The implications of “safe spaces” FROM kids with special needs

shutterstock_506499808Count me among a very small number of child and adolescent psychiatrists very troubled by the proliferation of “safe spaces.”

In the last few years, the idea has proliferated that students on college campuses are entitled to protection from speakers, literature or instruction communicating ideas that result in personal discomfort. As a parent of a high school senior, I cringe every time some school to which she plans to apply makes a public display of silencing viewpoints outside of those accepted by the predominant culture. I expect her to come into contact with ideas and values that differ from those she has been exposed to in our home. I also expect that she will be shown tolerance when her ideas and opinions depart from the predominant view in her academic community.

I recognize the desirability of efforts to protect trauma victims from experiences likely to reactivate intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks. My practice is filled with kids who are exquisitely sensitive to the verbal taunts and harsh judgments of peers. But our failure as a profession to make distinctions between deliberate efforts to inflict psychological harm through words or actions upon persons with an identified disability or significant vulnerability and exposure to thoughts, ideas, opinions or world views that evoke feelings of anger, guilt or discomfort has jumped the walls of academia. The metastasis of our failure is beginning to infect Western culture in ways we can scarcely imagine.

I appreciated this post from former college president Judith Shapiro, in which she described “a tendency toward what we might see as self-infantilization on the part of students.” She continues…

How can I respond in a way that plays to my students’ strengths as opposed to their weaknesses? How can this serve as an occasion to increase their wisdom and self-confidence? How will I help them to grow up?

To invoke the timelessly wise words of the Rolling Stones: If students can’t always get what they want, if we try sometimes, we might just find they get what they need.

One consequence is a generation of young people lacking sufficient resilience to work through times of adversity in life. If a college student can’t cope with the idea that there are people in their immediate environment who support a different political candidate than they do, how are they going to cope when they lose a job, experience a serious illness or the death of a parent?

As it turns out, the desire to protect some from the pain caused by their consciences is being used as a weapon against advocacy for the most vulnerable. We head to France to check out the newest application of the Law of Merited Impossibility in the ongoing culture war between moral relativism and the remnants of traditional culture.

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation produced a video in response to an e-mail they received from an expectant mother…

I’m expecting a baby. I’ve discovered he has Down syndrome. I’m scared. What kind of life will my child have?

A French court upheld a ruling by the country’s broadcast commission to ban the airing of the video featuring happy, smiling children and young adults as a commercial. Why would the government want to ban such a positive and uplifting video?

The court said the video’s depiction of happy Down syndrome children is “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.”

If the type of advocacy demonstrated in this video is no longer socially acceptable in a large, Western democracy, what’s next? You guessed it.

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:15-16 (ESV)

The “elephant in the living room” in our ongoing culture wars is that Jesus, Christianity and the teachings of Scripture make some people very, very uncomfortable. If any teaching or content with the potential to cause emotional distress is “off-limits,” where does that leave the Word of God and those who seek to live by it? Scripture describes itself as a weapon against the conscience…

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)

Those of us who identify with Christ and with the church need to embrace the reality that we’re foot soldiers in a war that’s been waged on Earth since the beginning of time against an enemy that doesn’t fight fair. We need to take advantage of any lull in the action to seize as much territory for our King as we can. Advocacy on behalf of our most vulnerable kids and families will get the attention of those who aren’t aligned with our King. And we can anticipate that they’ll hit back. Hard.


I’ll close by directing you to this article by Ash Milton, who explores the argument that secularism functions as a religion

We live in an age where this paradigm now informs the values of our generation. Its fundamental claims of equality and personal freedom are more or less unquestioned. It informs our actions as well. To support the next big Cause is good, and proof of your tolerance and open-mindedness. To practice a religion with traditional values is acceptable so long as you don’t contradict the overarching narrative. To actually challenge that narrative is something only bigots, reactionaries, and basement dwelling virgins do. (As an aside, a good rule of thumb about what beliefs are respectable is to see which shaming language is okay to use.)

Like the Russians a century ago, this generation in the West has experienced the victory of a new memeplex. What makes this memeplex fundamentally different is that it doesn’t claim the authority which religion does, or even like other political ideologies do. It insists that tolerance and personal freedom, free from judgement, are the Most Important Thing. Can’t we all just get along? But this is a delusion. In order for societies to function, commonality of values and visions must exist. Even a society which values tolerance above all else draws the line somewhere. Inevitably, certain ideas win out. Certain attitudes gain cultural dominance. Others become unfashionable, disrespectful, or outright heretical. Only bad people say or do those things. True, the new memeplex isn’t necessarily a religion, united in a single institution. But when all is said and done, when new orthodoxies are in place and new groups of heretics are shamed, purged, and punished, the only major difference is that the Church knew what it was.

Are you ready?


KM greenOur team at Key Ministry appreciates the prayers and support of all our followers, but at this time of the year, we find ourselves very much in need of your financial support. It will cost approximately $80,000 to maintain the free training, consultations and support we offer to help connect churches with families impacted by disability. We’re currently $30,000 short of covering our expenses for 2016. Please consider making a personally significant gift to supporting the work of our ministry.

Best Wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year on behalf of the entire Key Ministry team!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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