming like them. While we may look at a one-night-stand or Friends with Benefits as the bottom of the moral barrel, inflicting so-called higher standards on our children is no way to fulfill our need for certain morals.
Only adults must fulfill adults’ needs
Our society is changing—and changing quickly. Home life, work life, schools–not to mention the internet–are very different than they were when our parents and grandparents were setting down guidelines for behavior. We need to understand that what worked 30 or 50 or 100 years ago is no longer effective.
Morality is changing. We are no longer shocked by seeing a girl’s ankles or shoulders; we are concerned with respect and consent. We uphold these new morals in our courts of law, so we should uphold them within our families and groups of friends–family and friends of all ages.
As well, we can now all agree that preventing child sexual abuse is better than dealing with it after the fact. We can all agree that everyone needs to pull a little more weight in order to prevent children from being harmed.
As adults, we need to analyze our thoughts, feelings, and actions, so we can change along with society. This is the only way we will prevent children from bearing the heavy weight of our unacknowledged and unfulfilled needs.