Assault on Childhood

A video advertisement has emerged in the past few days that is receiving quite a bit of attention. The video, produced for the online t-shirt sales company FCKH8, shows young girls, some as young as 6 years of age, dressed in cute, Disney-esque, princess costumes, repeatedly using extreme profanity to promote a feminist message.

I have a problem with this. I have a big problem with this. As a woman, I have a problem with this. As a mother, I have a huge problem with this.

Since I first saw this ad, I’ve been struggling to try to identify when it was that political activism became a legitimate excuse for child abuse. When did the politically-defined war on women become a justifiable reason to take part in the actual war that is happening – on childhood?

For several years now, I have become increasingly aware of an outright attack on childhood. Children’s fashion has become increasingly sexualized. Media aimed at children has become more adult in its content, while at the same time portraying adults – especially those in authority – either as objects of ridicule or as corrupt. And of course, social media, with which children are decidedly more comfortable than are their adult counterparts, is a largely un-regulated, un-supervised black hole of regulation. Effective parental supervision is only possible if a parent can maintain a degree of tech-savviness that is one step beyond the “cool” peer who feed vulnerable children just enough knowledge to circumvent scrutiny. In education, children are exposed to (sometimes graphic) information on sex at ages where we were considered edgy if we had even kissed a boy who wasn’t our brother!

The war on childhood is a real one – and it is robbing children of their innocence. It is also creating a generation of premature pseudo-adults who are armed with knowledge that would have previously been deemed age-inappropriate, contained in brains that lack both the neural development and life experience to know what to do with it.  It is a war and it is a successful one – because it is being waged on those who are unaware that it is being waged, and even if they were aware, they would be unable to fight back – because they are children!

In the discussion surrounding this latest – despicable – attack, several ethical issues come to mind:

  1. The producers of the video, and the parents of the children, reject the notion that this is a form of child abuse. When asked about it on Entertainment Weekly on October 23, 2014, the mother of one of the children defined child abuse as “rape.” That’s a pretty narrow definition, I have to say! And one of the producers – rather oddly in my view – claimed that income inequality was somehow child abuse; a rather convenient contortion given that income inequality was a major point of the video. It is unethical – to say the least – to play spin doctor in order to justify making what is ostensibly a political point, while avoiding the substance of the matter – that children are being manipulated and adversely affected – to make that political point. I reject their sophistry and willingly accuse both producers and parents of child abuse.
  2. The “war on women” issue is not one that comes anywhere close to warranting such a radically provocative approach. In essence, this advert is juxtaposing a tenuous partisan point with a very real infringement on the well-being of children. Yet, to my dismay, I know of at least one church leader who has promoted this video on Facebook, by “liking” it. This exposes a fundamental flaw within the church today. The church has so enmeshed itself with its “adjectival” identities, that many – not just leaders – are more keen to align themselves with those who share their “adjective” – for example liberal or conservative – than they are to identify themselves with Christ and Christianity.
  3. This video is an advertisement. It is selling t-shirts for a for-profit company. This isn’t a Public Service Announcement. Now, while children are often used to peddle goods, I have never seen such a blatantly egregious infringement of their childhood in order to do so.

I am sure there are some who would argue that there is nothing essentially un-Christian or un-Christ-like about this video. To them, I would say that Christ’s dealings with children shows his compassion for children and how severely he abhors those who abuse them. Indeed, in Mark 10, when Jesus famously presents a child as the standard for all of us to attain the kingdom of God, it is against a backdrop of so-called adult sophistication and high-minded religiosity. Jesus had no time for any of that, and promoted child-likeness instead. Might it be that that fact alone goes a long way to explaining why there is now such an assault on childhood?

I sincerely hope that Child and Family Service departments are investigating these parents and producers. Indeed, FCKH8 should also be investigated for child endangerment and exploitation. After all, what’s the difference between abusing children by making them make cheap, tacky clothing, and abusing them by making them sell it?

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2 thoughts on “Assault on Childhood

  1. Yikes. As a dad of two girls, I can’t imagine them going through something like this. That said, as much as I would like to hate on these people and these types of things, I know I am called to love, and this is one of the times where it is very difficult. How do I love my neighbor who so easily (it seems) disregards children, of all people? It’s something I’ll probably be working on my whole life.

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  2. Your comments are very well written and I agree with you. Somewhere along the way we stopped letting kids be kids. Now we have all day kindergarten and before that, all day pre-school. My gosh, kids are going to a full day commitment at 4 and 5 years old. I don’t know about your experience, but once I entered school, it was always school and then I went to work. We never get back those days to just explore, play and grow up, but those of us who had those days tend to remember them quite clearly. Even child’s play now is serious – school athletics in particular are way out of line in my opinion. We are faced with tax levies to pay for high school football stadiums. I understand that there is consideration to televising high school football games now. I guess it isn’t enough that our public universities serve as farm teams for the NFL. But I digress…with that as the backdrop, it’s no wonder then that by extension, children are being used in a vulgar and public way to advertise a product. Everyone likes a sound bite, and the more outrageous it is, the more popular it is. I just ordered a book from Plough.com, that my Pastor told me about. It is titled, “Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World”. by Johann Christoph Arnold. It promises to be a good read.

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