Saturday, July 31, 2010

Children are people, too.

This post was prompted by a line in my post entitled "Toddlers are not grown women" in which I said:
I also believe that parents should play a role in helping their child make decisions and that they should view their child as a partner in this regard.
In the comment section of that post, Anonymous challenged my idea that children could or should ever be viewed as partners with their parents, suggesting that parents' roles in their children's lives should be that of "bosses" who make decisions for children because they are not capable of doing so on their own until adulthood (which I read to mean legal adulthood, suggested by this commenter in another comment that was not posted due to its tangential nature, to mean 18 years of age).

Anonymous said:
Raising kids by being their "friend" results in horrible, maladjusted kids with a lot of selfishness and problems.
First of all, nowhere in that post did I suggest that parents should act as their children's friends. I do not even suggest that children should be viewed as completely equal partners with their parents. All I meant to suggest was that children should be viewed as more than objects to be controlled by their parents. I'll expand on that idea here.

I'd like to clarify that I do not have any children. However, I have experienced a type of parenting that I would not want to replicate if I ever had the desire to raise children of my own. In the middle class, white American culture I grew up in, there is an overarching idea that children have little capacity for personhood. They are treated like objects or pets that should be, in essence, ruled over by parents who always know what was best for their children, without question. Children's opinions and desires do not matter because of their age. In effect, children are lesser people, if they can even be considered people at all.

I have a huge problem with conceptualizing children in the same manner as one might think of a pet. I do not believe this mindset is healthy for the parent or the child. It has the potential to create dependence in children that may make it difficult for them to take on "adult" responsibilities once they reach legal adulthood and it presents a way for parents to place on their children an unfair burden - the responsibility of making their parents feel useful. When the roles of parents and children change as children grow up, it cane be difficult on everyone.

I believe that this idea that children just are not capable of doing certain things is, largely, due to socialization. If parents treat children as if they are incapable of making any decisions at all (as opposed to only life-altering ones), children will not have to rise to the occasion and will fill their parents' low expectations. If parents expected more out of their children and viewed them as capable of doing more, I think a lot of people would be surprised by how much children are capable of.

I also want to stress my belief in parents' roles in helping oversee their children's decisions and helping them navigate the world while teaching and disciplining when necessary. However, allowing children appropriate amounts of control over aspects of their lives is important because no person, small or not, should be ruled by someone else who denies them the opporunity to exercise any amount of power over their lives.

This acknowledgement of a child's personhood throughout life (as opposed to waiting until a child reaches some arbitrary age) could easily create more independent children who are better equipped to handle "adult" situations and responsibilities without doubting themselves. Treating children as smaller people could also easily create within the minds of children reasonable expectations of respect. When they are not used to thinking of themselves of subjects under their parents' rule, it might be easier for them to fight for their rights and perhaps even those of others when they finally leave the nest.


Anonymous said...

You and I are on the same page as far as raising children. I raised mine that way and they turned out well; they are independent, thinking, successful adults. Having the final say is not the same thing as being the "boss". My kids knew they could make a case for whatever it is they wanted to do and I'd listen and we'd talk about it. This worked pretty well from about the age of 3 or 4 onwards. My kids seemed to have had less teenage angst (at least as far as control issues) than most; by that time they understood that I trusted them to make their own decisions and they pretty much always asked my input.

I knew parents who wouldn't even allow their kids to pick their own clothes.

Amelia said...

It's great hearing from someone who has experience with raising children this way. I'm happy that it seems to have been successful for you.

I honestly wish I had had a similar experience growing up. A lot of tension exists between my parents and myself due to their idea of me as "child," even now when I am 21 years old.

mamma mia said...

Funny, this afternoon I was thinking about this very topic. I often think to myself about how I feel like my 5 year old daughter is my teammate, and how I like just having her around. I don't feel like I am her boss, or that I have the job of "controlling" her. But as I thought about it, I felt that I could never actually say that because someone would interpret it as me claiming to be her friend instead of her parent. But I truly feel like we are a team- we aren't equals; I am the captain with the final say, but we are in it together. Too bad people are so quick to be self-righteous- it makes everyone afraid to say anything for fear of getting insulted as you did by Anonymous.

Kyra said...

I agree with this whole post. Childhood is not about waiting to attain adulthood but about learning how to be a functional and competent person. The point of raising a child is to produce an adult, not only a surviving one but a well-adjusted one.

To this end, yes, parenting has a lot to do with keeping the kid from screwing up while he or she is too young/immature/inexperienced/whatever to be trusted with the consequences of misused agency---that's why parents have a whole lot of power over them. But just as importantly, parenting involves teaching the child how to eventually replace the parent(s) as the leader of his or her life.

It is important for the child to learn this while still a child so that the learning curve happens while the consequences are smaller and the parents are there to guide and guard---and yes, sometimes step in and take over.

The child who has practice with all aspects of thinking for hirself becomes the adult that knows how, and is less likely to make costly mistakes figuring it out on the fly.

Amelia said...

This is a comment that the Anonymous quotes above posted on my "Toddlers" post. I explained that I rejected the comment there because it was off topic, but got permission to repost the comment here:

You can strongly disagree with it all you like, but years of psychology prove your view to be in the wrong.

Being a "friend" to your child results in skewed views of authority, results in children who believe they run the household or at least have equal say in what goes on in it, and legally, mentally, they are not capable of being in that role, and it results in major problems down the line.

They are smaller people, sure, but they are not independent, intelligent, self-reliant people. They are not adults.

You don't have a "balanced" relationship with children. You are the authority figure. That is how it goes. If you wish to end up with children telling you what to do, you be their friend, or their "balanced partner".

Parents are responsible for discipline, for instilling lessons about life and how the world works. You don't teach them these things by being their pal.

Are you saying that in a culture where a child is considered an adult at age 13 is filled with less mentally competent adults?

13 year olds are not mentally competent to make adult decisions.

There's a reason most first-world cultures choose 18 or 21.

A 13 year old has barely entered puberty and isn't even PHYSICALLY an adult, let alone mentally.

If for 18 years, until children reach legal adulthood, children are treated as completely incapable of taking charge of their lives, they won't be able to handle it well when they are suddenly thrust into the world of adulthood.

Years of psychology and studies disagree with you.

They are NOT capable of taking charge of their lives. That's just it. In life, no matter how feminist-ish you want to look at it, someone will always be your boss.

They will not be your friend, they will not be there to hold your hand and be your buddy. They will be your superior. That's how life works. There is always authority.

Studies show "friend" parents have much harder times getting children to submit to any form of discipline, raise children that are much more defiant of authority, that are much more instant-gratification, and generally think they can have whatever they want.

You can wax theoretical all you like about this magical feminist partner parenting, but every single study by childhood educators, psychologists and the like, all disagree with you.

Friend parenting is terrible.

Do you even have any children?

tinfoil hattie said...

I agree with this post. I have two kids, and for one thing, I want them to learn to make their own decisions because I want them to individuate while they grow, and MOVE OUT someday. They know we, the adults, have "final" say. But it's not our job to "control" them. Kids are people. It's our job to guide them safely to adulthood, with all the tools and skills necessary to live responsibly and freely.

Anonymous said...

Well, years of research and studies disagree with you.

"Feminist" style pal-parenting results in screwed up kids.

Amelia said...

Right, because I definitely advocated for "pal-parenting." Good reading comprehension.

krentz said...

"Years of research and study" might as well count for nothing in my eyes. The world of academic psychology at a glance seems so very distant from the human matters it was created to explore, secluded in its self-imposed ivory tower.

As someone who has been brought up in the style described by this post, I could not imagine relating to a child as a parent in any other fashion. In fact, even outside of parenthood, to deny someone's "personhood" as you put it - their inherent humanity - is abhorrent.

Children are people, and should be dealt with as such. As long as they know that you the parents are the authority figures, that you act out of love and their best interests, that you are there to nurture and guide them but that you are also willing to listen to and discuss their concerns, I don't believe you could go far wrong.

There is a certain conservatism inherent in some people that rankles, even disgusts me. Should I ever, in the future, be blessed with children to call my own, I would never want them to be 'obedient', but rather 'cooperative'.

Now, addressing Anonymous' italicised comments: considering the way the 'world works' is so completely open to interpretation I don't even know what you're trying to suggest by that. Some things can only be learned by personal experience and all you can do is support them along the way.

I don't know about independent or self-reliant but I was sure pretty intelligent as a child and a teen. In part due to the fact that my parents, you know, sat down with me, talked with me, taught me and did things with me? In an intimate manner that some people would sadly pass off as 'pal-parenting'? I would be pretty interested to read of some of these studies you seem so interested in citing.

Speaking of differences in the way the world works, I see it as a very different place to yourself, too, it seems. You speak of submitting to authority and of bosses, as if the whole of life was one massive hierarchy where when someone tells you to jump off a cliff, you comply without questioning? You could always choose not to bother playing along in the first place. Being socially conscious is one thing, but unthinking is quite another.

Seriously, you're talking about people who are 13 years old as if they were barely 5. Of course they're not mentally or emotionally stable enough to become completely independent. But you're talking about them like their opinions don't even count for anything and both the inner child I vividly remember as well as my current self are telling you that is ridiculous.

Oh, and P.S. This has nothing to do with feminism, as my mother is largely ignorant of the movement, I myself am male, and I stumbled upon here looking up quotes about children. One thing's for sure though, if feminism as it is defined here is about asserting everyone's individual right to be treated as the person they are, independent of irrelevant details, then you can count me in.