Open Letter to College Students of all Nations

Letter to College Students of all Nations
October 2000

Dear Friends,

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 been never allowed to become familiar with. It is the information that all kind 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 of Governments (except the USA and Somalia) signed the UN Convention that obliged them to protect children’s rights.

Out 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 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 reasons. 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 the weaker can be of any good, has been passed on for millennia to the next generations although it contradicts the truth. Today, it is 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 frozen.

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 at 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 reasons of 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 for revenge. Most of them will take revenge as soon as they get power. Tyrants like 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 had 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 early 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 a 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.

Alice Miller

This very important reaction was sent to us in November 2004

The dutch and “pedagogical hitting”

This is to inform you of a fault that I came across in one of the articles. In the english version of the “Open letter to college students of all nations”, Holland is cited as one of the countries that banished spanking of children. Unfortunately, this is not so.

In february of this year, the Minister of Justice of Holland decided that it might be necessary to change the law in order to ban “frequent hitting” of children – where just six or seven months before, in june 2003, he held the opinion that Holland absolutely did not need to do anything about “pedagogical hitting” – as it is called in the Netherlands – at all.

However, there still seems to be no real intention to banish hitting as such, as the minister said he mainly wants to do something about “frequent hitting”, and only “if necessary” would he consider banning hitting of children completely.

I think I can see where this is going. Just like in the UK where they banned the “too forceful” hitting of children, Holland is going to ban the “too frequent” hitting of children. They seem to be unable to comprehend that, by banishing hitting COMPLETELY, you get rid of the whole problem of “too hard” or “too often”. But, everything so we can at least preserve a LITTLE hitting. You cannot take it away completely ! Parents just love it too much. This is made very clear – once again – in an article that is published on the website of the dutch Department of Justice (!) by a development psychologist of the university of Utrecht. She states, at the end of a gruesome article where she calls a little two-year old girl a “little brat” and “greedy” for wanting her mother’s attention, and also calls hitting in black families a normal part of their “physical ways” of relating to eachother:

“Let’s not forget that children really do have power and that they are no strangers to agression either. Parents should – sometimes by means of a smack – set limits to this to show their children that in a democracy people listen to what others have to say.”

That her conclusion is utterly absurd because it is self-contradictory becomes even more clear when we look at what Sixten Pettersson, a swedish parliamentary minister had to say about the subject :

“In a free democracy like our own, we use words as arguments, not blows. We talk to people and do not beat them. If we can’t convince our children with words, we shall never convince them with violence.”

I really do feel the mistake in the open letter needs to be corrected as Holland does not deserve to be mentioned alongside the countries who have shown their TRUE progressiveness !

S. van Halteren
The Netherlands