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Not a Good Month to Be a Kid

January 25, 2006

It’s been a brutal month for the nation that began with tragedies in a West Virginia coal mine where, for a brief instant, we were told there was, indeed, a happy ending. One of 13 is certainly better than none, though we were all hoping for a lot more.

It’s been a bad month for kids. I’ve read way too many articles and have watched far too many news reports about children who’ve been beaten and killed by their own kin. An article recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law by Friedman et al assesses the common filicide-suicide factors among parents. The authors note that parents who commit filicide-suicide frequently demonstrate signs of depression or psychosis or have a prior history of mental health care.

As I read the news this month I was saddened and shocked by the number of children who have been murdered in January by their parents or guardians. I didn’t see any instances of filicide-suicide, but far too many reports of filicide. The most recent tragedy I read about occurred in Philadelphia where Lea Currie, a 24-year-old mother with Cerebral Palsy, is accused of having drowned her 3-month-old infant. Meanwhile, 29-year-old Robert Morris is currently on trial in Philly. Morris is accused of smothering four children, ranging in age from 24 days to 18 months, back in the mid-90s. Time will tell if Morris is found guilty of this heinous crime.

I’m left pondering what strange dysfunction is inherent in our species that causes us to commit such unspeakable acts. A 1950s safety awareness film I recently watched on On Demand warns kids not to “pick up with strangers.” The film cautions little ones to be weary of strange men who approach you and offer you candy or want to take you for a drive in their car. The film doesn’t mention anything about the perils that await some kids in their own homes and by their own “loved” ones.

There are few things that sicken me as much as a parent who harms a child emotionally or physically. We as a society glorify violence in our music, television, literature, and film, so I’m not entirely shocked by what I read in the headlines each day. But still I am shocked. I guess that’s a good thing, really. I’d hate to reach a point in my life where I read the news of such travesties and found myself emotionally devoid.

I realize that everyone’s situation is different, but that doesn’t give a person the right to harm another person regardless of age, does it? I was fortunate to have been raised by loving, caring parents. My childhood was at times tumultuous and filled with turmoil, but it was never filled with fear of my mom and dad, not the kind of fear that some parents instill in their kids. Again, I blame much of it on society. Homer Simpson chokes his son Bart on TV. Tony Soprano slaps his son AJ. Unfortunately, there are parents who treat these images as lesson plans in the laws of parenting.

Although DSM-IV contains no formal diagnostic criteria for postpartum psychiatric disorders, PPD is a real and serious condition that affects many mothers, and has, in certain instances, resulted in infanticide. There is no male postpartum depression, of course, though postnatal depression in fathers is not uncommon. Though again, I am left wondering why individuals do not seek counseling or are referred to counseling. Help is available to those who need it.

There are clearly factors ongoing in these individuals lives that are resulting in tragedies on a daily basis in cities across our nation. Ultimately, I’m left to wonder why. The defenseless are abused, assaulted, and cast aside like spoiled meat, while their assailants are immediately shuffled through the judicial system where a defense attorney will preach the gospel of his client’s innocence. And where, I wonder, is the gospel for the fallen babies and children?

Maybe it’s all a case of post-holiday psychosis that's causing such violent behavior among adult parents. If that’s the case, you’ll pardon me if I don’t celebrate the season this coming December.

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