17-year-old professional green tea drinker | Somehow managed to finish a novella

Message from Writer

Child of our time, our times have robbed your cradle
Sleep in a world,
Your final sleep
Has woken
-- Eavan Boland, Child of Our Time

Growing Up Too Young

March 8, 2019

You want to tell mum, but you can't. Your mouth won't open. It's glued shut, trapping the words you were going to say inside. Mum doesn't even look at you when you tug on the hem of her dress. She's busy, she says. And when mum's busy, you don't interrupt. So you keep it to yourself, lock the story that you'd prepared all morning in the small box in your mind. You'll never let it see the light of day again. Not on your watch.

1 billion children in 2014 suffered from some sort of abuse, and a quarter of all adults report having been abused as a child. Nobody wants to hear this - the consequences of our innate selfishness, even to the people who are entrusted in our care. They say that truth is a bitter pill to swallow, and nothing helps wash out the after-taste. Studies from all regions of the world suggest that 80%-98% of children suffer from physical punishment in their homes, with 1/3 suffering from the effects of substance abuse from family members. There's a big difference in disciplining your kid when they steal from your wallet and mindlessly beating them into comas. I think we've happened to blur that fine line and drift through life thinking that it's okay to harm anybody that way.

It seems that despite numerous laws, vigorous campaigns and throats worn dry from protesting, the human psyche is unmatched in its cruelty. The 19th-century brought about the progressive movement by the US - it challenged the idea of kids as quasi-property and economic assets. We like to draw the food chain with ourselves above everything else, but when it comes to logical reasoning, gaps in that logic become clear in the likes of the way we view each other. Children are not lesser beings that are to be seen and not heard. They are the ones who will take care of you when you're old and no longer able. The ones who are determined, tenacious, and are driven to alcohol consumption and drug abuse by people who know better but find it hilarious to let them at it.

In Ireland, more than 25% began drinking at 13 years old or under, while 3/4 of Irish teenagers say they've been drunk before the ages of 15 or 16. Where I come from, there's nothing wrong with a pint or two, but when it results in blackouts and subsequently creates 'zombies' out of kids, then there's a problem. In this country, there is no limit. While this form of abuse isn't necessarily front-and-centre in reports - neglect and abandonment, that is - to let your child out free to binge-drink with strangers isn't exactly what I'd call stellar parenting. There's a time and a place, and 12 years old down the back of an alleyway in Stamullen isn't it. 

The World Health Organisation estimates that 150 million girls and 70 million boys under 18 were forced into sexually incriminating acts during 2002. In 2012, I became one of those millions. It's not easy, speaking up after so many years of self-imposed silence. Children aren't dumb - we dumb things down for adults when we know the truth will tear them up completely. I didn't want to tell my parents that they're the reason I never said anything. That fear of getting in trouble, even at nine years old, kept my mouth shut for six years. Unlike others, I was never actively made to feel guilty about what my abuser was doing. Even now I hesitate away from that word 'abuser' because it makes me sound weak-willed and like I wasn't in control of my life. But I was nine, not anywhere near puberty yet, let alone sexual curiosity. I was shown a world where somebody made me feel safe, and so I said nothing against them. 

I still knew it was wrong. Again, kids aren't stupid. They know when something isn't right - and that included me. But my mouth was firmly zipped, my story locked in the little box in my mind.

Nobody should be arguing against the effects that child abuse has on the mentality of the child as they grow into adulthood. Some children develop emotional boundaries, others aversion to physical touch. Personally, I can't stand the thought of somebody touching me without my consent. Just a hand on my shoulder triggers the biggest cringe reaction my body can physically muster. Sabah Keiser, an activist for the Truth Project, explores the way child abuse shaped her in an article in 'The Guardian'. She would find beautiful places in her foster home, or the hardest to reach places, and continuously scrawl 'Sabah is the best'. It took her until she was much older to realise that this was a coping mechanism, a way to praise herself after the emotional beating she had taken as a kid.

Children should not have to cower in fear, or worry about their self-worth, or deem themselves less than anybody else. Abuse is never okay, especially when 1 billion kids are suffering every year as a result of our short-comings. People like Sabah (and maybe me, when the time is right) speak up for children everywhere. Now, we have to act. And I fully intend to do so.

You sit beside mum. You're almost the age she was when you'd locked away the story in your mind. Her hand is warm in yours, and she's waiting for you to speak. The counsellor said this would be good for you. You can't help but wonder if it will be any good for mum. Still, you open your mouth, and finally, those words come tumbling out. Mum won't be okay for a while after this, but it'll get better. She'll understand.

You grew up far too young. 



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  • March 8, 2019 - 5:03pm (Now Viewing)

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