Friday, August 6, 2010

How Children Are Not Perceived As Equally Human

Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline. -Kofi Annan

I couldn't agree more with the above quote. I felt that intensely as a child and teen. I resented the snide looks, the assumptions, the unfairness that came with being a under-age human. At school, I resented being told I couldn't carry my own purse with me to class, let alone administer my own Tylenol for a headache or that I couldn't decide when to eat or use the restroom. I also keenly felt the unfairness of having to only vote in a mock election at school in 1988, at age 17. Anywhere I went as a young person, I was aware that my behavior was under more scrutiny, simply because of my age. So often I overheard the muttered and disgusted, teenagers!

As an adult, these feelings only served to inform my parenting. I sought out ways to be a connected parent, to honor the whole child, not as a personal belonging, but as a whole person. Alex and I both refused to bow to social pressures that said our babies or small children were not welcome. Olivia and Adam, as infants, babies and young children, have attended a wide range of social rituals, from weddings and receptions, eating (or breastfeeding) in restaurants, fancy and hole-in-the-wall, alike, to funerals. They have always accompanied us while we voted, campaigned, protested, shopped and traveled. They even attended homebirths: two for Olivia, one for Adam--playing with their friends, encouraging the mother and infant, cheering at the birth and reaching with open arms to hold the new baby. Olivia was there when Adam was born, too. And of course, as unschoolers, our everyday, whole-life learning means that Adam and Olivia are entrenched in the ordinary, the extraordinary, around-the-clock-life. In other words, the notion that most spaces (read adult spaces) be child-free has never been embraced by us.

This doesn't mean that adult-only spaces aren't sometimes good, and in some cases, may be preferable. Adults have a real need for spaces to confer with other adults and let their hair down. I get that. No one is saying it's cool to take your kid to the all-male revue that's in town or the latest Saw movie. I also think that if this is true, the reverse is also applicable, as I'm certain some spaces need to be child-only, and parents really don't need to play in the sandbox with the kiddo. And as reading through the comments over here will tell you, many an adult get bent by the idea that their offspring would crave independence from adults as well. All too well, I recall the overzealous parent who insisted on chaperoning every school event. So yes, separate spaces, for both adults and children, are sometimes good, beneficial things. The thing that makes it good and beneficial to have those spaces, however, is equality and respect.

If as a society we understand that there are some instances when adults should have their space and some instances when children should have their space, that's mutual, and equitable. It's healthy, respectful, enriching and rewarding. An adult seeking companionship with other adults, sometimes has the right to expect that there will not be children present. Children, (under age 18), concurrently, also have the same expectation that parents are not attending summer camp or Friday's dance.

However, when it's reasonable to expect that all ages are in or can be in attendance, especially at a public venue, it is not okay to start limiting that access, as in this case. This is the sort of thing that I find outrageous. First, I think it's a clear violation of one's First Amendment rights and reading through court precedent shows that this curfew/restriction/required id-nonsense, especially coming from the private sector and not the government, is particularly tenuous. Restricting young people's ability to be in a mall, without a chaperone, puts an unfair burden on that person while it fully restricts their freedom to assemble. Such a law or policy will impact a young person's employment options, work history, savings and yes, purchasing power and the ever-loving holy grail, their college education. Such a restriction also negatively impacts, despite what the opposition asserts, the community, because now, instead of having young people assembling in one place, possibly volunteering or working (and yes, buying), they are gasp! lord knows where?!(also? most likely having sex or doing drugs or looting--because now they can't get stuff at the mall! Duh!)

as seen at the mall
Careful! Dangerous young person at the mall! Chilling, is it not?

So not only do we have a society that continues to infantalize children so much that people fear letting them be at the fraking mall, we have a society that is fast running out of places for children to assemble. In case you didn't open that last link--that was about adults getting pissed about children playing on the sidewalk, because it makes them feel guilty or scared or something about driving 25 40 mph through a quiet residential street. !! That's why, friends and neighbors, I don't think we should be quite so worried about protecting our child-free adult-only spaces, so much as be concerned about abusing our adult privilege.

This is a culture that fails to empower children, offers little to no meaningful work (especially if this meaningful work might occur around bothered adults), few meaningful rites of passage and little responsibility beyond compulsory schooling and very few places to gather publicly. This is why organizations like the National Youth Rights Association and why spaces like this one and opportunities like this, are so very important and essential. They are essential because within them, children are empowered, are trusted, nurtured, welcomed and respected. These are essential because within them, children take up space and are entitled to it. These organizations and places are so essential because within them, children are equally human.


  1. So true! *applause*

    I posted something on my blog about adults complaining about spending time with their children in school holidays, and in some ways this post reminds me of my own. We can not claim to have come that far from the days of "seen and not heard" with these attitudes running rampant.

  2. Excellent, excellent post. I'm going to include it in the next Carnival of Feminist Parenting, if that's all right?

  3. Thank you for reading and commenting, Alice and Mother, I appreciate it.

    Anji, thanks so much! I'd be honored to be included.

  4. Hear, hear! I also think about my own life when I read those articles...I was a person who was living on my own years before I turned 18. Heck, I had friends who were in the Chicago Ballet in their teens and would ride the Metra into downtown for rehearsals several nights a week and back home late night...all alone! I was in a band that played in bars when I was 16! Gasp!

    But anyway, I think the more we infantilize kids well into an age range that consideres them adults in most cultures (well, even our own until pretty recently on the evolutionary timeline), while at the same time media and society supports the early sexualization of them while simultaneously robbing them of any responsibility, trust and respect...well, to hell in a hand basket seems to apply. Not a huge surprise, then.

    As always, you articulate so well what so many of us think. My kids are young, but I can only imagine the challenges they will face in the future if things continue to go this way. I hate to think that rural life is the only place where kids will be given freedoms and responsibility - when suburban society seems to have been created solely for the entertainment and consumerism of kids. Buy all our stuff! Wear what we say! But don't have your own opinions or leave your home without a chaperone! Silly.

  5. This was so soooo good. Thank you for writing this.

  6. Great article! I wish more people had thought as you do when I was growing up.

  7. Coming late to the party but I echo what others have said - this is wonderful!

    I get so down seeing all the anti-child (and by extension, anti-parent/carer and especially anti-mother) sentiment in our culture. I write about it but sometimes it's so upsetting I am rendered incoherant and thus mute. I wish it didn't bother me so much.

    Thanks for your post.

  8. I just saw this linked on Facebook, right after I spent an afternoon being horrified by this blog -

    One of the commenters on one of the posts says "She'll be human when she grows up. It just takes time." about the blogger's daughter (who the blogger has placed in foster care because her behavior is inappropriate). Nice.

  9. Excellent post. As a parent it's frustrating for me to see the subjugation of children, and how anti-child sentiments are growing ever more prevalent, it seems. People are aghast when mothers nurse their babies and young children in public.

    Instead of teaching our children through real-world experiences which would help them to develop self-control and knowledge about how to navigate the world around them, as a society, we promote the cloistering of children, and then we wonder why so many haven't learned to behave properly or haven't mastered critical thinking skills.

    I mean really? Detention for a hard candy someone *else* gave you?



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