Acceptance is a drug: a rock, a vapor, a potion. Some children first feel its rush in the womb, when a mother’s rhythmic, loving touch pulses through skin and blood and fluid. Her voice tunnels down through warmth and darkness. She says: I love you. She says: I can’t wait to meet you. She says: You are mine.
Other children remain unconvinced of acceptance and its potency until they emerge from the birth canal and find a father, beaming and open-palmed, the picture of pride.
And then there are the children whose acceptance has been cut, laced, or diluted. One or both of their parents may be absent or absent-minded; inattentive or attentive to a fault, but only when enforcing discipline or inflicting abuse; or desperately distracted by the pursuit of their own acceptance.
In other cases, parental acceptance, though satisfying, just simply isn’t enough. For these children, the need for notice, for desire, for praise and validation, is all-consuming. They huff high GPAs; snort three-day school suspensions; cook off-handed compliments until they’re concentrated, then inhale them till they swell inside their chests and crackle.
No, for them, simple acceptance isn’t enough. There must be a headier love, love in its pure powder form, love that can be sifted through fingers, run across teeth, licked clean off a surface.
As with any addiction, there is more than enough blame to go around. As with any addiction, blame is futile; it does not yield solutions.
What it begets is shame.
It makes the girl whose chase leads her into the arms of another addict feel mortified when the act she believed to be a private transaction of passion hits the harsh light of day. It makes her feel mercilessly flogged and without safe haven or sanctuary. Criticism stones her in the public square. Men touting themselves at surrogate fathers will screen her one of most intimate, most illegally disseminated moments, then speculate that this has happened to her because her mother is out “being empowered,” rather than providing undivided attention to her child. He will not acknowledge or apologize for his voyeurism, even as he concedes that the exposure and proliferation of the act makes it child pornography.
There will be over-simplification: The addiction suggests a lack of home training. The addiction is everywhere, manifesting itself in children in exactly this way every day; it will work itself out, if only it isn’t exploited, if only we avert our eyes, if only the children grow up. The addiction requires the help of an agency or institution, it belongs to laundry list of drudgery assigned to social workers, court-appointed counselors, and youth pastors.
It is never a personal problem. It does not require self-reflection. Because we didn’t give or receive oral sex at 14. Because our mamas loved us. Because we had the good sense not to compress our mistakes and our flaws, our naivety and experimentation, onto video and upload them to YouTube.
It isn’t our problem because our daughters are 15 and 18 and 21 and they aren’t yet sexually active. Because we parented them “right.” We grounded them, spanked them when they needed it, set content filters on our televisions and laptops, requested them as friends on Facebook.
But as long as this can happen to one girl, succumbing to the throes of thwarted infatuation, as long as one son thinks he will become a hero through sexual conquest, as long as friends will hold a camera and look on, stifling snickers or sitting in silence, as long as a video of children having sex can go viral within hours of upload, there is plenty of work left for us all.