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Letter to College Students of all Nations

Dr. Alice Miller c/o Suhrkamp Verlag
Lindenstr. 29-35 D - 60325 Frankfurt am Main

November 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 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 Senegal) 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 school, 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 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 a weaker can be of any good has been passed on for millennia to the next generations although it contradicts with the truth. Today, it is already 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 in 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 the reason of their 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 revenge. Most of them will take revenge as soon as they get power. Tyrants 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. If they had consciously mastered the history of their childhood millions of people wouldn't have 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 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 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 the own 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