It’s summertime again. Some people love summer, but it really isn’t my thing. I don’t do heat. My skin is translucent. And since becoming a mother, the added stress of having children home from school is another tick against the summer season. I have been known to say that the only thing good about summer is my birthday. But honestly, as I get older, that’s not a huge positive either. Summer has become a season of hiding for me. I hide from the heat. I hide from the sun. But there is more to my hiding than that. There always has been more to it even if I haven’t allowed myself to see it.
The summer was a horrible time in my childhood. I didn’t have the safety of school to run to. I had to fight like hell to swim (which I loved more than anything). Most of the time, I had to find a way to get to practices on my own. But there was a darker side. Summers were the time when my father thought I needed to earn my keep. I wasn’t doing anything else, so I might as well provide some income for the family. So most of the trafficking happened during the summer. But this connection alluded my awareness until recently. Knowing this gives me more compassion for my summers of hiding. And that is why I do this work.
On this July 4th, which is Independence Day in the United States, I can’t help but think about the freedom I never had. As a trafficking victim, I spent my life as a slave. My body was used to make money for my family. My needs and wants were of no concern to them. Food, clothing, shelter and even air were not always made available to me. I knew no freedom as a child. And honestly, nobody cared. I searched for adults who would care, but never found any. I asked for help and there was no response. I learned quickly that children could not ask for freedom. It was unattainable for us. In my adulthood, I have come to understand children as the most oppressed population in the world. And believe me, that is saying something.
Over the years, I have heard all the arguments against this understanding. “Children don’t have the same understanding of the world. We need to protect children from themselves. The world is a dangerous place for children so we need to keep them safe. They don’t know what they don’t know.” And on some level, this is true. I do feel like children are born with a fearlessness that can get them hurt. I have seen it in action. But that same fearlessness says that anything is possible. And it is controlled out of them by the time they are young adults. Their autonomy is thwarted and they lose their individuality and authenticity. They lose their ability to see the possibilities especially when they are unique and non-conforming.
So today I am asking the world for balance. We need to protect them, but we need to let them explore and grow. We need to teach them, but we need to respect their talents, abilities and opinions too. And if a child asks for help or indicates something is wrong, we need to listen to them and help them despite our fears of the adults involved. We have to find balance between protection and freedom. We have to find a middle ground between teaching them how the world works and listening to their unique perspectives on how it could work. We need to understand how our children are people who have rights and not beings to be ignored, pushed away or invalidated. And we need to drop the following perspectives:
What happens in someone’s home is not my business.
Children are to be seen and not heard.
Children make things up for attention.
Children are lucky to have (insert basic need here).
Children’s emotions need to be contained.
Children aren’t as smart as adults.
All of these messages keep children oppressed. And yet all of these messages are largely accepted by society. We have to do a better job at protecting our children’s freedom. If they don’t feel free in childhood, they will grow up to feel trapped in adulthood. It won’t be obvious. It will live in the unconscious. But it will impact their perspective and choices every single day. It will inundate them with futility and hopelessness (manifesting as depression). And it will keep them small.
This is the pattern that gives the oppressors the upper hand. They win because deep down inside, the hopelessness of childhood tells us it is just like the past. It tells us oppressors always win because it happened in childhood. So we let it be true. And this is how the oppressors want it to be. So if you want to change the world, empower a child. Let them know their ideas and dreams matter and will make a difference. Listen to them when they ask you for help. Ensure they are safe from abusers. The oppressors want us to raise children with no hope. Don’t let them win. Give children freedom. Give them hope. Change the world.