Saturday, October 17, 2009

Re-thinking "abuse": word choice and concept analysis

In my very first post on this blog, I posited a definition of "abuse" that expanded on the views of society and law. I used this expanded definition in my post, Child abuse: Not understood at all, but affecting every human rights issue (as noted here)

Since then, I've had a lot of time to think, and second-guess, these earlier attempts at expanding the definition. These days, I'm thinking that I'd prefer using other words to describe parental oppression (or at least potential oppression, questionable behavior, things worth examining, etc.)

unnecessary criticism,
excessive criticism (criticism that may be justified in moderate doses),
parents lying to their children,
social normalization of parental excesses: ("all families are psychotic", dysfunctional family comedies, etc)

What I'm proposing is that we examine the differing behaviors that parents do and ask "is this justified?" And sometimes the answer may be "yes,, if". Other times we don't have a yes/no, but only commentary. Really, the behaviors exist on a continuum.

Perhaps we should address some behaviors separately rather than place them under the banner of "abuse". That is not to say that such behaviors are definitely right or non-harmful, but that we need to give them names other than "abuse", at least for now, because otherwise the word "abuse" comes to mean too many different things to mean anything knowable.

For example, I heard a MySpace friend and Bill Maher suggest that letting your kid eat high-fat foods that make him fat should be considered "child abuse". I would rather it be called "neglect" or "overly-permissive", though you can argue that since the parents are giving the kid the food, they are actively inflicting the harm, thus fitting the definition of abuse. Maybe that's good enough reasoning. But I think of abuse as denying your kids too much freedom, as opposed to letting your kids have too much freedom. Too much freedom can fall under the "overly-permissive" category.

I should concede that the mindset of this blog biases me towards viewing abuse as a greater evil than over-permissiveness. It's the libertarian in me: "give me liberty or give me death", "I'd rather have the inconveniences of too much liberty than too little of it". Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson respectively. I want to think there is a wisdom in this bias, at least for those of us who claim to support free societies.

But ignoring the damages of over-permissiveness puts me in no camp of wisdom. Yes, letting your kids have too much freedom is the cause of many young people acting out. Ideally, good parenting steers away from over-permissivness as much as from abuse. Though decisions come up where a parent may have to weigh on one side or the other. And we can't demand perfection.

Though I am hoping we can demand correction over time. What was done today need not be done next time. To do this requires a willingness to question and examine the behaviors of ourselves and others acting as parents...and a willingness to let ourselves be questioned and examined including by our own children.

After all, those whom we have authority over have a right to question us, the ones who have authority over them. An authority holder who reacts with a "how dare you!" is one that wants to be an unquestioned authority holder, even if she does not think that way consciously. We must walk the walk.


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  2. Nice post on "abuse" word..
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