I always thought that one of the pleasures of parenting was helping kids grow up to be themselves — to develop to be independent people with their own interests and goals, which might be very different than my own. We’re about giving opportunities, not dictating how they should live their lives, and one of the advantages of that is that all of my children were relatively stress-free (kids are never totally stress-free) and have never caused us much in the way of problems — and I think part of the reason is simply that we did not force them to go against their natures. There were lots of moments where I didn’t understand their choices, or even disagreed with them, but I just had to remember that my parents didn’t quite understand what I was doing with my life, either, but they let me be me and we all ended up happier for it.
Some people just can’t do that, though. Authoritarians are all about control, and it can lead to catastrophic evil against children.
Today, in the United States, there is a multibillion-dollar industry for residential treatment—one that sells an illusory promise to desperate parents: Your children’s addictions and mental health problems can be cured with a relatively quick (and usually expensive) fix. Yet the potential danger of abuse and neglect is a real threat for many of the 200,000 to 400,000 young people trapped in the nation’s poorly monitored secular and religious “group care” facilities, “troubled teen” residential schools and unlicensed treatment programs. Too often, critics say, these programs profit off the misery of emotionally troubled kids, substance abusers or just misbehaving youth, as well as their parents, who struggle to deal with kids they can’t control. “These are throwaway children,” says Jodi Hobbs, the president of the nonprofit group, Survivors of Institutional Abuse. “They are looked at as dollar signs, not as individuals.”
One of the most common types of private programs for errant youths are the virtually unregulated religious schools, many of which push fundamentalist Christian beliefs and employ violently harsh discipline against enrollees. Inspired in part by the programs of a fiery Baptist radio preacher, the late Lester Roloff, purveyors of these programs have been exposed for whippings and beatings and accused of rape. Perhaps the largest alliance of such ultraconservative churches is the far-flung Independent Fundamental Baptist organization with thousands of churches nationwide and numerous boarding schools that cite the biblical importance of breaking the will of the child. “If you’re not bruising your child,” a pastor declared in a 2007 sermon captured by ABC News’s 20/20, “you’re not spanking your child enough.”
That’s part of the story of Restoration Youth Academy, a Christian boot-camp in Alabama that promises to straighten out those darned rebellious teenagers with discipline…which means solitary confinement, beatings, bloody whippings, and sexual abuse. Many of these kids do have serious problems — drug abuse and mental health issues — but a) those are problems that can be worsened by a miserable home life, and b) even if the parents are otherwise blameless, shipping them off to a violent, brutalizing incarceration isn’t going to make them better. The article doesn’t say, but I wonder what proportion of these kids weren’t actually serious problem children, but were just people who had a different sexual orientation or dissented from the religious views of their parents, and were sent off to be punished and re-molded into a different view. Given that many of the institutions discussed in the story were intolerant fundamentalist Christian horror shows, I suspect a lot.
The story is also about intransigent Alabama politicians who refused to take action and closed a blind eye to the evidence of child abuse going on, probably in part because they had a shield of immunity, that they were preaching Christianity. Among the problem characters was the Alabama attorney general, Luther Strange, who was in the news lately for a promotion.
Kennedy is equally outraged that former state Attorney General Luther Strange has been appointed a U.S. senator to replace Jeff Sessions, the new U.S. attorney general. “He [Strange] threw the children under the bus so he could grease the way for his political ambitions,” Kennedy says. “All these politicians have lined their pockets with the blood of children.”
And all of those churches.