Not Letting Kids Have Their Way is Destroying America

Illustration for article titled Not Letting Kids Have Their Way is Destroying America


Have you ever wanted a kid to be quiet and stop drawing on the drywall with their own poop? Well, according to one psychologist, you need to knock that off this instant, because your prejudice against children— or "childism"— is ruining everything.

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The late Dr. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl argues in Childism: The Prejudice Against Children that every time an adult fails to prioritize the needs of The Children above his or her own needs, that's sort of like being a racist. So, the emergency procedures lecture that flight attendants deliver before every flight where they instruct passengers to secure their own oxygen masks before helping those around them? Childist as shit.

Young-Bruehl says that childism is defined as the belief that children are somehow inferior to adults. This idea became embedded in American culture during the Nixon administration, when Tricky Dick failed to consult the children of America before vetoing the Comprehensive Child Development Act. And now, everything's totally fucked.

On a large scale, "childism" has manifested most dramatically in the attitudes of Baby Boomers, who Young-Bruehl says embraced youth culture for themselves before spending the next several decades prioritizing their own needs and status over the needs of future generations and doing totally lame things like not letting their kids use the car. On a macro level, they've charged The Youths with supporting their own prosperity.

While, on a large scale, her thoughts about the generational selfishness of Baby Boomers are salient, giving equal credence to the ideas of children is sort of patently absurd. Children are children because they haven't lived long enough to understand how to control their own impulses or developed the motor skills to be trusted with grown up scissors.

No, Skittles for breakfast is not an idea that warrants consideration. No, not everyone should ride gleaming white horses with pink manes to work instead of cars. No, we shouldn't clone dinosaurs so that all kids can have a pet triceratops. No, scientific resources should not be devoted to developing a nuclear bomb that will kill all the cooties. Yes, bedtime is important. No, you can't watch The Shining, even though there's a kid in it. And no, children should not be given the opportunity to wield kid-sized splitting mauls, no matter how much they wish they could chop firewood like their mommy or daddy.

There has to be a happy medium between "Quiet! Mommy's watchin' her stories!" and breeding a generation of little Verucca Salts ordering squirrel armies. And perhaps if we'd let kids vote, the current world of politics wouldn't be so overpopulated by mean old grouches and buttfaces.

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An Ism is Born [The Atlantic]

DISCUSSION

jennasauers
Jenna Sauers

I don't know, MoGlo. When I was a child, I wasn't so much into cooties cures and unicorn rides. When I was 8 or so, I wanted nothing so much as educational reform so that children could choose courses of study — I understood there would have to be certain compulsory subjects, but there could be choices among different curricula, and different ways of studying them — that reflected their varying abilities and learning styles. I wanted to end religious instruction in public schools (yes, that still happened in New Zealand at the time). I thought it would be a good idea if there were a confidential way of reporting bullying.

Later, around 12 or 13, I became interested in increasing youth participation and consultation in local government initiatives, like the placement of parks, bus lines, and bike lanes (I was a total nerd). So I joined an adjunct body of the city council called the youth council, and started getting involved in community organizing. I advocated lowering the drinking age from 20 to 18 (which actually happened) and co-founded a group that pushed for lowering the voting age to 16 (which didn't). I wrote letters to the editor railing against the discriminatory "youth" minimum wage, which at that time was around 40% lower than the adult minimum wage — when I was a teenager in New Zealand, if you were under 18, your employer could hire you for as little as $5.05 an hour and you had no legal protection from termination upon turning 18 and becoming eligible for the full minimum wage. When I met the then Minister for Youth Affairs at a conference, I bent her ear about it. The youth minimum wage was eventually phased out. I was against parental notification and consent laws for medical procedures, on the grounds of privacy. I was against lax zoning laws that too frequently allowed the destruction of heritage buildings and favored sprawl over density and cars over public transit. Those were the ways I wanted to change the world, when I was a child and teenager. I still think most of those things are very good ideas.

I hated being a child. I had all the time in the world to read, learn, and think about the world, and next to no ability to do anything about it. I remember being constantly talked down to by adults — lectured by them on issues I knew full well I had better grasp of than they, told I was "idealistic" or unreasonable, treated in that patronising, oh-how-cute kind of manner — and being statutorily barred from doing many of the things I judged useful and interesting. I remember my youth as being a prolonged period of abject and near-total disempowerment akin to nothing so much as captivity. I think it's very telling that when a child is being "naughty," we say he or she is being "smart." As though in a child, exhibiting intelligence is a bad thing. This idea that parents "own" their children is a pernicious one, an idea that promotes child abuse and neglect. Kids aren't yours to dispose of how you please, and a kid's job isn't to put up, shut up, and let the adults do the thinking. Children are not meant to be seen but not heard! I'm not saying let the inmates run the asylum, but perhaps if we talked to more children and young people — without patronizing them — we might learn a few things, as a culture.