Letter to Children and Adolescents of all Nations
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 Somalia) signed the UN Convention that obliged them to protect children's rights.
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 schools, 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 you know, all of you, that spanking children is absolutely wrong and that today you are no longer alone if you dare to protest. The opinion that inflicting suffering to a weaker person can be of any good has been passed on for millennia to the next generations. Today, it is already scientifically proven that spanking children teaches them violence and creates fear. It is also severely humiliating. It can't help anybody. Ever.
The only reason why your parents continue to believe in this misleading message and to beat you 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 you is frozen.
Maybe some of you can find access to their frozen feelings and open their heart because you love your parents and your parents want to love you. As you are better informed than they are, your protest can help them to wake up, to melt the ice, to open their eyes and to stop humiliating you. Then, they will appreciate the unique human being you are and learn to respect your body, your feelings and your need for honest communication. I hope that as soon as you confront them with the information you are getting here, the bewitched castle of their mind will start to crumble, the heritage they received from their parents will no longer resist your knowledge. They will become able to give up their misled opinions.
Why did I decide to give you this encouragement? Because I believe in your curiosity and in the power of your awareness. I spent twenty years of my life 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 I 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 care, 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 still belong to a small minority of people. The majority still urgently needs this information.
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 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 such 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.
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 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 books about childrearing pretend to be updated and to have integrated the new psychological knowledge, but the authors of these books provide parents with the same means in which they themselves were brought up. They give advice on 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 to 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 for anyone to beat their 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 our generation to replace the tradition without knowledge by the knowledge without tradition.
Alice MillerMore Articles by Alice Miller