Let’s Expand What Constitutes Child Abuse

by Peter Schwartzman

    Well, not exactly, but close. I am an ardent defender of children’s rights. It sickens me to hear of children being abused or neglected, yet, when one looks at current stats, one cannot but be convinced that our society is suffering in this regard. In addition to the standard sources of abuse/neglect, there are other abuses that occur below the radar. I’ll expose a few of these here.

            Smoking in proximity to children. Despite massive disinformation campaigns to the contrary, everyone now knows that smoking is harmful and secondhand smoke is dangerous as well. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), children who breathe in secondhand smoke are “more likely to suffer from pneumonia, bronchitis, other lung diseases,” as well as “ear infections.” By the numbers, “there are an estimated 790,000 visits to health care providers for ear infections and over 202,000 asthma attacks in children … caused by secondhand smoke exposure,” in the United States, alone (ALA). According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization, secondhand smoke is classified as a known human carcinogen. Given all of this, why in the world would one choose to smoke in the presence of a child?

Using lawn chemicals. Children love to get outside and play on grassy fields and lawns, yet so many people still spray their lawns with known toxins. This is extremely dangerous to children. Let’s look at the scientific literature. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Lowengart et al, 1987) concludes that pesticide use (both in and outside of the house) increases the risk of leukemia in children as much as sevenfold (9). Another study (Salam et al., 2004, in Environmental Health Perspectives) finds that toddlers exposed to herbicides within their first year of life are nearly five times more likely to get asthma by age five. These aren’t isolated findings but ones consistent with many other analyses. And these facts aren’t surprising when one considers that two very commonly used lawn pesticides are associated with many health problems; 2,4-D is connected with cancer, hormone dysfunction, reproductive problems, nerve and brain disorders & glyphosate (aka, Roundup) is associated with cancer, reproductive problems, and kidney/liver damage (Beyond Pesticides). So how important is it to have an immaculate, weed-free lawn? Isn’t a smile on a healthy child worth a heck of a lot more?

Not teaching teenagers about sex and sexual relations. Since our schools have dropped the ball in this mission, it is imperative to give children age-appropriate information about sex. What is the alternative? Should you be letting some older child pressure your uninformed daughter or son to partake in some sexual activity? This is how I’ve heard it often happens in our community. Television shows sexualized relationships more and more in its content. Any kid with Internet access has the ability to find graphic pornography in about two clicks. Yes, parents can get software to block this. Yes, parents can try to monitor a child’s whereabouts on a 24-7 basis. Experience tells me that these things are virtually impossible to control. So, that leaves to us the task of teaching our kids how to deal with their changing bodies and how to handle difficult situations. Keeping quiet puts them in the “driver’s seat” with no practice or insights from adults they trust. This can often lead to unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STDs. Come on people, don’t be so prudish. Recognize the seriousness of the situation and give your kids the knowledge and tools they need so that they can make responsible decisions with useful input from you.

Feeding children diets high in sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Unfortunately the shelves of grocers are full of processed foods. Pick up practically any box or bag and see for yourself. When did food become so complicated? The shift from natural to processed foods is driven by larger profits. These foods are not nearly as nutritious as basic foods—such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and unprocessed meats. Too many foods have unnecessary sugars (in a variety of forms) added to them. These make the foods “sweet” to the taste and therefore enticing to the palate. However, their inclusion makes the processed foods have a high glycemic index, which means that they digest quickly and cause blood sugars to spike. This is especially bad for diabetics but it isn’t good for anyone. Keep diets diverse with kids, and provide them as much unprocessed food as possible. If you do, they will ultimately thank you when they are old enough to realize how important good nutrition is for a growing body and mind.

Putting a TV in a child's room. According to a recent study, perhaps as many as 70% of 3rd graders have a television in their bedroom. This may not seem like a problem until one looks at the research that points to an association between such children and lower test scores, sleep disorders, being overweight, and beginning smoking. Besides all these horrible connections, simply having a TV in bedroom apparently increases their viewing by 9 hours a week, for 4 to 7 year olds. So time that they could otherwise be using to socialize in productive ways, tackle a book or puzzle, or go outside is lost. Additionally, the advertisers on TV love to attract “naggers”—to get parents to buy them products—as recent exposés have shown. So, in short, save yourself the aggravation and the money and keep the television out of children’s bedrooms.

            This list is abbreviated, but it should get the discussion going. In case you are wondering, I am not advocating that that these offenses be criminalized (such as things that the police or DCFS get involved with). Rather, my hope is that they will become commonly understood "No-No's" when dealing with children. While some of these suggestions may strike folk as "over the top," I do not offer them for comic relief. I firmly believe that these activities are detrimental to our young people and I think it is time for an open discussion of these matters to occur. What do you think?