Thinky Post: Forced Marriages and Abusive Youth Facilities and Stomach Sleeping Babies, At What Point Do You Blame the Parents?

This is a thinky post related to what happens when parents make bad decisions about who they trust with their children, and why they trust those people. So, watch out! For some of you parents, it may be a bit too scary/stressy to read. Or, maybe you are deeply thinking about this topic and are interested.

My sister’s nanny has a 6 year old boy who has been suspended from school multiple times for “violence” and “rebellion”. I think we can all agree that a 6 year old boy should not be suspended from school, and the teacher of a bunch of 6 year olds should be better able to handle some minor talking back and wriggles instead of just constant suspensions (bonus info, 20% of the children at this elementary school have been suspended at some point versus 2% in a neighboring school district). The point of this story is that the Mom of the 6 year old, a single parent with few monetary resources, dug in and did everything she could to fight for her son, eventually getting the school district to move him to a different classroom with a better teacher after going to a child psychologist, investigating laws, doing all kinds of things because she KNEW her son was a sweet little boy and he deserved to be allowed to stay in school. And now he gets to go back to school and the school has to actually help him instead of calling him a “bad kid” and sending him away,

The fact that this little boy is 6 makes it feel different than if he was 16. But, is it really? A parent has a choice in this situation to trust their instincts about their child and fight against everyone in “authority” who is telling them something different. When your child is 6, it seems so unlikely that there could be anything about your child you do not know, that some outsider could somehow see something different. But as they get older, it gets easier.

When I was teaching Sunday School, my kids were 8 to 12. And wow, you could see that moment the mask came down around age 12. To go from every thought and feeling being visible on their faces, to this sudden struggle to keep things inside was shocking. And a little scary, how could I tell if you were upset today? Or interested in the lesson? Or wanting to talk to me about something? But then, I did know these kids. I’d seen them back when they were too young to have masks. And if I just trusted what I already knew of them, I could figure it out, mostly.

This is just seeing kids for an hour once a week. I can imagine the constant questioning if you are with these kids every day as their parents. Sometimes you are so sure it is still the same child with the clear easily readable emotions you’ve always known, and then PHOOM the mask comes down and you have no idea what is happening. When do you start saying to yourself “I don’t really know my own child, someone else knows them better”? Do you ever start saying that?

I’m thinking about this again because I just started listening to a podcast about a “wilderness camp” that killed kids. As I’ve gone on my whole true crime binge, I’ve heard lots of variations of the “my teenager is talking back, taking drugs, sneaking out, I can’t handle it, I’m sending him away” story. And the sad thing is, there are SO MANY variations of this. There’s a hippie commune version, there’s a remote expensive private school in Maine version, there’s the foster care system version, there’s the Scientology version, and in America in the 90s there were lots and lots of “wilderness camp” versions of the same thing. What is new to me in this podcast is that the parents were not sending their children away as “punishment”. One family, their daughter was deeply depressed. Another, their son just didn’t seem to have confidence. Both of them were sold this “happy happy” vision of the camp, they wanted their kids to have a great fun experience over the summer and then come home. And they take full responsibility for making this choice to trust strangers with their children, even if they thought it was the “right” thing, even if it seemed best at the time, even though they could use l kinds of excuses.

The other version of this story, which I have heard again and again, is that a teenager was acting out, the parents decided to send them away to be “fixed” by these experts who promised they could “fix” them, and then refused to believe or help their children when their children tried to say what was happening. And in the worst instances, to this day they refuse to take responsibility for what they did.

(Kathy Hilton, for instance, is shockingly unwilling to even listen to what her daughter went through, even though Paris is now a public face and lobbyist for reform in troubled teen facilities. Just, LISTEN TO YOUR DAUGHTER AND SAY “I’m sorry, I was wrong”. How hard can that be?)

On the other hand, if you think worst case scenario about every bad decision, how can you ever raise a child? Like, safe sleeping positions for babies. It’s changed I don’t even know how many times over the past decades. But as a parent you still have to decide which theory you follow and trust that it is right even though you know in another 5 years people may decide it is wrong again.

(This is a stock image of “baby sleeping” look how much is wrong with it! The theories have changed so fast, the stock images haven’t even caught up)

To tie this back to India for a second, let’s talk Forced Marriages. We’ve had this discussion before, I don’t mean “arranged marriages”, that is something totally different. I mean forced, I mean when your child (male or female) comes to you and says “I don’t want this” and you tell them “I know better than you, I am going to force you to do it”. On the one hand, it’s a cultural tradition going back thousands of years, it’s something all of society is telling you is the right thing to do, it’s something you have plenty of reasons to think is the right thing to do. But is that an acceptable excuse? If not, what makes the difference? When does it become not okay for a parent to do something to their child even if “everyone” says it is the right thing? And when is it okay?


21 thoughts on “Thinky Post: Forced Marriages and Abusive Youth Facilities and Stomach Sleeping Babies, At What Point Do You Blame the Parents?

  1. Wow, fascinating post. Very thinky!

    My first thought about the 6-year-old is: some six-year-olds should be suspended from school. What about that six-year-old who shot his teacher? He had already been violent and threatening with other students and the teacher and the head swept it under the rug. I definitely knew a kid or two in school who were already shaping up to be prime bullies by that age. Undoubtedly a lot more to do with the parents than the kids, but still better for the other children for them not to be there.

    That said, I think there’s a pretty decent argument to be had that six-year-olds shouldn’t even be IN school. Several European countries have the compulsory school age set at 7, including Finland, which frequently ranks as the’best education system in the world , although I am not invested enough in education systems to really understand why.

    The Correct Baby Everything is one of the main reasons I won’t have children. I am an anxious person anyway, but I would be a WRECK if I had to wade through all the contradictory MUSTS and MUST NOTS of pregnancy and babyhood. I read a social media thread the other day in which women were ripping each other apart over whether one coffee a day during pregnancy was permissible or not. The judgement and worry and guilt and potential guilt just looks terrifying.

    I sincerely doubt that most of the people forcing their children to get married think it’s the right thing to do. I am sure all of the following are at least as common as reasons:
    – wanting rid of the responsibility of a daughter
    – wanting extra househelp/dowry
    – hiding the ‘shame’ of an LGBT kid/kid in love with member of wrong religion/caste/class
    – being unable to support the family financially and deciding that, painful and terrible as it is, getting one child married off is the only option (which I would argue is different from the right thing to do – maybe the least wrong thing to do)
    – going along with a more forceful/bullying other parent.

    Also, do parents who send their children away to troubled-teen places, as opposed to faux-fun camps, want their kids fixed for their own good? I don’t think they necessarily want them to feel better, I think they want them to be more compliant and less bothersome.

    So, in summary – apparently I blame the parents quite often! They don’t always want what’s best for their kids and accidentally make mistakes. Sometimes they want what’s best for themselves and their kids are collateral.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I also find myself blaming the parents quite often! Maybe because it’s so easy to NOT blame the parents? It’s a pretty basic requirement of parenting to think of your child before yourself and most of these stories end up with that failure. If your kid is causing troubles at school and at home, think about “what is best for this kid? Why are they acting out? What do I want for them?” instead of “boy, what an embarrassing problem they are!” And if you try something in parenting and it is clearly obviously making your child unhappy, you can just say “well, that was a mistake” and move on.

      If I parent makes a bad decision once, like sending their kid to a special after school program they hate, no biggie, everyone makes mistakes. But it’s the doubling down effect, the refusal to consider you might be wrong, that’s when I think it crosses the line. And what really scares me about a lot of these situations is that part of the “cure” is no contact at all with your child for weeks or even months. So how would you know you made a mistake? Wouldn’t you want to be able to talk to your child and get an honest answer on how things are going with them and if they need anything and so on and so forth? That just seems odd to me, even if I buy the whole “I was told it was for their own good”, I’d still want to be able to talk to my child myself so I can change my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Have you heard the podcast, Radio Lab or This American Life, about the young woman who was violently raped in her apartment, and her closest friends and family didn’t believe her. One even after it was proven true, this “friend” blamed the young woman for the disbelief because the young woman didn’t “act correctly” after being raped? Your doubling down comment made me think of that. Some people will simply never say they were wrong.


    • Kindergarteners can’t really be “a bully” – in that they don’t have the developmental capacity to realize what they are doing other than they are trying/testing their power. For a real life example I give you my 14 year old’s best friend. When he was in kindergarten on the bus he saw another child take out a cookie. Food wasn’t allowed on the bus so Best Friend told the kid he couldn’t have the cookie. Best Friend said he was going to tell the bus driver. Cookie kid begged best friend not to, so best friend ultimately said he wouldn’t tell if the Cookie kid gave him (best friend) the cookie! So Best Friend got a cookie, and was so proud of himself and amazed that he got a cookie that he told the story to EVERYONE. He had no concept of extortion, or that what he did was at all mean. He was simply focused on himself.

      As a young child best friend had a different sense of empathy than my own kids were born with, he would beat someone up for stepping on an ant. In first grade I made him go home because he pulled my son’s hair over a disgreeement about prehistoric life in our region. He eventually learned what was acceptable behavior. But he had to learn, it didn’t come naturally. A lot of those six year olds have to learn. It isn’t the parents, it isn’t the school, it isn’t that they are bullies, it is that they are learning.

      Bullying behavior is absolutely unacceptable, but bullies themselves don’t really exist until maybe middle school?

      What our society really need is more aides and teachers in the younger grades. If there was a classroom ratio of 1-8 for the classroom of the kid who shot the teacher, the adults probably would have found that gun in his backpack before he used it. The way the U.S. is set up both parents typically have to work to provide shelter and food for their kids, that means they have less time for the kids. And then the kids are in school for most of the day where they have one adult looking after 30 of them. We have society wide neglect of children. Their emotional needs aren’t being met.

      Sometimes I blame the parents, but often I blame US as a whole.

      Liked by 3 people

      • To swing back to my example, the 6 year old is now diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum which forces the school to move him to a classroom with a better student-teacher ratio, and all the problems magically disappeared. But again, it only happened because his mother refused to agree with what everyone was telling her about her own child and looked for different answers.

        And yes, I grew up in classrooms of 30 plus kids and it was a nightmare and I hated it. And didn’t act out, I acted in. That is, stopped talking in class and sort of shrunk down because too much was happening around me. And then I would go home and have these massive tantrums which, if I’d had them in class, probably would have gotten me labeled a “bad kid” too.


  2. I have nothing good to say about (my) parents based on my personal experience and journey. From my experience in India, one of the roots of this problem is children being looking at objects and not respected as a person because they are little and then it perpetuates even when the child grows up. Also parents thinking of themselves as the boss of the child, not the caregiver.

    The manifestations of how this plays out in practice can be many and diverse.

    I can so relate to Paris Hilton not receiving an acknowledgment and an apology even though I don’t know much about her personal story.

    Another one seems to be in the news these days is the story of Brooke Shields as a child in the media.


    • I’m so sorry you didn’t have a good experience being parented! It is the right of every child to feel loved and safe and respected in their home.

      As you have no doubt already seen, DCIB is very much a “stupid fathers and mothers in Indian movies kids should just rebel and never speak to them again” kind of community. Any time you want to read takes on parental responsibilities and failures, there are lots of posts that deal with it. And any time you want to talk about your own experience, I will guarantee you a supportive response.

      I think the one thing about SRK that bothers me the most is that whenever he responds to a message about issues at school, future, whatever, he says “talk to your parents, they will understand”. I am sure SRK’s parents would have understood, and that he as a parent would understand, but it’s a dangerous thing to assume all parents will be supportive and loving to what they hear. Sometimes kids have reasons to not tell their folks things.

      Liked by 2 people

      • 100%. He talks about how mothers love from their heart and fathers are someone tall in character to look up to – i distance myself from it reminding myself that it was his experience. Not mine.
        Also the loyalty to parents just continues to perpetuate abuse so I pity all his fans who would take this advice literally / or K3G’s – it’s about loving your parents.

        I have nothing but abuse in my family experience and I have had to set boundaries to protect my sanity. It’s been a tough process but so worthwhile.

        I remind myself that “wise sage” SRK doesn’t know all the truths in the world. I have a hypothesis that he’s the secure attachment figure for so many Indian people who had no other examples of love growing up.

        I remember the only time I had space to feel loved was when I watched SRK movies and saw what love could feel like. It was the only place I could feel my emotions and cry my tears without it leading to more abuse.

        It seems to me to be an example of how one person who had secure attachment and love growing up can play a role in healing others.


        • I love that concept, of Shahrukh paying it forward. He lost his parents so young, but had so much love and security before their deaths. Maybe the love he wants to payback to his parents and never got a chance to give as an adult, is what he gives to the world through his films? there is that old quote about wanting to be on the biggest movie screens in the world so his mother could see him in heaven.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh gosh. This is a hard thing to talk about, because yes, there are some cases where parents are clearly disregarding the humanity of their children in a way that is actively harmful, because they don’t agree with their choices. One example:

    Another: I knew a girl in high school who got sent to a wilderness camp because her parents thought she was acting up. (She was the friend of a friend, I don’t remember what the issue was besides the usual partying, only that my friend thought it was terribly unfair.) While on the trek, she got a bite that resulted in some kind of parasitic infection. Her hand and arm swelled up but the guides wouldn’t listen to her for the first day or two, until she finally ended up in the hospital where they had to amputate a finger (and could have been worse if it had gone much longer).

    On the other hand, what do you do if your child is genuinely out of control and a danger to themselves or others? There was a shooting in my hometown recently and I am hardcore judging those parents. But who knows. Nobody wants to believe their kid would really do something bad.

    IDK. I guess I’m agreeing that parenting is a mix of societal norms and intimate personal relationships and individual psychology. And, to your and Naina’s point, you can save a lot of harm by listening to your children and treating them like the autonomous humans you will eventually send out into the world. I see harm in some cases resulting from an idea of parenting that is the parent always having to direct the child and know what’s right. And also…there’s a lot of luck involved. Who you get as a parent or a child, if you can get along well enough for as long as you share a household, if you don’t run into any really bad turns in the road along the way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think the biggest point is that you knew of someone who went to one of those wilderness camps and was harmed, and I also know in a vague “kid from church” way of a child who went to one of those wilderness camps and actually died last year. He just sort of faded away, from what I heard, was never really happy or whole, and died before 40. So if you and I, two totally random people of roughly the same age, who grew up across the country from each other, know of two instances of young people who were harmed, I think that means there must have been thousands upon thousands upon thousands of kids sent to these camps, and most of them came out broken in some way. I just refuse to believe that THOUSANDS of children were at the level of being totally out of control with no other option.

      Does that make sense? I absolutely know that there are certain psychopathies that are lifelong, and you do hear these stories of parents who are just at their wits end (usually you hear these stories after a terrible tragedy happens, like the Unabomber’s family). They know their child isn’t right, they know they are a danger to others, and there is nowhere to turn. But that’s got to be a tiny tiny tiny proportion of the population. Versus the massive number of kids who were sent away. At a certain point, I do blame the parents for not investigating enough to find the counter-arguments against these camps, and not trying something else that would allow their kids to stay close and safe rather than sending them somewhere with no contact.

      And yes, you can always listen to your kids. Teenagers are scary, and it’s hard to dig through the drama and emotions and everything else to find the truth, but surely if you are their parent you can do it? You can tell the difference between when they are hormonal and emotional and when they are telling you something that is true and wrong?

      The other dark side to this story I didn’t even touch on is the many many instances of parents not believing kids who report abuse. And how often the “problem child” is really just reacting to trauma inflicted on them which no one believes. That’s another one that seems like a really easy parenting grade to pass. If your kid tells you they are being hurt by another adult, just believe them.


      • Yeah, in my very small sample size of experience within my own household, what I see is that if you talk to your children like people, if you respect them as humans and listen to what they have to say, they’re more likely to talk to you and tell you things. They can still be emotional and dramatic but there isn’t the sense of alienation (yet, anyway! oldest is 13). Whereas if your parenting is focused on telling them what to do and being right, they’re more likely to shut down and not share stuff that’s going on. The friends of my kid who have strict parents seem more likely to present a compliant face to adults and get up to hijinks the parents may not find out about. Not saying that strictness is always bad – some friends consider us strict – but trust and listening are v important.


        • Trust, listening, and customization I think. Even in my own family, when we were little kids sending my sister to the “time out chair” worked great, she was all sad and sorry. And then I came along and went “oh boy, the time out chair! What a fun adventure! I feel no shame about this!” Kids are people, some of them will respond well to clear boundaries that are clearly enforced, and some of them will rebel against boundaries and prefer to have logical arguments and compromise, and so on and so forth. I wouldn’t necessarily say parents are doing something wrong or right because they may be doing the right thing for their kids.

          HOWEVER!!! I think there are still some things that are clearly outside the line of that broad range of parenting possibilities. A lot of them have been socially agreed to be unacceptable, beating your child for instance. The tricky thing is when you try to define the okay/not okay things that are universal and not just child by child. Personally, if I ran the world, I think I could come up with that list pretty easily. But of course I don’t run the world and instead different parents from different places all have to come together and decide on universal rules and that’s really hard.


  4. I typically blame society before I blame the parents. Take the 6 year old who shot his teacher – our society says guns are okay and that it is cool to have them in the house. Of course portions of the society disagree, but the that LAW is guns are good. Our society also says parenting is not important, so childcare is expected to be cheap, and most families have to have two incomes to provide food and shelter. The family upbringing has been outsourced. We send kids to schools where one adult is expected to teach 30 kids at a very young age. Parents spend less and less time with their kids. Now most parents, even if they don’t really know their kids, love them. They will develop what I call parental blinders, where everything that goes wrong is not their child’s fault, until that facade is cracked and EVERYTHING that goes wrong is their child’s fault. And then they send their kid to wilderness camps.

    A good camp can teach a child a sense of self confidence and really help them with tools they can use throughout life. A camp that is great one year can get a new director and become terrible the next. A child that has a history of lying is hard to believe. I don’t blame parents for sending their kids to camps. I blame the camps for hurting the kids.

    I blame society for setting up a system where parents don’t know their children and childcare isn’t valued.

    In my heart of hearts I blame India for its shame based society that allows forced marriages. But then I acknowledge that as a person who has never lived in a shame based society I really have no reference point from which to judge.


    • Agree with all of this!

      And I guess one more line to draw in the sand is between the not for profit affordable options and the very very expensive ones. If you are spending $30,000 a year to send your child to some abusive environment, surely you could afford to get better care?

      Something that you yourself know from your own parenting experience I am sure is that often the cheaper option is actually better for the kids. YMCA, park district, all kinds of nice friendly shabby options are perfectly fine. Still way WAY more expensive than they should be of course, but better than the “best” options. I think another line to draw would be parents who have total resources to do whatever they want to help their children, and instead choose to spend thousands upon thousands a year making terrible decisions.


      • My parents sent us to camp every summer. I LOVED camp. I even was a counseler at my camp as a college student. My own family cannot afford to send our kids to camp. But then my own family has so much more fun than the family I grew up in. Camping, fishing, hiking, all these things that I did a bit of growing up, we do a lot now. There is a local free camp for middle schoolers that I send my kids to, but I know it isn’t amazing like the camp I loved.

        But the camp I loved the most, it was expensive. For a bit my parents sent me to a cheaper camp, it wasn’t as much fun. The expensive camp had horses, and it was smaller, so we had more connection to the counselers.


  5. I don’t know that being allowed to stay in touch is a hard and fast rule either. We went to scouts camp every summer (that’s a kind of wilderness camp, no?), and they did have rules about no electronic devices. So our parents could write us letters, but if they didn’t get any reply, how were they to tell that we weren’t just being lazy? (Just to be clear, we loved scouts camp.)

    Knowing what I know today, though, I would be very suspicious of anyone promising to “fix” my child without also involving me and our relationship. At least at the point where I would start looking for professional help – which is hopefully way before anything criminal happens.

    I can’t help but feel that those parents who send their kids away to be “fixed” might have arrived at that point by not having the best intuition for the children in the first place.

    But I feel like as a parent, it’s also quite difficult to know when you stop knowing better. When the kids are very small, you do have to stop them from running onto the street or playing in the snow naked – if necessary, even by being bigger and stronger. And I really don’t know how to console that with parenting without violence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the difference with scouts camp would be that it wasn’t (presumably) sold as a “tough love” program and the reason your kids can’t talk to you is because they will just lie about wanting to come home. I would also assume that if a kid really did have a hard time with homesickness and so on, they had the option of calling their parents and asking to go home. As a parent, that is what would make me feel better. To know that my kid can say “I really really want to call home” and it will be allowed. Even if they don’t end up using that option. I want them to be able to call me!

      Agree about the line of physical protection. Especially in the teen years, when your child may be stronger and healthier and all of those things than you are, but their dumb brains are still dumb. I guess you have to count on respect and trust and love and communication to keep them listening to you even when you can no longer just pick them up and move them from place to place.


    • Agree with seeking help as a family! My friend who is a child and family psychologist always starts with the parents when looking to address dysfunction or behavioral issues. Solutions that sell a “fix” for the kid without involving the parents are automatically suspect to me.


      • Excellent point! Not even that it is the parents’ “fault”, but their kids rely on them so much for everything, they have to make changes if they want to change things for their kids.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.