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It’s an unspoken rule that children of politicians should be off limits when it comes to public figure status. Kids deserve the ability to simply be kids without the media picking them apart. We saw this during Obama’s presidency when people from both ends of the political spectrum come out to defend Malia and Sasha Obama’s privacy and again when a reporter made a remark about Barron Trump.
This is even more important when we are talking about a child’s mental health, so seeing detailed reports about Ted Cruz’s 14-year-old child’s private mental health crisis was offputting, to say it kindly. It feels icky for me to even put the senator’s name in this article because it feels like adding to this child’s exposure.
When a child is struggling with mental health concerns, the instinct should be to cocoon them in safety, not to highlight the details or speculate on the cause. Ever since the news broke about this child’s mental health, social media has been abuzz, mostly attacking the parents and speculating if the child is a member of the LGBTQ community.
Cruz’s child should not have to have her most vulnerable moment broadcasted around the globe. Adolescent children are notoriously private and may easily feel embarrassment or shame, except they generally have far less tools to know how to cope. The media listing so much information about the child’s attempt at self-harm will likely do more harm than anything else thanks to a teen’s proclivity to feel shame.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-24 and nearly 20% of high school students have seriously contemplated suicide, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Kids that are LGBTQ are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers that are not a part of the LGBTQ community, according to The Trevor Project. It’s clear that mental health issues that lead to either attempted or completed suicide are not relegated to a certain political party’s children. It’s a widespread issue plaguing parents and mental health professionals across the country.
If you couple the shame aspect with the stigma surrounding mental health, you’re creating a recipe for disaster. We’re talking about a teenager who has to go to school with peers who know who her father is. This isn’t some unnamed child that no one would put the pieces together on. Once you name the politician and state the age and gender of the child, there’s no mistaking who you’re talking about.
Reporters aren’t bound by HIPAA laws and there’s not always a regard for protecting someone’s privacy if the story is salacious enough. That’s not to say that people who report the news are intent on hurting children, it’s that sometimes we don’t always think about the person on the other side of the story, especially the parents of a hurting child who will have to deal with the consequences of the report.
Media and consumers should use this moment to take a step back and look at how we view children of politicians and celebrities. Should they really be a commodity because their parents chose a public career? Should we disregard the very real pressure these kids are under to report intimate details of a tragic event? Or should we simply remember they’re children and didn’t ask for their moments of weakness to be laid out on display for the world?
I personally believe we should allow them to be children and we should remember what it was like at their age so we can fully appreciate how they might feel seeing their private suffering out in the world. I’m not saying not to report, I’m saying use discretion. A simple blurb that said, “One of Senator Cruz’s children has been injured and taken to the hospital, but they are expected to make a full recovery,” would have been plenty of information.
The world didn’t need the details, and hopefully if something like this happens in the future to a family in the spotlight, the media will do a better job at protecting the child’s privacy. Here’s wishing Cruz’s child a speedy recovery and future mental wellness.