Lately I’ve been noticing something more and more and it’s really starting to bother me. Many people don’t seen to think of young children, even their own kids, as people! You know, human beings with their own feelings, views and desires?
I think this awareness has grown out of my participation in the online unschooling community and has been emphasized by recent interactions I’ve had with other parents on Facebook. Now I’m seeing it everywhere I look!
Children are often treated like some lesser, second class. Their opinions and desires are ignored. Their behavior is seen as unacceptable even when the same thing done by an adult is OK. They’re criticized for things beyond their control. Things they say are dismissed out of hand as childish or silly. Their motivations for acting as they are aren’t even contemplated, let alone seriously considered. Sincere attempts are laughed at and mocked as cute.
I see it in the those who trivialize and/or dismiss a kid’s feelings. The ones that use their size advantage to physically control or intimidate a child into doing what they want or to punish them for doing what they don’t. Those that pull rank and demand they be respected as authority solely due to their age.Â It’s pervasive in our culture and many peopleÂ do these things all the time, and without question.
As mentioned in past posts, children reflect the behavior they receive. So what does it tell our kids when we treat others this way, especially those closest to us? That it’s OK ignore, dismiss or bully others when we feel superior?
Where’s the understanding?Â Is it really that much of a stretch to put yourself in a kid’s shoes, think about whether they might be having a bad day, wonder if there’s a reason why they’re crying, consider that they could be in pain or that their motivation is not malicious?Â Where’s the tolerance for those who are just starting to experiment and learn about the world? Largely non-existent.
In my head this extends beyond paternalism or a general intolerance of children.Â In part, it’s due to a lack of empathy, something that seems to be deficient in our society as a whole.Â For some it’s just habit, do what you know. But there’s also a cultural aspect at play that I can’t really explain.
I am certainly not claiming to be a perfect parent, nor am I saying kids should be treated as if they were exactly like adults. I don’t always treat my son as a partner. I sometimes put my needs before his, or insist that we do things my way despite his protests or try to convince him of my point of view.Â But it’s really no different than how I’d interact with my husband or sister.Â Sometimes experience wins out.
Fundamentally though, I respect that our kid is a person with his own interests, thoughts and motivations, and accept that they may not always match my own. From what I’ve observed in others lately, this perspective does not seem to be the norm. I feel lucky I was afforded this respectÂ growing up andÂ can see it extended to my son.