Dr. Alice Miller c/o Suhrkamp Verlag
Lindenstr. 29-35 D - 60325 Frankfurt am Main
I want to pass on to you information that some of you might already have but most of you
- I guess more
than ninety percent - have never been allowed to become familiar with. It is the information that all kinds
of corporal punishment (spanking, hitting, beating) of children by their parents and teachers is profoundly
immoral and dangerous for their future. They have the right to protest against this humiliation since most
governments (except the USA and Senegal) signed the UN Convention that obliged them to protect children's
Of almost two hundred countries that signed this convention, only eleven actually did what they have
promised by clearly forbidding by law the beating of children (among them Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland,
Holland and Germany).
The other countries, however, don't change anything in their old habits; in most of them it is even allowed
to hit children in school, not only in Africa and Asia but also in twenty-two states of the USA; among them
Texas, where George Bush, the current presidential candidate for the USA has been Governor for many years.
I know that children are dependent on their parents and will fear even more cruelty if they speak out or
try to defend themselves. Not without reason. However, I want to let them know, all of them, that spanking
children is absolutely wrong and that today they are no longer alone if they dare to protest. Amazingly
enough, the opinion that inflicting suffering to a weaker can be of any good has been passed on for millennia
to the next generations although it contradicts with the truth. Today, it is already scientifically proven
that beating children teaches them violence and creates fear. It is also severely humiliating and induces
destructive opinions into the brain of future parents. Above all, it produces their emotional blindness.
Thus, the only reason why parents continue to believe in this misleading message and to beat their
children is the fact that they too were beaten and silenced when they were small children. They learned this
wrong lesson very early, and it is difficult for them to get rid of it. They believe that children don't
suffer because this was what they were told. Thus their sensibility for the suffering they inflict on them is
I wrote this letter to Children and Adolescents and showed it to a young friend of mine and he asked me to
give this information above all to college students who are no longer punished in this way but whose conscious
memory of corporal punishment might still be fresh. He felt that now, as adults, they may want to fight
against this most destructive habit and help society to understand the disastrous consequences it produces.
First I reacted reluctantly to my friend's suggestion because I thought that in your age people usually
don't want to be reminded of the suffering and the helplessness they had to endure as children. They prefer to
forget this time. This is true because most of them don't know that their body will never forget the history
of their first years and that, for the reason of their health, it might be very helpful for them to integrate
their history also into their cognitive system. With this thought in mind, I eventually decided to write you.
I am sure that in the next decade almost every college-educated person will be confronted with the issue of
child abuse anyway. So there is no escape from this knowledge but there is, of course, escape from ignorance.
I spent twenty years of my life by helping adults to overcome the main consequences of the severe abuse
they had endured in their childhood: the denial, the blindness and the tendency to abuse their own children.
Then, over the following twenty years, I did research on childhood and wrote ten books to let people know,
that children are born innocent and that they need love, care and protection, but never violence, to become
compassionate adults. When children are lacking this or when they are treated violently instead, they will
glorify cruelty and will become cruel to others or to themselves or both. My books reached many readers but
these readers belong to a small minority of people. The majority still urgently needs the information. I hope
that everybody may want to spread it once they became aware of its importance.
For a long time, I was puzzled by the fact that even very intelligent people could say children need to be
spanked, so that they can better learn at school. I wondered why it was not obvious to them that you can't
learn anything of value in a state of fear. Scared children learn only to suppress their strongest emotions,
like rage and sorrow, to deal with fear, to lie, and to pretend. And above all, they strongly wish revenge.
Most of them will take revenge as soon as they get power. Tyrants as Stalin, Hitler and Mao gave us a lesson
about what happens then. They were mercilessly beaten as children, denied their pain and later inflicted their
denied suffering and helplessness on entire nations. If they had consciously mastered the history of their
childhood millions of people wouldn't have to die.
I eventually came to understand that the memory of the first years of life stored up in the body is
stronger than everything we learn later at schools and universities. This memory of the first experiences,
although it stays unconscious, can drive parents crazy and let them believe that they act in the interest of
their child. Thanks to the new research on the child's brain, we can realize that the brain of a parent who
was beaten as a child is already programmed to believe in the effectiveness of punishment and spanking.
Today, some best-selling books about child-rearing pretend to be updated and to have integrated the new
psychological knowledge, but they often look to provide parents with the same ways they themselves were
brought up. They give advice how to control, reign, manipulate and humiliate children in the most effective
and undetectable way. Unfortunately, the readers often oversee the poison in this pedagogy because as children
they were never allowed to see and name it.
If we are not looking for power our children do want to cooperate with us, they are interested in
cooperation as a way of communication. But for doing that, they need to trust us. We are by no means
trustworthy if we want to govern them just to escape our helplessness.
Today, it is no longer allowed to beat the own wife, to have slaves, or to beat criminals in jail. The
only thing still allowed is to beat a helpless child, even a baby, and to call it discipline. It is time
to stop this practice, to reject this cruel, immoral, dangerous and absurd tradition and to inform the
children as widely as possible about their rights. Their power lies precisely in this information. It
is up to your generation to replace the tradition without knowledge by the knowledge without tradition.