Why Aren’t We Listening?
By Tina Swithin
If a child is being bullied on a playground, many schools have policies in place to deal with the abuse. There are anti-bullying programs on most elementary school campuses including the school that my daughters attend. In fact, there is even a part-time therapist on staff so the children have a third party to guide them as they work through their problems. Even more impressive, the playground is staffed with 5th graders who are assigned the title of “conflict managers” with the sole responsibility of facilitating communication between the younger students. I am often left feeling thankful and in awe of the great lengths that are taken to end childhood bullying.
What happens when the bully is older? High school years can be difficult which is why anti-bullying campaigns are so important during the elementary school years. These programs build a foundation and teach children that abuse is unacceptable but more importantly they also teach our youth to have a voice, to speak up and to set boundaries. Sadly, I am not referencing high school bullying but something much worse. What happens when the bully is a parent and the victim is a child?
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There is a system in place to deal with parents who bully and abuse their children but they are not doing their jobs even when the writing is on the wall. I recently spotlighted a case out of Monroe County, New York in which CPS is failing a nine-year old little boy despite his mother’s ongoing efforts to protect him from his abuser. In the majority of cases, Child Welfare Services fails to get involved the moment they hear the words, “divorce” or “child custody battle.” According to my personal experience and research, this agency that was designed to protect children often hands out hall passes to abusers the moment they discover that there is a child custody case in progress. They simply don’t want to get involved so they turn a blind eye to the abuse. Sadly, they’ve given this particular father at least 14 hall passes to abuse his child in horrific ways.
As a society, we are teaching our children to have voices and to set boundaries but only while on the playground. If a third-grade bully pushes my daughter, squeezes her wrists out of anger or hits her, I have a variety of resources available to assist me. I am not only able but encouraged to sit my daughter down and speak to her about solutions and together, we can work to solve the problem before it spirals out of control. Take the same situation but pretend the bully is actually a 38-year old man who is pushing my child, squeezing her wrists out of anger or hitting her. What resources are available to help if my child confides in me that these things are happening in her father’s home?
From personal experience I can tell you that listening to your child when claims of abuse are brought forth are critical however, the system that was designed to be a resource for child abuse is failing in epic proportions. Parents who discuss the situation with their child are often labeled as alienators and risk losing their children. When my child comes to me and confesses that her father hits her, I am not only told to encourage her next visit with him but I am required to say, “Have a great time!” because anything less is speaking poorly of the other parent and will come back to haunt me. My hands are tied and unlike the situation with the playground bully, I am unable to protect my child.
Something needs to change. The agency that is designed to protect our children needs an oversight committee of concerned citizens who are not government employees. Our children are being bullied and abused and a stamp of approval is being handed down by Child Welfare Services. It takes a village to raise a child and it also takes a village to protect a child when allegations of abuse are made regardless of the status of a child custody dispute. Our children are taught to, “Stop, Drop and Roll” and they are taught to “Say No to Drugs” but are they being taught to speak up about abuse?
If they do speak up, is anyone actually going to listen?
Tina Swithin is an Advocate, Author and Contributor for the Huffington Post. Tina’s focus and advocacy are centered on divorces and child custody battles when personality disorders are involved. Tina is happily married and lives in San Luis Obispo, California with her husband and two daughters.