Monday, June 12, 2006

What's to Blame When Children Sexually Offend?


"We see a lot of this, unfortunately, in cases of child abuse and sometimes child neglect, and in those circumstances you come to learn that children are exposed to movies and adult behaviors and conversations that they really have no understanding of." Adult media also have an impact on some children.
As incidents where young children offend make the news, I hope we don't make the mistake of assuming these child offenders are born offenders. While their actions are of serious concern, labeling these children as bad or evil may serve to reinforce the very behavior we hope to stop.

By labeling children, we are telling them they are powerless. And if the label we give them is something awful, that makes them feel worthless and powerless. With that combination, they may feel there's no point in trying to learn from what they've done wrong.

Unfortunately, many who don't want to label children who offend, go too far in the other direction by ignoring the problem with the vague hope that the child will magically grow out of the behavior. But ignoring the problem may reinforce messages that dominating others is the way to be strong and the only true problem was getting into trouble.

Both extremes fail to teach the offending child empathy for those they offend against. Without empathy, the only consequences a child will see are the payoff they get for offending and the trouble they get into when they get caught.

Lack of empathy plays a part in many crimes, from acts of personal violence to white collar crimes such as fraud and embezzlement. It also robs people of a huge and wonderful part of the experience of being alive.

People without empathy see the world as being full of two-dimensional people.

So maybe the more important question than "What's to blame?" is "What teaches children to be empathic?"

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:23 AM   3 comments links to this post


At June 12, 2006 9:56 PM, Anonymous Rachel S said...

I would go on to say that children who offend often have been victimized themselves. And in same cases the line between appropriate and innappropriate behavior is blurred for them. I personally know of a case like this, and the kids who were like 4 and 7 engaged in some very innapropriate behaviors. Everyone was told that if the kids were touching themselves or tried to touch someone else that they needed to be corrected.

Of course, this creates on big cycle of abuse.

At June 22, 2006 4:02 PM, Blogger April_optimist said...

Lack of empathy is absolutely a huge part of the problem--and not just with young offenders. An adult who felt empathy with the victim could not do what he or she does.

And of course so many young offenders were in abusive situations themselves. It doesn't excuse the behavior but it's important to understand. I say that as someone who was abused by both adults and by young offenders who were caught up in the cycle.

At August 10, 2006 4:22 AM, Blogger Austin of Sundrip Journals said...

this reminds me of video games that children play. It shows immediate fun but it doesn't show real life consequences.

I think in order to show someone why they shouldn't do this or that you would have to teach them how to feel. How do you teach someone how to feel for another person? I think people are born w/ a conscience and that it cant be taught.

I worry that no balance can be struck and that many times the extreme punishments and labeling are more a symptoms of the larger issues...adults offenders are out of control and people are calling for tougher laws. These laws end up spilling over into areas where they shouldnt really w/ kids. I believe in do the crime do the time but I think there has to be a true recongnition by law of what makes a child a child. does it make any sense at all to put a child in with adult prisoners? Not to me it doesnt. In my opinion, the main problem is adult offenders and the laws that dont work to protect the victims. When people push for strict laws perhaps they should also push for laws that are age appropriate.



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