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

November 2000

Alice Miller: Letter to College Students of all Nations


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 of Governments (except the USA and Senegal) signed the UN Convention that obligates them to protect childrenís rights.

Out of almost two hundred countries that signed this convention, only eleven actually have done what they have promised by clearly forbidding by law the beating of children--among them Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Holland, and Germany and Italy.

The other countries however haven't changed their old habits. In some of them, it is even allowable for children to be hit in schools. This happens not only in Africa and Asia, but also in twenty three states of the U.S., among them, Texas, where Governor George Bush, the current Presidential candidate has been Governor for 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. This is not without reason. However, I want to let them know--all of them--that spanking is absolutely wrong and that today they are no longer alone if they dare to protest. The opinion that inflicting suffering on a weaker person can be of value has been passed on, from generation to generation, for millennia. However, today, it is has been scientifically proven that spanking children teaches them only violence and creates fear. It is also severely humiliating. It benefits nobody.

The only reason 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 donít suffer because this was what they were told. Thus, their sensibility for the suffering they inflict on their own children 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 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 understand its disastrous consequences.

First I reacted reluctantly to my friendís suggestion because I thought that young adults usually donít want to be reminded of the suffering and the helplessness they had to endure as children. They prefer to forget this period and to put it behind them. This is true because most of them donít even know that their body will never forget the history of their first years, and also that it could be very helpful for them to integrate their early history into their present cognitive system. With this thought in mind, I eventually decided to write this letter. 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 except, of course, through ignorance. I decided to give you this information because I trust in your curiosity and in the power of your awareness.

I spent twenty years of my life helping adults 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 I 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, 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 you will want to spread this message.

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 no one can learn anything of value in a state of fear. Scared children learn only to suppress their strongest emotions, like rage and sorrow. In order to deal with fear, they lie and 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 wouldnít have died.

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 make them believe that they are acting in the interest of their child. Thanks to new research on the childís brain, we have come to 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, many best-selling books about child-rearing pretend to be updated and to have integrated new psychological knowledge, but usually the authors merely seek to promote the same methods by which they themselves were brought up. They advise how to control, reign, manipulate and humiliate children in the most cunning and undetectable ways. Unfortunately, the readers often fail to recognize the poison in this pedagogy because as children they were never allowed to see and to name it.

When we cease merely to assert power over them, our children will want to cooperate with us because they see cooperation as a way of communicating. But first they need to trust us. We are by no means trustworthy if we want to govern them only in order to escape our own helplessness.

Today, it is no longer allowable for husbands to beat their wives, to keep slaves, or to flog criminals in jail. The only creature that it is still allowable to beat is a helpless child, even a baby, and this is called "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 this generation to replace a tradition built on ignorance and cruelty with one built on knowledge and compassion.

Alice Miller


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