The correlation between child abuse and corruption

Children are the greatest imitators on earth. Whatever I do, my kids will do. We’re built to learn that way. Everything a child knows how to do, all of that was learned from someone else. Walking, talking, potty, eating, reading, writing, math, humility and empathy are all skills we must learn from someone else. And most of the time, we learn these things from our parents.

To demonstrate this point, I asked my kids, 5 and 3 years of age, “Whatever you do, don’t do what I do”. I stuck out my tongue, they stuck out their tongues. I touched my nose with one hand, and they touched their noses with one hand. I smiled, they smiled. I touched my ears, they touched their ears. I even reminded them again, not to do what I do, and they continued to do what I did, reliably and consistently. It’s like the word “don’t” was ignored.

If you lie to your kids, they will learn to lie, too. If you make agreements with your kids and break them, they will learn to break their own agreements with other people. If you hit them, they will learn to hit others. If you engage in verbal abuse with your kids, they will learn to use verbal abuse against you when they hit puberty. I believe that behind every corrupt person, we can find a parent who corrupted them.

I live in the United States. I am bearing witness to rampant corruption. Corruption is an exchange of dignity for privilege. A privilege, like a drivers license, is a social construct that allows a certain person or class of persons to do something that would otherwise be illegal under the law.

In American politics, money rules. If we look at any law that confers an advantage to one class of people over another, we can find the money behind it. That money is an investment with the aim of even greater returns. This will eventually lead to an authoritarian culture unless we change our behavior.

Where does authoritarianism come from? Most of us in America, have been raised with a punitive, confrontational pedagogy, a punishment and reward system that is supposed to pass for something called, “child rearing”. If a child does wrong, he is punished. If a child does well, she is rewarded. This punishment and reward system is intended to minimize challenging behavior in kids, but it often fails because it overlooks one very important factor: Kids exhibit challenging behavior when they lack the capacity to respond proactively to the demands of their environment. If kids could do better, they would.

Most of us have been raised by parents with an expectation to behave a certain way without any conscious effort on the part of the parent, to teach the child how to meet the parents’ expectations. Many of us expect the child to automatically “know” how to do what the parent demands of the child. And many of us have carried this upbringing, unconsciously, into adulthood. That means we often don’t grow up and become adults. Instead, we’re “adult children”, kids in big bodies, people who haven’t managed to mature emotionally, into adults.

Imagine what life is like for a 2 or 3 year old child who misbehaves and is continually punished with shame or physical punishment. Shame is not empathy. Physical punishment is not empathy. When kids exhibit challenging behavior, they are trying to solve problems and need the parents help to solve them. I believe that this is by design.

Parents must cooperate and collaborate with kids to solve those problems encountered by kids, you know, “growing pains”. Cooperation is the primary skill, the foundation skill for all of humanity. Language is proof of this. We use language to cooperate, to collaborate to solve problems. Parent-child problem solving is a requirement for our evolution as a species.

But when kids learn to live under authoritarian parents, they don’t learn skills like empathy, compassion, authenticity, and intimacy. Yes, those four words (and many more like them) are skills. Kids learn to lie under authoritarian rule. Kids learn to steal under authoritarian rule. Kids learn to be covert under authoritarian rule. Kids learn to accept money to keep quiet, under authoritarian rule.

I think that it would be hard to find someone convicted of a crime of corruption, bribery, extortion, kickbacks, forgery and the like, who didn’t grow up with authoritarian parents. If you say “Clean up your room or you will be spanked”, that’s extortion. If you say, “Be a good girl and I’ll give you a lollipop”, that’s bribery. That is punishment and reward. Those demands of kids require certain skills for success, with success meaning, acquisition of the reward or avoidance of the punishment.

Kids must learn the skills needed to clean up their rooms, yet we assume that they should already know how to clean up their rooms. The only thing that I’ve found to work consistently is to model the behavior. I also know that a messy room is just a stage in their development. If they don’t clean their room, I assume they don’t know how to clean it, so I clean it to model the behavior.

The same is true for “being good”. What exactly do we mean by “being good”? Is the standard explicit? Have we modeled the standard for the child? Do we move the goal posts on the child without notice?

Kids who live under the constant threat of punishment, will learn to adapt to the punishment rather than learn the skills required to meet the standard set by the parents. That is, unless the skills that are required for success are modeled by the parents.

If you tell “white lies” to your kids, and then expect them not to lie to you, you’re sending mixed messages. Kids know when we’re lying. They can feel it and they can see it. If you model the behavior of lying, they will lie to you because they’re imitating you, and that is nothing nefarious. They’re just doing what you taught them to do.

If you hit your kids, they will learn to hit. Kids are great imitators. This is what I think of when I happen upon stories of elder abuse at the hands of their own children. This is where bullying comes from. Bullying is a form of corruption and it is learned from the parents. Bullying involves extortion, bribery and forgery:

Hey Twinkie, give me your lunch money or you’re dead after school.

I’ll give you my Jello if you leave me alone after school.

Here’s your homework, now please leave me alone.

This is what bullies do, and we’re witnessing it in politics every day. Bullies believe that force is required to get what they want. If you’re Donald Trump, the use of force is approved. If you’re an anarchist, you hew to a principle of non-aggression. I exercise personal anarchy.

I think it’s fair to say that we all want freedom. To have that freedom, freedom from corruption, coercion, from physical threats among us, so that we can live together, in peace, we must start with the children.

That means to live in a free society, we must model the behavior for others to follow. If I treat others in such a way that I do not use force to get what I want, people tend to reflect that back at me. That is how I want to be treated in the first place, right?

Whatever I think and feel, people will reflect that back to me. So if I want something, I say, “please”. I cooperate. I collaborate. I do this every day. And over time, life gets easier because getting my needs met without force becomes a habit.

And as I exercise that habit, everyone I interact with reflects that back to me. And those people that I interacted with yesterday, they imitate me, and find that that habit, the habit of non-aggression, is reflected back at them. Now multiply that times 7 billion and see what happens next.

Write on.

Originally published at on October 14, 2018.

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.