On 'traumatizing' your children by telling them the truth about speciesism and other systems of oppression.

When Ruby Roth’s vegan oriented book,  Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action was published for children, I remember reading how an expert psychiatrist (or maybe it was a child development specialist) made the claim that her book is damaging to children. Many other folk thought it was harmful to children (see here as well).  I was taken aback, disappointed, but certainly not surprised, as of course this “expert’s” view echoes a society in which systemic violence across species (humans and non-human animal species) is normalized and rationalized. I think it is traumatizing to lie to children and even punish them for not subscribing to the violences that they KNOW is wrong. There are countless stories of young children finding out about the food they eat (i.e., “You mean my burger is a cow! Like a real cow!?), confronting their families about it, and instead of it opening up ways to think differently about the world– more compassionately about their world, they are verbally or even physically punished for pointing out ‘the obvious’ contradictions they see. You can listen more below by clicking on the video I did for this blog piece:


6 thoughts on “On 'traumatizing' your children by telling them the truth about speciesism and other systems of oppression.

  1. Interesting. When I was writing Lifelong Activist I was warned by a few people that others might find the section on money (how even committed activists need to create a sustainable income) “traumatizing.” I was very concerned about this and showed it to many people, none of whom reported being traumatized.

    After a couple of similar incidents, at this point I ignore people who are afraid my work might traumatize others.

    If someone personally reported feeling traumatized by my work, I would pay much more attention, but no one has.

    There’s a phrase for the “I’m on your team but worried about your message’s impact on others”: concern trolling.

    This topic also reminds me of the people who want to censor and bowdlerize Grimms’ Fairy Tales and similar “for the sake of the children,” when the children don’t want or need that censorship.


  2. I talk openly to my 14-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter about racism, sexism, speciesism and other forms of social injustice. Although it’s true that my children find those aspects of our culture unpleasant to contemplate, it would be far more traumatic for them to be forced to participate in social “norms” that they inherently know are wrong. Knowledge is powerful and it’s only through open, honest discourse with our young people that we’ll ever hope to see any shift towards real social change.

  3. I think I could see how it could be traumatic for children to learn where their food comes from and how it gets on their plates. But it’s only traumatic for the children who were lied to or shielded from the truth. We should be teaching these things to our children from an early age instead of waiting until they are old enough to find out for themselves. I talk to my son and teach him everyday how important it is to show compassion toward all creatures. I bought the book Vegan is Love for him when he was 14 months old and we read it often. I do not shield the truth from him.

  4. Hi Dr. Harper,
    I would be very thankful for additional information you would share regarding a home birth. What a wonderful idea ! I think it is beautiful to bring a child into the world in a truly caring environment.

    p.s. What do you mean there is no Santa Clause ??? Who ate all the soy milk and flax seed cookies ??? Hehe

  5. It was traumatic for me to know that my parents did not tell me the truth about where my food came from. They shielded me from it and I was a city kid who thought it all came from trees!! Now I was never given the truth, never given a choice, and I feel guilty to this day for all of the animals I killed before becoming vegan. I tell both of my children (7 and 3) the truth. My seven-year old asked to watch an MFA video and I let him. He was very upset, but something like that helps solidify his awareness that veganism is the kindest choice we can make and that our food choices directly affect animals. I agree that talking to kids about all forms of injustice is the ONLY way to go.

  6. The *only* way I can see that book hurting a child is if it inspires a young child who has non-vegan parents/guardians to spit out all the animal products he or she is fed while nobody’s feeding the child vegan replacements for those foods.

    *That* would result in that child ending up malnourished.

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