Are Children an Oppressed Class?

I’ve often heard that children are manipulative, but it just occurred to me that being without any real power can’t help but make people turn to manipulation. After all, what other options are there? Think about it: If a preschooler wants to stop by the ice cream store, the only way she can meet that desire is to convince her parent to take her there and buy her ice cream. And the parent, in this situation, has absolute power. The parent can simply say no and that’s the end of it. And it’s not like the kid isn’t aware of that. In fact, I would wager a guess that the kid is more aware of that than the parent is. And so, the kid looks at the options she has. She can coax her parent with a fetching smile, she can wager by promising to be good for the rest of the outing if she gets ice cream, or she can threaten a tantrum and thus make it more costly for her parent to say “no.” She resorts to these tools not in small part because she has no actual power in the situation.

There’s an interesting analogy to be drawn here. I grew up in a community that believed in male headship, and in female submission, and the women I grew up around learned to be experts at manipulation. It was the only way they had to control or influence their surroundings and the direction of their lives. Just like a child, a wife in a patriarchal relationship can coax her husband and can make saying “no” harder by responding to a decision she doesn’t like by sulking. And she can promise things too, though what she promises is generally different. When we say that patriarchy makes the relation between a husband and wife into a relationship between parent and child, well, it’s true. But I think it also ignores a simple question. If it’s not okay for a husband-wife relationship to be one in which the husband has all the power and control and the wife has no option but to follow his decisions, should we be okay with the parent-child relationship being set up that way?

I don’t actually have an answer to this question. Obviously, children don’t have the same competence and abilities that adults have—when they’re very young they don’t even know enough to know to stay off of roads or keep out of danger. And of course, unlike women under the laws of coverture or African Americans in antebellum slavery, children do eventually grow up and have adult rights and privileges. And finally, there are some limits on parents’ power—there are child abuse and neglect laws, after all. But it’s nevertheless true that when an adult wants to go get ice cream, she can (provided she has the money), but when a child wants to go get ice cream, she’s completely dependent on the will of her parents.

One thing that made me think about all this was an exchange with Sally. We were on the campus of the local university, and she was playing in a fountain. It was almost 9:00 p.m., and I told her we needed to head home. Our conversation went like this:

“Sally, two more minutes and then we need to go home.”

“No! I’m not done playing!”

“But it’s your brother’s bedtime.”

“Well, he can sleep in his stroller. That will be fine.” 

“But it’s starting to get dark.”

“Well, that’s okay, we can walk home in the dark!”

And then I realized—the reason I told her it was time to go had very little to do with Bobby’s bedtime or the dissipating light. It was time to go home because I wanted to go home. We’d been out for over three hours, and I was ready to get home. But Sally wasn’t. And in this situation, I held all the power. If I wanted to, I could pick Sally up and haul her home with me and there was literally nothing she could do about that. All she could do was try to convince me to let her stay longer, and because I have a track record of listening to her, she was doing this using logic. Another child might simply have pitched a fit—which actually what she ultimately did, because in the end, all that mattered in terms of whether we stayed or left was the decision I made. And I’ve been thinking of that evening off and on ever since.

I try to listen to Sally and take her needs into account, and I help her learn to recognize that others (including myself) have needs too. But there’s nothing obligating or requiring a parent to do that. Solving this issue by saying that parents should listen to their kids and take their kids’ needs and desires into account when making decisions isn’t unlike those who support Christian patriarchy saying that husbands are entitled to the final say in everything but should of course take their wives’ needs into account when making those decisions. First, this doesn’t actually solve the colossal imbalance of power, and second, those with power aren’t obligated to listen to the needs of those without, and they won’t always do so.

I haven’t completely formulated my thoughts here and I’m still thinking about it, but it’s bothering me. We declared slavery wrong and laws of coverture wrong, but we still uphold parental power over children as natural and good. There are obvious differences between adults and children, but do we really have justification to argue that people should have rights and freedom regardless of race or gender and yet draw the line at age? Because that is what we do. And why is it that this is something people never even think to ask?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Rilian Sharp

    Men are usually physically stronger than women, but men’s power over women is limited by social acceptance of their domination. Same with adults and children, but the amount of domination that is accepted by other people is a lot more.

    But it’s not true that all adults accept it. They talk about this plenty on School Sucks podcast and on other libertarian websites. Some libertarians believe they should have 100% control over their children, as if they were property, but not all do. IME most libertarians realize that if they want freedom for themselves, they logically have to respect other people’s freedom too, regardless of their age.

    • Rosa

      i saw something today that made me think of what you said here – “You can’t be a true anarchist until your unwillingness to be ruled is matched by your unwillingness to rule.” It’s a different philosophical structure than libertarianism, but it’s still really hard to acheive.

      • Rilian Sharp

        That’s cool, I like that quote. The libertarians I was talking about, the ones I associate with, are anarchists, not the Libertarian political party.

      • Machintelligence

        The problem with anarchy is that it is the least stable form of government.

      • Rilian Sharp

        It’s not a form of government.

      • Machintelligence

        I suppose that is true, in the same sense that atheism isn’t a form of religion.

  • AnonaMiss

    I think about this all the time. Instigated, believe it or not, by Orson Scott Card in the preface to Ender’s Game. It probably helped that I was a member of the oppressed class at the time.

    I’ve yet to come to a conclusion. There seems to be no just solution.

  • Slow Learner

    Very interesting; I read through it thinking “This is interesting, I am going to have to consider this question carefully when I have children.”…then I got to the end and realised, if I don’t even have a full answer for an individual case, what can I begin to say about the general case?

    I guess that there should be a general principle of giving children the greatest degree of autonomy that they can handle at the time; but that does carry some risks, and is so much within the judgement and discretion of the individual parent that I’m not sure it helps much either!

  • Janice

    Although I see your point, sort of, I would be VERY careful with the analogy you’re making. Comparing enslavement to the power of parents to say ‘No, we are going home now even if you want to play more’ and ‘No, I’m not buying you sweets’ and ‘I know you want to play but I need to go to work so get dressed’ and ‘You may want to run in the restaurant, but sit down right now’ is…. sort of offensive, and you might upset some people, especially those who have ancestors who were enslaved.

    I know you mention that they’re not exactly the same thing but still…..tread carefully.

    • mksMary

      Those are the kinds of things parents should say, perhaps, but they’re not the only kinds of things parents can say. Parents can also say “You did a terrible job weeding the yard — no dinner tonight” or “You didn’t do the dishes? Bring me the switch.” And that kind of thing is legal, generally. It’s not so far from slavery, in those cases. And there’s no bright line separating that kind of thing from normal parenting — it’s a continuous spectrum from reasonable demands and reasonable punishments to unreasonable demands and unreasonable punishments.

      Yes, there are anti-child-abuse laws, where the south did not really have anti-slave-abuse laws. But they could’ve passed some, and slavery would still have been immoral. It’s not just the abuse, it’s the lack of freedom, and the power imbalance, that makes slavery wrong. But there is absolutely a similar lack of freedom and an even greater power imbalance in the parent child relationship. Slavery as practiced in the U.S. was also hugely damaging in the way it broke up families, though again, slavery would still be wrong even if enslaved families were kept intact by law, so the fact that this doesn’t apply to parent-child relationships doesn’t mean that they aren’t still comparable to slavery in other ways.

      The biggest differences are that 99% of parents really do the best interests of their children at heart (which I don’t think you could say about slave owners and slaves) that children really do need to have their freedom curtailed for their own protection because their knowledge is limited and their brains are still developing (not true of adult slaves though the owners would have claimed it was — in fact I would say a big part of the moral problem with slavery is that it denies adults agency, in effect, treating them like children), and that slavery was lifelong while childhood is temporary (though we no longer allow indentured servitude either.)

      But it’s not a ridiculous or offensive comparison, I don’t think, because there genuinely are parents who treat their children in ways very similar to the ways in which slaves were treated by their masters, in practical terms.

      • Sally

        OK, sure, there are people who treat their children terribly, but that’s not the comparison Libbey Anne was making.
        I think it’s wrong to treat adults like children. But the *concept* of treating children like children isn’t wrong, imo. Of course we can come up with examples of treatment of children that is terrible. But that’s not what this is about. This is about the concept of how and when children should get their way as compared to the adults who are in charge of them- and then at one point comparing that to slavery.

      • mksMary

        “This is about the concept of how and when children should get their way as compared to the adults who are in charge of them- and then at one point comparing that to slavery.”
        It’s about the wisdom of permitting one human being to have (nearly) absolute power over another.
        That’s the basic idea of slavery. The power parents have over their children is different in some important ways (usually exercised in love, protective of someone with presumably poor judgement, temporary, limited by anti-abuse laws) but it is still near-absolute power.
        And while most parents try most of the time not to mis-use that power, there aren’t really many laws preventing them from doing so. And so, intentionally or unintentionally, parents do misuse it, some severely, most of us at least mildly, at times. That’s kind of inevitable when you give someone that much power. So the question Libby Anne is raising, I think, is “Is it really okay that we give parents that much power”?
        (To which my answer boils down to — do we really have a choice, in practical terms?)

      • Sam D

        ” 99% of parents really do the best interests of their children at heart”

        I’d really like this to be true, but citation needed.

      • Lorelei

        My parents straight-up used the term ‘slave’ to refer to me. I was also told I had no name, I didn’t deserve one. I cleaned houses as a teen, and my mother told the owners she was doing it, and was paid. When one family found out (due to the woman coming home sick and finding me), they tried to tip me, but I never received it. (They ended up firing my mother over it.) I also had to care for horses and clean carriages, and stay by the taxi stand by myself every day until the wee sma’s, starting at age 9.

        I was beaten, not fed, and had to get my own clothes and school supplies.

        All of this, plus sexual abuse.
        Yes, child slavery happens, and it’s condoned by churches.

  • Yamikuronue

    What always got me was medical rights. A four year old might not understand that something painful is medically necessary, but a twelve year old or a fifteen year old or a seventeen year old might very well understand and have other objections to a given procedure — that doesn’t matter, because once the parent gives consent, that’s it, no further consent is required.

    • Ibis3

      More often, I think, it’s parents who withhold medical treatments from their children without the informed consent of the children: faith healing when medical intervention is indicated, withholding vaccines, contraception, blood transfusions, abortion….

      • Yamikuronue

        Also incredibly problematic, I agree.

      • Christine

        It’s often the parents withholding the treatment, but children aren’t legally allowed to consent to the treatment being withheld. If your parents lost custody for refusing treatment, you’re not going to get an emancipated minor petition granted (based on past cases).

    • Sophie

      Here in the UK we have something called Gillick Competence which basically means that if the child is judged to fully understand the medical treatment and the consequences of having it or refusing to have it, then they are able to make medical decisions for themselves. Generally it is used in scenarios when children don’t want the medical treatment but it could be used in cases where children want treatment that their parents are denying them.

    • aim2misbehave

      I agree with Ibis – most often I hear about parents denying children treatment. I think that most medical professionals would be extremely leery of forcing a treatment on a teenager who’s objecting to a procedure that their parents consented to, and especially if the teenager decides to be physically non-cooperative.

      (Except for cases of mental health treatments, but that’s a different can of worms because those are cases where even with adults it’s expected that someone else is making medical decisions on behalf of the patient)

  • mksMary

    I made this argument to my parents when I was a kid. It didn’t convince them. Nevertheless, whenever I decide I want ice cream and subsequently buy it for myself, I remember that feeling of helplessness and dependency, and am glad I’m an adult now. I think it has a lot to do with the reason I insist on keeping my full time job even though being a stay at home mom would be easier for me in many ways right now. That adulthood was hard won, and I don’t want to be dependent on someone again.

    I have a daughter who is two and a half. I don’t feel bad denying unreasonable or dangerous whims, like wanting to climb on something that might tip over, or stay up way past my bed time. I’m perfectly comfortable saying “no,” and explaining my reasons, but enforcing the rule whether she agrees with the reason or not.

    But when she just wants to stay longer at the park or eat junk food, I do think about how unfair it is that I get to do those things if I feel like it, but she never does… And I try to give in sometimes. I think it’s important to let her win some, so she doesn’t feel completely helpless. This article sums up my general philosophy.

    I don’t know how you could really enshrine a philosophy like that into law, though. There are too many judgement calls and too much subjectivity in the day to day duties of parenting. We don’t have enough judges in the world to adjudicate what is an unreasonable bed time, or an unreasonable amount of junk food, which is the only way you could overcome the natural power imbalance and award victories to the child over the parents’ objection.

    And then, even if you could do that, it’s not exactly fair to parents, who have responsibility for their children’s well-being. You can’t give someone great responsibility without giving them equally great power. If an adult paralyzes himself in a motorcycle crash, we understand that was his own risk to take, and no one needs to be punished for the bad outcome. If a child is paralyzed in a motorcycle accident especially if the child were actually driving, the parents will be blamed, and potentially punished (over and above the self-torment that most parents would suffer.) If parents are going to be held responsible for their children’s actions, they must have the power to curtail their children’s actions.

    But I do believe there must be limits. I am very much in favor of laws that forbid parents from denying their children medical attention. We have enough judges to handle those cases. Abuse, neglect, locking your child up constantly… Unquestionably those should be illegal. You have abdicated your responsibility, and lose custody of the child. Those are probably the most important laws we have on the books. And failing to educate your child? I do think that’s right up there with failing to feed them, in extreme cases. There are abused children out there who never even learn to talk, because they were never spoken to. In that case it’s clear what kind of harm has been done, how severely the child is handicapped. If a child never learns to read, to count, to think independently and form judgments based on history and science, they are more subtly handicapped in the less severe cases of educational neglect than in the most severe cases, but they will still find it hard to make their way in adulthood, and the state has an interest in preventing this harm. We have enough judges for that too.

    I would love to legislate away bad authoritarian parenting, if I could. In practice, though, we have to find a place to draw the line, where the state takes authority away from the parents, that is realistic within the resources of the state.

    • mksMary

      And even if we give authority to the state rather than the parents in some cases… That’s still not the same as giving it to the child! Children know enough to make some kinds of decisions but they don’t know what they don’t know… Maybe on a normal day a child would be right to think that they could go to the park if only their parents weren’t so selfish and unfair… But maybe they just don’t know what it means that the weather man is predicting storms and it’s tornado season. Someone has to make the judgement call as to when it’s reasonable to let the child decide and when it’s not… And again, in practice, the only people in a position to make that decision are usually the parents.

  • Mel

    You’ve bought up an excellent question that I don’t have any answers to. I don’t know how to balance the needs of three different people since Sally had the right to play, you had the right to rest and Bobby had the right to sleep.

    • Ursula L

      how to balance the needs of three different people since Sally had the right to play, you had the right to rest and Bobby had the right to sleep.

      It’s worth noting that if you push Sally past her limits, and she has a breakdown or tantrum, you’re there to help her through it. If you push yourself past your limits, and breakdown, she can’t really help you through it in the same way. And she shouldn’t have to.

      So taking care of your own limits is part of taking care of her, because it ensures that you can take care of her appropriately.

      And you can explain it to her on this basis – that you’re reaching a limit, and need to rest, or to get home to do something else necessary for her care, or the household, or work, etc.

      She just knows she wants to play, you know that you have to make dinner, and that Bobby won’t sleep as well in his stroller, and that it takes time to have dinner ready by the time she’ll be hungry for it, etc.

      It isn’t oppression to balance her short-term needs (e.g., playing) with her longer term needs (dinner on time) and your needs (rest, time to do what you need to do) when she’s too young to set such balance herself.

      • Sally

        Beautifully said.

      • sylvia_rachel

        I’ve heard this called “Putting on your own oxygen mask first” — if you, the parent, are pushed beyond your ability to cope, that’s not any better for your kids than it is for you.

      • Mel

        I agree with you. I don’t think Sally was being manipulative. She was being self-centered which is totally age-appropriate. Sally wanted to stay and play. Libby decided to take Sally home because of several good reasons which she explained to Sally. Sally was upset and expressed her emotions through a fit which was another age-appropriate reaction.

        Like several other commenters, I don’t see this as an example of oppression. Libby Anne was not in a situation where each of the three persons involved had an equal level of responsibilities or rights. Let’s say that Libby Anne conceded and stayed at the park at Sally’s bequest under Sally’s line of logic that Bobby will sleep in his stroller just fine. When Bobby gets cranky because he’s uncomfortable in the stroller, is Sally responsible for calming Bobby? If it gets too dark to easily get everyone home, is Sally responsible for remedying the situation? If Libby Anne is exhausted due to a 5 hour trip to the park, is it Sally’s turn to make dinner and put Bobby and herself to bed? I would hope not. Sally is not mentally or physically ready for that level of responsibility. Her immaturity does reduce the number of rights she has but that will change as she grows.

      • Ursula L

        I would say, not that her immaturity takes away her rights, but rather that it adds the right to have attentive and responsible caregivers take into account her immaturity and guide her through situations which she can’t yet handle.

        And Libby Anne making the responsible decision to leave the park was her respecting Sally’s right to have such guidance,and to not be expected to balance the complex needs of multiple people before she is ready.

  • Jackie C.

    One big problem is that the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until age 25, so kids have impulses they don’t have the logic to control. Sure a 9 year old might want pierced ears but is she old enough to understand the risks of setting herself up for a nickel allergy and will she play safely enough to not rip them? A child might want to stay up til 10 pm but you know that means they are more likely to be cranky and hyper the next day, thus getting them in more trouble. We do have an obligation to protect kids to a certain extent from the decisions they would make, otherwise they may pay the price for years. But that doesn’t mean we can’t help parents understand the power dynamic and that it’s good to set aside our desires for theirs part of the time (I don’t need to watch TV and the kids really want to go to the pool). Maybe if we were more educated about what makes people healthy and whole, we would find it easier to accomodate their wishes when it’s just us being selfish.

    • Lisa

      This pretty much sums up my opinion. Sometimes you have to deal with certain inconveniencies – like not watching TV. If you deny your children to play outside in the rain puddles because you just don’t feel like washing another pair of pants, that’s completely different from denying it on the basis that they’re wearing something nice and need to look nice (because you’re going somewhere soon). I do think children are able to understand these differences – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will not try to resist. I mean, don’t adults ignore things that they should stick to in order to do something impulsive every once in a while? It’s not like children aren’t capable of a basic understanding. It’s just that they are people, and people sometimes want to do things they maybe shouldn’t.

      • Machintelligence

        Learning to concede gracefully is a valuable social skill.
        (So is learning when not to.)

    • ArachneS

      A 9 year old actually can take care of their pierced ears, A Nickel allergy is quickly realized and can be remedied quickly by taking out the earrings. I think in some ways we underestimate the ability of kids to take on small responsibities.

      • Christine

        It’s not so much the responsibilities that worry me. (I fully intend to let my daughter get her ears pierced at whatever age she desires, if she wants them pierced. I have a large plan of things she has to do to show me that she’s responsible enough). It’s the fact that she might not realise that getting her ears pierced could require a trip to the hospital and result in permanent scarring. The permanent scarring in particular – children don’t have a good concept of time and duration.

      • Jackie C.

        Actually a nickel allergy can’t be remedied quickly – it involves your entire body and determines whether you can wear a lot of jewelry, watches and even belt buckles that can touch your skin. It will start with the piercing but will involve the rest of the body for the rest of your life. At least look into plastic piercing earrings! Expensive and breakable and need to used exclusively for the first year but will save aggravation and money later.

      • ArachneS

        What I meant actually, was that if you notice an allergic reaction to your earrings, you take them out quickly. You don’t have to keep them in. Dealing with it involves keeping the metal from touching your skin, it’s not taking meds every day after lunch or anything complicated. A 9 year old is old enough to understand what the allergy will do if they find out they are allergic. Once you find out they are, you continue to discuss it with your 9 yr old about which metals they should look for when shopping for jewelry. Because in just a few years, she will buy that stuff for herself.

        My older sister has a Nickel allergy. The rest of her life just meant that she always checked the jewelry for what kind it was or asked to look at jewelry that wouldn’t set off her allergies.

      • Ms_Morlowe

        Speaking of earrings and parental authority, I developed a nasty infection after I got my ears pierced: I went to my grandparents’ house with my father for the week soon after getting them pierced (I was 8), and soon noticed my ears getting sore. I told him about it, but he told me to wait until we went home (a few more days) and my mam would look at them. By the time we got home, the infection had swollen the lobes around the earrings making them super gross and painful. I still have (tiny) scars on my ears.

        Having said that, my mam ripped my dad a new one for not listening to me in the first place when I said my ears were sore.

        I think there are ways of getting around the inherent imbalance in a parent-child relationship: if you look at it like a student-teacher relationship, the biggest difference, and biggest recourse for the impotent member is the failsafe. Just like a student can talk to a different teacher, a parent or a councellor if they’re having problems, for me, I knew that if I was angry with my mother, I could talk to my father, or vice versa, or sometimes a grandparent, aunt or uncle., or family friend. There’s usually a bigger picture that a kid can’t see, but talking it over with a neutral party that has some authority can help. Eg, in the ice-cream scenario, a neutral party can let the kid vent while helping them examine both their reasons for wanting an ice-cream and their parents’ for refusing them. Like maybe they didn’t have the money, or maybe Parent was going to make lunch when they got home, or maybe Kid had already had a bag of crisps and shouldn’t eat more junk food.

        (Also, I tended to have pocket money and the ability/permission to walk to the local shop on my own as a kid–like, from the age of 4 or 5– so maybe I’m just not really picking up on the nuances/didn’t have the absolute impotence other kids can have)

      • Jackie C.

        I’ve lived with a nickel allergy since I was 16. It’s a pain. No inexpensive jewelry and often gifts can’t be worn. Good luck on watches. It’s tedious. Just spend more money for plastic posts if you’re going to let a child get her or his ears pierced. It’s a way to combine letting a child express him or herself while still looking out for the best interests of the child.

      • The_L1985

        …Most of the cheap jewelry I’ve seen has specifically said “Hypoallergenic.” Most sterling-silver jewelry isn’t too expensive, either, and usually has sterling posts.

      • Keljopy

        I think the confusion is that some of you seem to think that you would merely find out you have a nickel allergy when you get your ears pierced, but the case (shown by real, scientific, published research) is that the ear piercing often actually causes the allergy (I suspect nickel + trauma causes your immune system to begin reacting to it in a way it wouldn’t if you just wore it externally your whole life, but I’m not an allergist, so I don’t know).

        So while a lifelong nickel allergy might just be a mild problem (checking jewelry, covering pant buttons, etc.) rather than life threatening the way other allergies might be, it is something that would have been altogether avoided if the ears had not been pierced (or had been pierced with plastic). This risk of CAUSING a lifelong allergy is what a 9 year old may not be able to understand.

      • The_L1985

        I didn’t even know that, but as a very young child I learned that most cheap jewelry is hypoallergenic, and I asked my mother how anyone could be allergic to metal. She said, “Some cheaper jewelry is made from nickel, and yes, you can be allergic to nickel. So these are telling people with nickel allergies that this pair of earrings won’t set them off.”

      • aim2misbehave

        Eh, just take the kid to a good quality professional body piercing shop. They’ll use medical-grade stainless steel for the initial piercing, use needles instead of guns, and are absolutely wonderful with helping with follow-up if anything unexpected happens. I had my first earlobe piercings done by a mall shop, and then my cartilage, belly button, and subsequent ear piercings done all by the same woman at the local piercing/tattoo place near my college, and the difference was remarkable.

    • alwr

      This would require some knowledge of child development to understand. We wouldn’t want that. Philosophizing based on the purely anecdotal evidence of our own childhood desires for ice cream is a way better approach.

      • mksMary

        I don’t see anyone arguing that kids’ brains aren’t still developing or that we don’t “have an obligation to protect kids to a certain extent from the decisions they would make.” I see a much more interesting discussion about how much power parents should have or use, given that obligation.

      • Libby Anne

        And just who are you asserting is against knowledge of childhood development? Please speak plainly rather than making vague insinuations. Also, I said nothing about my childhood desire for ice cream, nor was I thinking of such when writing this post. Nice straw man you have going there.

    • Rilian Sharp

      “A child might want to stay up til 10 pm”
      What age are you talking about? 10 was my normal bed-time (self-imposed; my parents never made me go to bed) once I started riding the bus to school (when I was 7) because I woke up at 6. And I often stayed up after midnight, even when I was as young as 3, because I wanted to see my dad after he got home from work.

      Also. I don’t buy the thing about your brain not being fully developed till age 25. Our brains keep developing our entire lives. And I’m 26, and .. there aren’t any differences between me now and me .. ever. I am the same person I’ve always been. Of course I’ve made bad decisions, and decisions that turned out to be bad later, and that’s not exclusive to young people, but I wasn’t impulsive. I can think of one time where I made a bad choice *because of impulsiveness*, and that was last year, when I was 25. (The manager I was working under was horrible, so I quit. The next day I realized it would have been better to keep working there, but at the time I just couldn’t stand to listen to her talk for another second.)

      • Jackie C.

        Here’s a good story on frontal lobe development that explains it well. This isn’t new stuff and there’s plenty of reseach to back it up that you can look up. This one just explains well how it applies to kids.

        It’s great you were able to stay up late and still do well. Most kids need about 9-10 hours a night to function at their best. But that’s just something a parent has to learn about their child. I had one who need 12, one who needed 8, and two who needed 10. There’s research out there on sleep needs too. I think the point is not to assume that because something worked for you, it will work for your child.

        Maybe that’s one of the reasons some parents are so controlling, Libby Anne. “This is the way I was raised.” They may not admit how much they hated their parents reading their diaries or controlling their clothes or hair or who they had as friends out of parental loyalty. I think it can be freeing to people when other people say it here – “Hey, that’s right, I hated that too. I don’t want to be that kind of parent!”

      • The_L1985

        Libby has pointed out that the one time Sally tried to stay up too late on a preschool night, she was tired and cranky the next day and figured out that she shouldn’t do that again.

        Most kids, if left to their own devices and not told average-based half-truths like “You need exactly 8 hours of sleep per night,” will figure out pretty quickly how much sleep they need. So will their parents!

    • The_L1985

      …I got my ears pierced at 7. I was also a very active child. I never suffered any earring-related injuries.

  • Sally

    There’s another factor to consider. Children do seek the security of limits. It’s one thing to be overly authoritarian, it’s another thing to sometimes say, “No, and I’m sorry I can’t explain it better right now, but it has to just be no.”

    My policy when the kids were little was to automatically think “yes” but decide “no” if that wasn’t a good idea (for any reason, including my own reasons). I have inlaws who clearly automatically thought “no” and then decided “yes” on occassion. They said so “no” so much that it was literally the first word spoken by at least one of their many children. It was painful to watch sometimes.

    But it’s also painful to watch kids whose parents don’t set enough limits. There’s a family I know that has really struggled with this, especially one of the parents. At one point, the oldest boy would regularly call his mom a bitch when he didn’t get his way. He was in about 3rd grade when this started and it went on for years. She had no idea what to do about it. But when she talked about it to me, she described it in language that made it sound like they were just two equals, one of whom was calling the other a bitch, which she didn’t like. They were so focused on not raising their kids in an overly authoritarian way that I think they didn’t realize kids will scream for limits if you don’t set them. For some kids who really feel insecure, they will really push hard trying to find the boundaries,

    For me, I prefer to say “yes” as the default answer and “no” when necessary. I will explain a “no,” but not over and over and over. And sometimes I don’t have a reason for “no” that I can explain or that the child will accept, but it’s still “no.” And sometimes I get my way just because I’m the adult. Believe me, in the grand scheme of things, I’m a servant-leader. They’re teenagers now and no one is afraid to speak their mind.

    • ArachneS

      What do you think would have been a good way to curtail the boy calling his mom a bitch?

      • Machintelligence

        I know I am probably going to catch crap for this, but I am old school.

        Oral hygiene involving bar soap is the traditional, and effective, method.

      • Sally

        LOL. Yeah, you are gonna catch crap for that. I’ll leave that to someone else. But I will say that you can only do this with a child small enough to make stand there and take it. Once they’re you’re size, if they call you names, you need a plan that doesn’t involve cleaning products, anyway. In theory if you’ve done a good job of setting limits when they’re young they won’t ever be calling you names in the first place. But I know that’s not a guarantee.

      • Helix Luco

        i don’t think any plan involving physically overpowering the kid in order to punish them is a good one, in general.

      • Stacey W. Martin

        Soaping a kids mouth is something you would expect from a playground bully, not a parent.

        I think it is nasty and immature, and I find your claim of effectiveness irrelevant (and dubious). I would let a kid cuss before I would stoop to that low level to gain compliance; not that those are the only two options, of course.

        “Old school” is often OLD thinking, and as with so many other negative things (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc), it should be discarded, left in the dustbin of history.

        Know better, do better.
        If you don’t know better, NOW is the time to LEARN.

      • The_L1985

        Not all old-school things are bad. A lot of the “new” organic farming methods are actually old-school, from before mass-produced chemicals became a “necessity” for growing food crops.

        The age of a technique is not the best judge of whether it is a good technique.

      • ZebulaNebula

        On top of what the others have said(which I co-sign), keep in mind that with the chemical crap they put in soap these days, you could potentially cause a child major harm, especially if you make a pattern of it.

      • kagerato

        Most soap is relatively non-toxic, but only _mostly_. It’s not meant to be digested, and it’s not really tested for thorough exposure with inner tissues like the mouth.

      • aletha

        my mum did this often. lemon dawn was her favourite. to this day i physically can’t stand the taste or scent of lemons, but can still curse like a sailor.

      • KnBa

        The traditional, effective, response to that sort of treatment is to just not bother helping parents in their old age. Sure, doing that in response to it happening once is likely excessive, but past a certain point the whole concept of “familial duty” has been discarded by the parent.

      • The_L1985

        I was never given the soap-in-the-mouth treatment, and it wouldn’t have worked at any rate. (Soap tastes pretty nasty, but to me at the time, so did a lot of the vegetable dishes that my mom tried to get me to eat.)

        What I did learn, soap-free, was that there is a time and a place for strong language, and that it can be hurtful and offensive to most people. I do not use strong language at work or in the presence of children or older adults.

      • Christine

        From what Sally said, the mother wasn’t even just laying down the law and saying “no, you can’t do that.” She was being very conscientious about respecting his right to make choices, and so she didn’t want to set the limit, let alone try to enforce it.

      • Sally

        Well, I think the bigger issue is the underlying lack of boundaries leading up to this in such a young child. But at the point where it’s happening and you’ve already tried reasoning, I think the next things to try would be:

        “I will not discuss this if you call me names. Come see me when you’re ready to speak respectfully.” Then leave the room and busy yourself. If he yells something terrible on your way out, ignore it and do not react until he comes to you after he’s calmed down and is speaking respectfully. He will learn that every time he calls you a name, he looses contact with you.

        If he’s just mad and he calls you that name but it’s not in the context of trying to get his way (in other words, your leaving the room isn’t a logical consequence with any weight), so he’s calling you a bitch as a “punishment” to you, then I think he needs to have a consequence. If friends are over,

        “Your friends are going to have to go home now.” Send the friends home, even if you have to call parents to come pick them up. Later when things are calm (or beforehand if you can anticipate this), tell him, “It’s unacceptable for you to call me names, and if you do it in front of your friends, they’ll have to leave and come back another time when you think you can resist calling me names.”

        If there aren’t any friends there, then I think you need another consequence, but making it “logical” becomes a little more contrived (but no less needed!). So then you’re in territory where you have to find a more generic (but real to him) currency. The currency when he was trying to persuade you was your presence. The currency when the friends were over was his desire to have friends over. If neither of those are current currencies, then I’m afraid you’re down to taking something away as a consequence. For this boy (and many kids), that would be, say, video games for the rest of the day. What if he calls you a bitch for taking that away? Take it away for 2 days? NO!. It’s all one incident. Ignore the repeat offenses that are all part of that scene. If he says it again as you walk out of the room, ignore it. Don’t get into a power battle (“That’s two days… now that’s three … wanna go for four?” Don’t do that.)

        If he won’t accept any consequences (follows you around the house calling you bitch even after you’ve left the room, goes right over to a friend’s house whom you’ve just sent home, plays video games anyway), then you are getting into oppositional defiance disorder and that’s a whole other conversation about mental health. But most kids will accept the consequences (even if not gracefully).

        Now, I realize someone could argue that finding the child’s currency is manipulative. But I think that’s a misuse of the word. I think being manipulative is acting like you’re doing one thing when you’re really doing another. Shaping behavior isn’t the same thing. In all my examples above, the parent is very clear about what she’s trying to do. The first two examples were logical, and the third was contrived, but still honest in terms of the real goal. We as parents have to help shape our kids’ behavior, some kids more than others. Sometimes it can be done with Parenting 101, sometimes it takes Parenting 501.

      • Sally

        I should probably have mentioned that this is all assuming the child and parent have already discussed (maybe even role played) appropriate ways for him to express or otherwise deal with his frustration.

    • John Small Berries

      “Children do seek the security of limits.”

      don’t remember doing anything but chafing at limits when I was a child.
      I thought my parents were unfair and tyrannical – though with the
      benefit of hindsight and the ability to compare against other parents I
      have known since then, they really weren’t. But while I didn’t
      appreciate it at the time, they did teach me that I couldn’t expect
      everything I wanted to be handed to me on a golden platter; I needed to
      work for the things I wanted, and I just had to learn to accept that
      there were some things I couldn’t have or do – and that there were
      real-world consequences for refusing to do things I was expected to do.

      now that I am of an age to have watched friends’ children grow up into
      adulthood, it’s plain to me that the children upon whom no limits were
      ever set, and whose every wishes were granted by their parents, have
      almost invariably turned into selfish, unpleasant individuals who act as
      though the world owes them everything, and who fly off the handle when
      they are denied instant gratification of something they want.

      • Cristi

        I’m sure my kids chafe at their limits right now too. But I also think that they would keep pushing farther until they found that limit. That’s what I try to remind myself of as they push me and get upset when I say no to something; even if they’re upset today, I hope long-term they see the benefits and understand that I’ve had their best interests in mind – the interest of trying to help them learn to set their own limits. Because let’s face it, I don’t like having to set a limit and have them get upset with me anymore than they like the limit set.

    • Amethyst Marie

      “But when she talked about it to me, she described it in language that made it sound like they were just two equals, one of whom was calling the other a bitch, which she didn’t like.”

      I would not let an equal call me a name I didn’t like. I would not let an authority figure call me a name I didn’t like. If another adult called me a name I didn’t like, I’d say “Don’t do that” and expect them to listen. If they didn’t, I’d disassociate myself from them as much as possible or use whatever means available to me to get them to stop (i.e. filing a complaint against a coworker or employee). Letting someone call you names is not treating them like an equal. It’s allowing them to treat you like an inferior.

      • minuteye

        I think that might be one of the factors that complicates parent-child relationships. If a friend were to insult me like that, they wouldn’t be my friend anymore; if my brother were to do it, he would still be my brother, but I would choose not to socialize with him… but a child that I was caring for? In a relationship where one or both parties can’t extract themselves from the relationship as a way of enforcing boundaries and respect (not just parent-child, but student-teacher, employer-employee etc.) the rules have to be different. It definitely complicates matters, to my mind.

      • Sally

        Totally agree! I think this was a turning point for her (although it took a few years). I think she realized if she didn’t step up, she was going to get trampled under. And that wouldn’t be good for her or her son.

  • EllieMurasaki

    People can’t change their skin tone. People can’t change their gender*. People’s age is constantly changing, and barring catastrophe, someone who is disadvantaged due to being a child will lose those disadvantages on gaining adulthood.

    That’s relevant.

    I don’t know whether it’s true that children are an oppressed class; you make a compelling argument that they are. But unlike every other oppressed class I can think of, bar only elderly people, there is a 100% guaranteed way to get out of the oppressed class: wait.

    * Trans people who transition change their legal gender, which isn’t the same thing. Genderfluid people can’t change that their gender changes, which also isn’t the same thing. Both categories are solidly in the oppressed class, where cisgender people are the oppressors.

  • Sally

    I also think we have to define manipulative. I would say my teen daughter isn’t manipulative at all. She does reason with me, but I don’t consider that manipulative. However, we know another girl around the same age whom I’d describe as very manipulative. What’s the difference? She’s kinda sneaky, she seems to make several chess moves to get her way, and you think she’s asking for one thing, but she’s really trying to get something else you don’t see coming. It’s amazing. But I’ve had it explained to me by my kids this way. Her own mother is like a child and is either calm or screaming. So this girl has to be manipulative just to manage her mother. So she uses the same tactics on me. She recently told one of my kids, “I don’t like some of your moms rules, but at least she has consistent rules.”
    So I think if we were to say, “Kids are manipulative,” to apply to all ways kids try to get their way good or bad, that’s over applying a negative term. But I tihnk in fact some forms of persuasion are better than others. Why doesn’t my daughter manipulate me but this other girl we know tries to? I think my daughter doesn’t manipulate me because like I said in another post, I say “yes” most of the time. So when I say “no” it’s rare. She doesn’t get her way all the time, but she doesn’t feel powerless. Also, when I say no, she sometimes tries to (what I would call) problem-solve with me. To me, problem-solving is up front, manipulating is sneaky (whether it’s done to your face or behind your back). It’s some form of trying to outsmart you without you knowing it- or using inappropriate pressure to change your mind. To me, problem -solving is changing your thoughts, but by bringing you along with their thinking in a respectful manner.
    An example of manipulation is the girl will invite someone to her house without asking her parents (we live far enough away, I have to drive my kids there). Then when the kid shows up, it’s much harder for the parent to turn them away. My own kids don’t put up with this and insist she get her parents’ permission before having me drive them. They actually handled that on their own. They could see the manipulation there and didn’t want to put me or themselves in the awkward position of showing up without the parents expecting us. To me, what the girl tried to do is manipulative of her parenst. I don’t think treating children as children at developmentally appropriate ages is teaching them to do that kind of thing.

    • Rosa

      as far as I can tell, the manipulation attempts are pretty much what kids learn when other options (like logical argument, or sincere attempt at expressing desire) never work. In the same way, a big mismatch between misbehavior and consequences, with really harsh punishments for minor infractions, mostly seems to lead to lies, not good behavior.

      But it’s all a matter of degree. Just about anyone will resort to manipulation if they really really want something and don’t have the power to get it another way – even in an office full of reasonable adults, if there’s some top-down change people feel very strongly about, they’ll work around it in various ways.

  • lana hobbs

    this is a tough question… I do think children should have rights, but as far as laws and legislation, i really don’t know. So our kids have a lot more right to their thoughts and bodies than i did growing up, but that’s because of how my husband and I parent. We could be controlling, strict, and even verbally abusive and no one could do anything about it… Especially the kids. I feel bad for kids who were treated like i was, but feel powerless to help them except to treat all children as people myself and hope it catches on.

  • victoria

    Libby Anne, there actually is a noncoercive parenting movement based largely on the concerns in your last paragraph. Taking Children Seriously is probably a good place to start if you’re interested in seeing some of the writing on that subject, though they haven’t updated recently. The “What Should I Read First?” article has links to a lot of the background info. Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting is another good read.

    (I personally wouldn’t describe my parenting style as falling solidly in that category. I do make some decisions and rules for my child without her input, and we don’t come to consensus on every issue. But I’d say that if you look at it as a continuum with 100% authoritarian on one end and 100% noncoercive on the other I fall closer to the noncoercive side.)

    • ArachneS

      That site seems to be REALLY against having any proof or portfolios of their child’s homechooling education.

      ” Under pressure, they may slide into a ‘homeschooling’ mentality that distorts and damages their children’s education.

      For instance, they may keep diaries of educational activities or portfolios of their children’s work. This may sound innocuous, but in making themselves continually aware of their children’s education as education, parents are likely to convey this to the children who are then likely to start thinking about their ‘education’ at the expense of their own interests.”

      Its like they are trying to make an argument that portfolios of children’s work is harmful to the children so that it doesn’t need to be required of homeschooled children. I’m a bit wary of that.

      • victoria

        Oh, I was not trying to make the argument that I think they’re right about everything! Just that they’re people who have looked at the dilemma at the end of the article and decided the right answer is to always be noncoercive, so here’s what that could look like in practice.

      • Rilian Sharp

        They could avoid that problem by keeping a diary of ALL activities, rather than just ones they view as “educational”.

  • Space Blizzard

    The question that the blog post is named for is actually something I’ve thought of often, but it’s a difficult view to really express without people jumping down your throat. I remember once I made a thread in a forum asking what children’s rights were; many people reacted with intense hostility, as though I had been asking about rights for convicted serial killers.

    I think a lot of adults tend to view children quite derisively once they themselves grow out of that period of their lives, almost as if they view still being a child as some sort of personal failing that justifies the power imbalance between kids and adults. I know that makes no sense, and I’m not saying the attitude is consciously held, but it really feels that way to me sometimes.

    • deepasducks

      I have also noticed how hostile some adults get when this topic comes up. I have recently read the idea (maybe here) that there is a backlash against children’s improved standing similar to the way there is a backlash against the increased rights of women and minorities (however incomplete or stalled that progress is). I think it’s a useful concept and I see a lot of similarities. People talk as though kids are getting away with something because they have legal rights. How often do you hear people today claim that, “Parents just aren’t allowed to parent these days– if they do anything the kids don’t like, the kids can just pick up the phone and have CPS come and arrest their parents.” This is ludicrously false, and in so many ways the opposite is true, and the people saying it would most likely say in the same breath that they are vehemently opposed to child abuse.

      I read a version of unpacking the invisible knapsack about adult privilege (something similar to ), and so many of the commenters leaped to the conclusion that the author was suggesting that 4-year-olds should get their own apartments or something, when all he/she was really trying to do was to point out that children have almost no control over their lives, and what they do have is whatever their parents and other adults choose to allow them, so it can be taken away at any time. It doesn’t mean you neglect your children or pretend they are at the same cognitive/physical stage as you, it just means you consider their feelings and perspectives as people.

  • Christine

    I agree that children are people, and have rights including (some) right to self-determination. But I think that there is one huge difference (especially with younger children) between parents being in charge of children and men being in charge of women. Children are actually less able to take care of themselves. One of the themes that appears here again and again is men trying to claim that patriarchy or complementarianism is justified because women and men are fundamentally different. We know that’s BS in that case, but adults and children ARE actually different.

    You have the ability (and a responsibility to do so) to consider things from Sally’s point of view. She is significantly less able to do so. Even if she has developed cognitively to the point where she can put herself in someone else’s shoes, she doesn’t have all the knowledge you do. So she might realise that going to the park for a long time is tiring to you, and balance it against her having fun. But she doesn’t realise the other part, all the work that you have to do at home and can’t do when you’re at the park.

    The debate gets really interesting when talking about teenagers – I read a really good National Geographic piece talking about how the teenage brain works. It turns out that they do tend to fully understand the consequences, but they value the (potential) rewards of an action higher than adults do. So it’s not that they don’t realise that they could break their neck, or what the consequences of that are. It’s that they see looking cool as being worth a lot more than adults do.

    • Machintelligence

      Ready, fire, aim!

      • Monimonika

        Any particular meaning to the ordering of the words?
        *has just spent a whole minute trying to figure out how aiming last would work*

      • Christine

        That’s the point. It wouldn’t work. It’s a comment on kids being excessively impulsive, and not thinking things through as much as they think they are.

      • wmdkitty

        Some of us never grow out of it, thanks to ADHD…

      • The_L1985

        So true. It’s been incredibly hard for me to at least simulate aiming…

  • Gillianren

    Oddly, one of the parenting arguments my boyfriend and I have had in advance is the argument about haircuts. He announced on no uncertain terms that he wasn’t going to worry about the kid’s hair, because we’re just going to give him a buzz cut and that’s the end of it. And I kind of lost it, because to me, control over your own haircut is one of the few real places a kid has any control at all. I wanted long hair when I was little, and my mother made me keep it short. (She said, probably correctly, that I wouldn’t take care of it.) As soon as she let me, I started growing it out, and it hasn’t been short since. I think mohawks on children look dumb, but other than that, if the kid wants long hair, he can have long hair. Or short hair. Or any length in between.

    I’ll be making a lot of decisions for him, and that doesn’t really bother me. I have experience that he doesn’t, and I’m capable of care that he isn’t. Eventually, he will get older and take on more rights as he has more responsibilities, but when he’s little, my responsibilities toward him mean that I have certain rights in controlling his actions. And, yes, I do also agree that I should lose those rights if I abdicate the responsibilities. That includes that I am not the one who decides if he gets modern medical care. That’s left to people with medical training. Among other things, he will get vaccines unless there’s a medical reason not to, like an already weakened immune system.

    • Matilda

      What if the kids hair is difficult to take care of? What if the hair is hard to comb after washing, and the child cries and throws tantrums every time you have to comb her? The child may cry, plead and promise that she will behave, and that she does not care that it hurts after showering and that she will never create a problem over it again. But is up to you to decide if it is appropriate for the kid to keep this long hair she (or he) cannot not take care of by itself. Small child do not have the same ability of an adult for choosing those things. I think the balance is trying to give up power with the kid getting older and more mature. But taking decisions for the children is not, imo, akin to slavery.

      • sylvia_rachel

        My daughter and I had this discussion. She had long hair for many years (as in, down-to-her-behind long), and the deal we made was that she got to keep her long hair only if she was reasonably cooperative about getting it brushed (griping was OK; running away and hiding, snatching the hairbrush, or kicking and screaming was not) and let me trim off the split ends periodically. It worked OK, because for whatever reason she was very invested in having really long hair. Then about a year ago (she was almost 10) she suddenly wanted to get her hair cut, so — once we were sure she really did want that — we went and did it. Now she has kind of shoulder-length hair, and I only have to brush it for her sometimes.

        I wouldn’t let my kid make decisions like “Is it important to learn to read?” or “Should I wear a helmet when I ride my bike to school?” without adult input. Some things do require an adult veto. I don’t think hairstyle is necessarily one of them. Really, even if you give yourself a terrible haircut with kitchen scissors (BDTD) or dye your hair pink, it’s only hair — it’ll grow out.

      • The_L1985

        So much this. I was always so disappointed when my parents made my hair decisions for me. They wouldn’t let me experiment with the typical teen fad of dying it weird colors–all dyes had to wash out in 1 wash, because they couldn’t have a child with “weird hair” in the pew with them on Sunday.

      • sylvia_rachel

        See, I was Super Boring Kid in that department — I never even tried Flirt, the temporary hair colour of choice in my youth, because … I don’t know why, really. Why on earth not? Now I have a secret hankering to, like, get purple streaks or something, and I suspect this has something to do with not having experienced that urge when I was in high school.

      • Jayn

        I think this example gets into interesting territory because the consequences of a child’s decisions aren’t necessarily something the child alone has to deal with. Alongside the question of ‘what decisions can my child be allowed to make’ is also the issue of ‘how much impact can I let them have on me/the rest of the family’. In Libby’s example, Sally’s decision to keep playing didn’t just affect whether she got to stay at the park, but also if Libby got to go home and rest/take care of the house/etc, and where Bobby would have to sleep. In some circumstances staying longer would be fine, in others the impact it would have on the other members of the household would outweigh Sally’s desire to play.

      • Gillianren

        I never said it was. However, I think a child old enough to express an opinion about a haircut is a child old enough to be reasoned with.

      • ArachneS

        I have a 6 year old girl that has made decisions about her own hair since she was old enough to have an opinion about it, so like around age 4. Before that she didn’t care(didn’t even have long enough hair to cut for most of the time up to that age). I have short hair, so up until this year, she wanted to have hair like me, and had it cut short when ever I did. Only 3 or 4 months ago she decided she wanted to grow it out and she hasn’t shown to be unreasonable whenever I say, hey we’re starting gymnastics, I’ll put a pony tail in it. The only way it really puts me out is when she wants to have a braid put in it, which I don’t really consider to be that big of a deal.

        My parents wouldn’t let us cut our hair short, and all of us girls constantly wanted to cut it. Boys couldn’t grow it out. Guess who had long hair and who had short when they got the chance?

        The arguement about choosing kids haircuts based on “what is easy” usually falls apart when most parents won’t cut their girls hair, but force short haircuts on the boys.

      • Rosa

        I have a friend with a child with a tender scalp, who wants to have long hair. They let it grow long, only brush the outsides with a soft brush (no combing, no knot untangling), and cut out any big mats or tangles that develop.

        Not being willing to have the hair washed would be a harder issue, but since I got a short haircut due to “unreasonable” crying at the pain of combing when I was young, i was really surprised to find they’d found a no-combing compromise. Kid’s hair looks nice, too.

      • wmdkitty

        Dreadlocks can be done in an orderly, organised manner, as well, but do require a lot of work to start (including combing, back-combing, and a lot of braiding/twisting).

    • luckyducky

      Why are mohawks out? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like them either but my 6yo is currently sporting a fairly modest one (length difference is not great) because he’s been asking for one for a while and he doesn’t have a dress code to comply with during the summer. The modest one was in part because there wasn’t a lot of length to deal with in the first place but also so we could undo it without a lot of trouble (sides are not too short to match) should the need or desire arise. He was very happy to FINALLY get it as modest as it is and really invested in spiking it up for the first week or so. But now the novelty has worn off and I don’t think he’ll be too resistant to the idea of going back to a more conventional haircut.

      I let my now-8yo decide as soon as she expressed an opinion (5yo, kg, she was the only one with short-ish hair). She wanted it long and grew it out to below-the-shoulders and was occasionally reminded she could have it whatever length she wanted to as long as it was well-cared for (if hair brushing and keeping it clean were too conflict-ridden, we’d cut it). She decided to cut it to a chin-length bob based on a poll of her female classmates (I think they were agreeing she should cut it as she wanted rather than pressuring her to cut it) and despite my advice to keep it long enough for a pony tail. The stylist was very uncomfortable cutting 8″ off thick, wavy hair based on my 8yo’s direction even though I repeatedly assured her “her hair, her choice.”

      • sylvia_rachel

        The stylist who cut 13″ off my DD’s hair was also pretty tentative. But then, whenever I get a drastic haircut, the hairdresser asks me if I’m really, really sure, and I have to assure her/him that I’ve had very short hair before and I really am totally cool with it. I suspect one really bad customer reaction is enough to make you nervous :/

      • Gillianren

        In part, it’s because I don’t think it’s a proper mohawk unless it’s both spiked and dyed, and I’m opposed to dying hair in a small child. (When you’re in high school, no big deal; when you’re in junior high, we’ll talk. But elementary school? No.) And I also believe it isn’t a proper mohawk unless the sides are completely shaved, which, yes, I’ve seen in small children. A mohawk is a lot of work, and I frankly don’t like them in adults, either. I must confess I’m also a little bewildered about how they came back and were suddenly a Thing for small children.

      • Sophie

        My dad is in his fifties and he’s been rocking a mohawk on and off for a decade now. The first time he did it for a party and bleached it white, but since then he’s just cut one it when he’s felt like it. Last year he was in a motorbike vs car rta and his legs got smashed into pieces as well as his left arm. The first thing he did once he was off the ICU was ask for the hospital hairdresser to come and shave his mohawk back in!

        To be honest I’m a bit leary of a lot of shaved styles on kids, but I don’t see the harm in a baby mohawk for the school holidays.

      • luckyducky

        Of all the things my 6yo wants to try out as far as his appearance, a baby mohawk (even if it is violates mohawk “standards” by not being shaved on the sides or dyed) is relatively benign… it was definitely a compromise because he did want to dye it red and I said no dye until he was 18 (yeah, we’ll see) because I don’t like the idea of exposing my child to the chemicals.

        Getting him to relinquish his favorite shirt and shorts for laundering is a constant battle and this morning we went head-to-head over washing the marker off of his face. It started as a Harry Potter scar 2 days ago and was added to so that he ended up looking like those “stupid criminal” mug shots where they colored all over their faces with sharpie as their “disguise”… yes, he expected to be allowed to go to summer school like that. Letting him have his way on the hair was totally worth it.

      • Gillianren

        Yeah, fair enough. Though I will point out, you know, there were chemicals in that marker. You’ve been exposing your child to chemicals since he was born; your decision is which ones. I agree that exposing a young child to the chemicals in hair dye is not the best idea, but they’re relatively benign. Of course, I grew up in LA County. There was worse stuff in our air.

    • Sally

      Hey, I think it’s great that you and your boyfriend are talking about this stuff now. You’ll probably learn and modify as you go, but kudos to you both for not assuming you’re automatically like-minded about parenting just because you are in other ways.

      • Gillianren

        Given the discussions we’ve had about money over the years, we know there are places where we disagree. The goal now is to figure out where they are before they become a problem. We know we agree about schooling, vaccinations, sports, and allowances. He says he has no problem with me raising kids in my faith because “we don’t have a book to take literally.” He agrees that a year of swimming lessons is an acceptable requirement, and he’s not going to complain about a required year of a musical instrument, even though he doesn’t see the necessity the way I do. And we’re definitely agreed that the kid[s] will learn to cook, do housework, and sew, and we agreed on that before we knew we were having a boy, and it hasn’t changed.

  • J-Rex

    I would describe children as a natural underclass. They certainly are oppressed, but they’d still be an underclass if they weren’t. They have less power because they have less ability to handle the power.
    Even with my strict upbringing, there were things that my parents were strangely lenient on. I remember feeling sorry for my friends who could only have three pieces of Halloween candy per day. I was allowed to eat it whenever I wanted! It was my candy! …and I ended up with six cavities and a terrible fear of dentists.
    Kids don’t have the same decision-making capabilities that adults do. They don’t understand that things that feel great in the moment don’t always work out well in the future. If a kid could have ice cream for dinner every day, they’d do it and they would have no way of understanding the effects of it until years later.

    In the instance with the park, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making the final decision. You have more responsibilities than she does and you need your energy to do them. Even with that aside, imagine two equal friends going out somewhere. They’ve been there for a while and one of them wants to leave and one wants to stay. How do you decide? Obviously you can reason with each other, which is what you and Sally were doing, but in the end, two people might disagree and one will get their way. You feel guilty for getting your way when Sally doesn’t, but why should she get her way and you not get yours? And would her life really be better if she made all the decisions?

  • Semidaunted

    I’ve always thought that the parenting strategy has to end up being what works for the child as an individual. A shy, quiet kid and a boisterous, boundary pushing kid have different needs, what may be too much for one is what the other needs to stay away from dangerous things. That is what makes this conversation so difficult. I am not a parent yet, but growing up I had a parent who never respected my boundaries, and to have any privacy in life, (not even in my diary!) I ended up being a sneaky teen. I had one ‘readable’ diary in plain sight on the shelf and a real one hidden in a box behind other books on the shelf. I had a two friends who would cover for me about tame sleepovers so I could go to movie nights and parties. I never talked about my first boyfriend for months. I never really did any risky behavior, drugs, etc, I just wanted to do normal kid things, but my folks thought that four 17 year olds with drivers licenses couldn’t be trusted to see a 4 oclock movie without an adult. Of course sometimes they caught me, became even more restrictive, and it just became a negative feedback loop.
    I think at a bare minimum kids should have their own journals you don’t look at, age allowed privacy in the bathroom, should have some free time to themselves every day if possible, and should be allowed to make basic choices about their bodies including not being made to hug or kiss anyone they don’t want too. Clothes should be largely up to them too, as long as everything is covered and reasonably appropriate. I can’t think of that many special events that would be ruined if the child was not in full formal ware and compromises were made.
    As they get older they get to make more and more of their own personal boundaries with responsible behavior. Etc etc plus/minus life’s complications.
    It must be so hard to balance their own personhood with the family’s needs and parenting. I admire all the parents who work hard and sacrifice for their kids as best they can.

    • Machintelligence

      A bit of “good advice” about diaries (good advice costs nothing and is worth every penny): Only write in a diary what you would not care if everybody read. Hiding a diary from parents is about as effective as hiding a gun from children, and we all know how well that works. Keeping a diary may be its own reward, but it can also be its own punishment. If you ever have the misfortune to be charged with a crime, the police cannot force you to testify against yourself, but diaries (if they find one) are fair game for whatever interpretation they choose to read into them.

      • Semidaunted

        It seems a bit silly to compare hiding guns with hiding journals, but hyperbole has it’s day.

        Well, I am no longer a teenager and don’t worry about my mother going through my journal. To my knowledge she never found my second one, and she was usually very open about telling me what she had done/read. In her mind I was hers and she had bought me everything I owned so she felt that she had every right to look at anything she wanted. I can understand her logic but it did a lot of harm to our relationship, which is strained even now. The worst my journal ever actually held was some gawdawful poetry about animals. Hope THAT never sees the light of day… I guess I could have been prosecuted for crimes against literature. I never imagined that a journal would ever be a legally protected document, but I don’t think it is unreasonable for older kids to have one or two private things that you respect as a general rule.
        Regardless, I think journals are often good, safe spaces to work through things going on in your head that you can’t voice aloud. Most respectful adults would not violate one-another’s privacy, especially if it isn’t left lying around in plain sight. The police issue may not be relevant to everyone’s life, but point taken.

      • Ismenia

        I wrote mine in code. It also meant that I could take it about with me without fear of losing it and having others read it. Obviously, it would be possible to decode but I could rely on no-one in my family having the ability and inclination to do that. Plus I made it harder by having 35 letters, alternative ways of writing vowels and symbols which altered the meaning.

  • Rachel Heston-Davis

    Libby Anne, this is an awesome post. I relate with everything you’ve said.

    I think back to my own childhood. I had parents who were very, very fair and didn’t smugly wield authoritarian power. I remember occasionally being frustrated when I didn’t get my way, but honestly….my parents made such an effort to include my needs in the family (or to explain to me when THEY had important needs) that I very seldom felt powerless, frustrated, or like I had to manipulate them. I think the measures you’ve taken to include Sally’s needs into the family are a great starting point, and may actually go further to rectify the power imbalance than you realize.

    Part of the problem is that kids have to spend childhood learning uncomfortable limits–uncomfortable limits that they hopefully understand and take for granted as adults. (Don’t run in the street, don’t live on ice cream and chips, etc.) The discomfort of learning those things is always going to put a natural strain between the kid and the person helping them learn the limits (in most cases, the parents). so to some extent, that discomfort can never be completely eradicated.

    But I get that you’re not advocating for the eradication of all discomfort, just for a reevaluation of whether parental power is always fair and right and okay. And I think that’s an important conversation to have, so thanks for starting it!

  • Carol Lynn

    I think sometimes you have to be the parent and set some rules. I figured my job was to help my kids become independent adults able to make their own responsible decisions. It seems to have worked. I was never a perfect parent, and my kids were not perfect either, but setting few, consistent rules seems to have worked and my kids turned into awesome adults. And there’s the difference between treating children as slaves who need every bit of their lives regulated forever and treating them as children we want to grow up into fully adult humans. If I had never modeled how to make responsible decisions, or never allowed them to make their own decisions on an increasing scale of responsibility, even if I thought what they chose was sub-optimal, how would they ever learn? Did I let my six-year olds set their own bedtimes? No. Did I let them do it when they were 16? Of course! And they … well, rarely let me down.

    I found that it helped with my kids to set age-appropriate limits in advance of an activity so they knew what to expect. “Yes. You can play outside but you have to be home by the time the street lights go on.” or “Yes. You can play at the park until I say you have 10 more minutes, then we will have to leave.” (and I always counted it down… Play time is over. We are leaving in 10 minutes… we are leaving in 5 minutes… we are leaving in 2 minutes… we are leaving in 1 minute… time to go! – - But mooooommmmm! – - No. Remember? You had the extra ten minutes I promised you. Now it is time to go.) or “In our house, we do not call people names. I will not call you derogatory names. You will not call me derogatory names. You will not call each other derogatory names.” (my kids had a great vocabulary) or “It’s your allowance. You may choose and hold the toy you like, but it is not yours until it is paid for, so you may not open the package until you go through the check out.” or whatever the issue was.

    I found that if I was consistent and not capricious, my kids came to expect it and trust me that I meant what I said, and didn’t fight ‘the rules’ (too much) until it was clearly time for them to change. Some rules are sacrosanct (the name calling in my house, for example or the it’s not yours until it’s paid for rules) and some obviously were renegotiated as they grew up and could accept more responsibility for themselves.

  • Ahab

    You’re correct in stating that parents/caregivers have all the power in the parent-child relationship. In the case of good parents, this is not necessarily bad, but in the case of unfit parents, it’s outright oppression. Imagine being a small child completely at the mercy of a parent with alcoholism, drug addiction, anger issues, severe mental illness, unhealthy religious beliefs, or no moral compass.

  • Cristi

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, so I don’t know that this has already been addressed. I think one difference for me between children and any other adult group is that I am actively trying to get my kids to the point where they can make the decisions themselves. As they show me they can handle putting things away, I unlock the craft cabinet so they can work on stuff when they want to. As they pick up their own toys, I stop going through their room and removing the toys they don’t play with (but still use for clutter). As they show me they can cut fruit with a sharp knife, I let them take care of their own snacks. These are all things that I don’t want to spend time on (and that they don’t like me doing and/or throw fits about), but if we talk about it and I’ve explained my reasons and they still can’t do this, I can’t give them that power over their environment. I would say the same things about school or other necessities. I would love to not have to “force” my child to go even when they don’t want to, but they don’t currently have that long-term outlook to understand that it will affect them for the rest of their lives if they start skipping out. I would hope I’m giving my kids this foundation now and by the time their teenagers, they’ll have the bulk of this control themselves. Right now, any control I give them that they can’t handle, directly affects me and my workload. So I give them what I can handle having to deal with later and give them consequences for the things that they chose not to handle that they are capable of. One day, the things that they chose not to handle will leave the workload on them and then all the decisions will truly be theirs.

    But I see the dilemma here. Are we deciding to give people rights based on their contribution to society? Can we really quantify that anyway? What tips the scales one way or the other for kids vs. adults of when the decisions are up to them? I don’t think it’s something we can truly draw a hard line about. I can’t even say for sure that I’m raising my kids the “right” way, so how could I really say what someone else should be doing. And what part of “the right way” means your kids will turn out able to make good decisions or bad decisions? I have my fingers crossed for my kids that they can accept I’m doing the best I know how for them and hope they can forgive me for the times I mess up. It’s a lot of new territory for me; trying to parent in a non-punitive way. And I hope I get enough of it right that my kids know how to find the answers they need when they grow up instead of simply floundering for years when things don’t make sense like I did.

  • John Kruger

    I am a little surprised that nobody has brought up the difference in responsibility that exists in the child/parent relationship. It is very true that practically all decisions a child wants to make are at the pleasure of the parent, but the parent is also the one who carries all the responsibility for what ends up happening. At the far end of the spectrum, children are completely incapable of informed consent, or even expressing informed consent. The infant must stay where I put her because she cannot move herself, not because she has no rights. Likewise, small children cannot really create a schedule that meets the needs of the entire family, so their input is severely limited. Autonomy comes with responsibility, and it would be very cruel to foist responsibility on a child that was incapable of understanding consequences.

    All the lines are pretty blurry when it comes to determining capability to take responsibility for all manner of freedoms, and often we can only figure out if our determination was correct after the fact. Still, a parent is (hopefully) one of the most involved people in a child’s life, and presumably is held responsible for teaching and implementing responsibility over the course of a young person’s development.

    One of the nastiest aspects of slavery is that the slave owners were not really responsible for the well-being of their slaves, and were frequently well within their rights to work or beat them to death. I would not really call the elderly or anyone who needs a lot of help with day to day living an oppressed class on that criterion alone, there are just certain realities that limit their ability to be responsible for certain things that infringe upon the freedom they can be entrusted with. Oppression comes in when freedom and responsibility are deprived without any practical or reasonable justification (i.e wrong gender, skin color, sexual orientation, ect.).

  • NeaDods

    unlike women or African Americans, children do eventually grow up and have adult rights and privileges.

    … What?

    Libby Anne, there have got to be words missing here. Please tell me there are words missing here!

    • Jayn

      I think the point is that children stop being children eventually, while women (usually) don’t stop being female and African Americans don’t stop having dark skin–they won’t become part of the unoppressed class simply by virtue of the passage of time. Children will.

      • victoria

        That’s how I read the passage too, Jayn.

        Within the bioethics literature, there’s broad acceptance for considering people to be unusually vulnerable based on characteristics that are subject to change. (Vulnerable in this context meaning subject to undue coercion and having less ability to freely consent to a medical procedure or to being a research participant.)

        Children are one group that fall into that category; so do prisoners, students (in the context of research being done in educational settings), people who are terminally and/or severely ill, people who are illiterate, and people who are impoverished.

      • Libby Anne

        Yes, that’s what I was saying. I had no idea it would be so confusing! I went back and edited it.

    • sylvia_rachel

      I think it’s these words:

      unlike women [in Christian Patriarchy] or African Americans [in the antebellum South], children …

      • NeaDods

        I certainly hope so!

      • Machintelligence

        I almost complemented Libby Ann earlier for her biting use of sarcasm in this sentence. Without the use of emoticons or */sarcasm* tags words on the printed page are subject to serious misinterpretation. It has happened to me on more than one occasion.

      • Rilian Sharp


      • Machintelligence

        In most cases, sarcasm is expressed by saying something counterfactual for the purpose of ridicule. Nice hat = ugly hat, if spoken sarcastically. She was ridiculing the idea that women and African Americans are childlike, but it could have been, and apparently was, taken at face value.

      • wmdkitty

        …I can’t believe you just had to explain sarcasm.

      • NeaDods

        Sarcasm is a debate style I’m fond of. The problem here was that I didn’t see anything in the surrounding text that flagged that one line as sarcastic when the rest seemed pretty straightforward.

        Especially, unfortunately, as I have dealt with people who would consider that line straight-up God’s Own Truth, no interpretation or sarcasm needed. :(

  • luckyducky

    I have absolutely no problem with the imbalance of power though substantial problem the abuse of such power (including not admitting fault and mistakes). Reason #1: safety.

    Children, even teens are cognitively incapable of accurately discerning consequences and doing an accurate risk assessment. I just spent the weekend with a bunch of 8-11yos working hard at establishing “first do what I say and then we can discuss” because we are working up to activities where in order to ensure safety, they’ll have to follow instructions. I have to be able to trust that they’ll do that before we start so a weekend of relatively risk-free activities with a lot of instruction following was in order — probably more than one because while my own children know my “no messing around voice” vs. my “open to discussion” voice, the rest don’t and I got a lot of “but I don’t want to” or “why do I have to?”

    Another reason is that children are far more limited in their ability to think outside themselves. The park example is apropos: 3hrs is a long time to spend at the park and a mature adult would probably appreciate that prolonging the excursion would be burdensome on a companion even if they would like to and opt to end it rather than inconvenience their companion. A child, on the other hand, does not appreciate that an adult does not get the same enjoyment out of 3hrs at the park, has things to do at home, may be tired because they don’t have nap time, etc. and thus does not even consider that maybe lengthening a park stay may be really unpleasant for the accompanying adult. That sort of empathy needs to be taught both ways — have empathy shown to them and provide limits with the explanation that this is to be polite, etc., etc.

    Only showing empathy runs of the risk of teaching children they are the center of the universe. Again, I just spent a lot of time with 8-10yo, some of whom are not used to being told no at all because they “need to express themselves” and they “really want to explore, etc.” and it is an uphill battle to get them to understand it is really not cool to hold up the whole group so they can “save” insects at an outdoor facility with an abundant insect population and it is unacceptable to talk while someone giving instruction because other people want to listen. Only setting limits without expressing empathy can beat them down.

    And I am not sure that most of the actions by the child that you listed are what I would call manipulative. To me manipulation involves some degree of being disingenuous. For most of what Libby Anne listed, both parties are fully aware of what the strategy of persuasion is and what the likely outcome is of their deployment. In short efforts to persuade are not necessarily manipulative.

  • Katamaran

    I would say, in answer to your query, that no, children don’t constitute an oppressed class, at least very young children who are still wholly dependent upon their parents for all of their basic needs. Part of the dictionary definition of oppression involves the exercise of unjust authority, and it seems you’d have to specify in what sense parental authority is unjust or overly coercive in most normal circumstances. Even when kids are teenagers, I think the ‘I pay your bills, you obey my rules’ is a pretty valid paradigm; it’s not the obligation of anyone, even a parent, to enable behavior they don’t approve of. Also there’s the simple fact that kids can’t raise themselves; it’s what adults are tasked with. I think the distinction between the other examples you give (patriarchy and white supremacy) is that there is truly nothing natural about those kinds of relationships–Africans were managing just fine before European colonization, and women are capable of managing alone without male support. Unless one is a very hardcore devotee of Shulamith Firestone, one doesn’t think that kids can manage on their own without adult protection. Maybe they can. In certain parts of the third world kids are living on their own on the streets, providing for their own daily needs, as more or less de facto adults.

    Unless the argument is that all the inequalities between children and adults are structural, rather than a product of biological attributes, then I don’t see how they’re analogous to other oppressed classes throughout history. Also, I would say that part of oppression involves the imposition of suffering. I got angry with my parents when I was a child and they didn’t give me what I wanted, but I don’t think that fits even the loosest definition of suffering. My parents denying me things I wanted produced self-control, patience, and the awareness that I wasn’t the center of everyone else’s universe. If the differences between children and adults don’t warrant a somewhat authoritative relationship, there wouldn’t be a reason to have laws in place to ‘protect’ them from doing things adults do–drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, making pornos. A 16-year-old might have a sincere desire to do all those things. He/she might even be emotionally mature enough to do so, but it’s still not something a lot of people would get behind, even though they’re the ones restrained by laws they never had the opportunity to vote for/against.

    All that said, childhood sucks big ones. All the dewy-eyed nostalgia in the world doesn’t change that. It’s a time of going to bed early, sitting through the soporific boredom of school, and being short. I wouldn’t go back to being a kid for all the beer in Deutschland.

  • Jacob Hugart

    You may be interested in the concept of teaching your children how to argue, as expressed in this blog post:

  • Rilian Sharp

    Book recommendation on this topic: Escape from Childhood by John Holt.

  • Rilian Sharp

    A christmas or two ago (gah, they all blend together now), some of my little cousins were allowed to go out in the field as long as an adult went with them, so I went with them. It’s an inherently unfair situation, imposed by their parents (who are my cousins). So I pushed myself past what I was comfortable with, I went further into the giant terrifying weeds and shit because it made my cousins happy, I kept going even though I was tired. But when I truly hit my limits, I told them so. I told them I was sorry that they couldn’t go without me, but I was really uncomfortable/tired (whichever was the case) and they understood and they didn’t whine or keep trying to get their way or anything.

    If I were at the park with my own kid and I wanted to go home, I would just tell them that I wanted to go home. Based on my experience with other kids, I think that if I respect them, they’ll respect me, and agree to go home approximately when I want to. They’ll maybe say “Just a few more minutes” and maybe I’ll say, “We can come back tomorrow.” I’m prepared to be tired sometimes or a lot of the time.

    • Sally

      I think this is an excellent approach. Just be aware that your own kids won’t be on company manners with you the way your little cousins were. So even if you treat your own kids with respect, they may reply with a temper tantrum or some such. But if they do, that’s OK. It’s more important how you react to the temper tantrum than whether or not they had one.

      I think that’s one of the things that affects parents who parent by embarrassement. They’re mortified if their child misbehaves in public and overreact (or give in just to stop the tantrum, whining, or whatever). They overlook the fact that 1) it’s nobody else’s business and 2) any busybody looking on will be more impressed by how well the parent handles it than by how quickly they can stop it by inappropriate means.

      (Sorry, got a bit off my main point there, which was mutual respect is the goal, but don’t let a bumpy road surprise or deter you.)

      • sylvia_rachel

        So true. Parenting geared toward avoiding embarrassment is a really terrible idea, both in the short term and in the long term.

  • Composer 99

    I dare say that a lot of good parenting entails getting children to recognize:

    (1) that they, and everyone they interact with, has a complex of interests which may come to bear on any given situation;

    (2) that sometimes these interests come into conflict (either between different people, or even competing interests for the same person, such as my competing interests right now between having fun by posting overlong comments on the Internet or going to bed because I have to be up early tomorrow);

    (3) idealized “responsible adult” behaviour amounts to working out a way for all parties involved to maximize the fulfilment of their interests (which may sometimes mean conceding one’s own particular interests to a greater or lesser extent).

    So, in the example in the OP: Sally has an interest in staying at the fountain to play (we know from other posts that she has a more-or-less open bedtime, so we can remove her own interest in going to bed from consideration, at least for the purpose of this comment); Bobby, presumably, has an interest in getting (hopefully uninterrupted) sleep somewhere more comfortable than his stroller (*); and Libby Anne has an interest in getting home (whether simply, as written, because she wanted to go home, or for additional reasons not divulged).

    If Sally and Libby Anne were the only people involved in this particular interaction, then viewing only the interests as written (Sally – wants to stay & play longer vs. Libby Anne – wants to go home), I could easily see Libby Anne giving Sally more time to play, since as far as I can see, simply wanting to go home does not automatically outweigh wanting to stay and play at the fountain, simply because the person wanting to go home is an adult.

    However, the inclusion of Bobby, so it seems to me, tips the balance to the ‘go home’ option. IMO his interest in getting in better sleep (assuming that this entails sleeping at home rather than in a stroller), even if he cannot articulate it himself, does outweigh Sally’s interest in staying out (indeed, if would outweigh any interest Libby Anne had in staying out).

    Of course, what makes a big difference is that children aren’t the best at recognizing the nature of competing complexes of interests, or the best at weighing the relative merit of conflicting interests, or the best at conceding when their own interests come up short. (To be fair, adults aren’t either – which is why I’m still writing this overlong comment.)

    So sometimes, hopefully rarely, good parenting will mean enduring a fit every so often when a child doesn’t grok that his or her interests (in staying up late, in staying out playing, in playing in lieu of coming to meals, or what have you) might be outweighed by other considerations.

    (And I ought to mention that good parenting would, of necessity, make it clear to a child that his or her interests are legitimate and valid, and worthy of consideration, even if they end up being overruled.)

    (*) Especially if he will be sleeping for the night – there’s been many the time where my own son has woken up if asleep in his stroller when we pull up to the house or attempt to move him to his crib, and it can be a right pain to get him back down.

  • Elizabeth Lund

    Yes, children are an oppressed class. They do not have the rights of citizens. They can’t vote, they can’t hold jobs, they can’t choose who to live with or whether to live on their own, they can’t choose where to go to school or whether to go to school. Though they do acquire these rights eventually, not having these rights for the first eighteen years of life can certainly affect their adult lives (I’m thinking here in particular of children who are abused and might have chosen to live with another relative or foster family if they had more choice in the matter).

    The argument that “their brains aren’t developed” bothers me. Even if true, we don’t withhold rights from those with cognitive disabilities or mental disabilities that affect their decision making. We don’t withhold rights from older adults with Alzheimer’s.

    I echo the recommendation of John Holt’s Escape from Childhood. While I don’t agree with everything he says, he changed the way I think about children’s rights. He is a homeschooling advocate, but comes at it from the opposite perspective from conservative Christians.

    • Elizabeth Lund

      Medical decisions–as someone mentioned above–are an area in which it makes sense for adults to have some power over children. Even there, though, I don’t think it serves children (or society at large) for adults to have unlimited power–their parents may choose not to treat them (Christian Scientists), may try to get them treatment for conditions they don’t have (Munchausen’s), or may choose not to vaccinate them.

    • mksMary

      “We don’t withhold rights from those with cognitive disabilities or mental disabilities that affect their decision making. We don’t withhold rights from older adults with Alzheimer’s.”
      Yes we do. Older adults with Alzheimer’s are often placed in nursing homes against their will. Just like with children, they may not realize that they are not capable of taking care of themselves, so the state will take away their power to make decisions like where to live and when to go out — often awarding it, incidentally, to their children (who may in turn grant that power to caregivers).
      Elderly and disabled adults frequently aren’t empowered to make decisions about their own medical care either — for exactly the same reasons children are not. They are presumed to be incapable.
      Involuntary commitment is a thing for people suffering mental illness or cognitive disability even if they don’t have family to take responsibility for them and make decisions on their behalf — the state will do so, for their own good (at least nominally.)
      So yes, the brain development and mental abilities of children absolutely are relevant. And we do treat adults who have the mental abilities of children… like children.

      • Elizabeth Lund

        You’re right, I spoke too broadly. However, if I understand how things work correctly, generally some sort of legal process must be followed to override an adult’s rights (someone else must have a power of attorney), unless they are obviously a danger to themselves. (Is that right? I’m honestly not sure.) The state or parents do not have to prove incompetence in the case of a person under 18. And even if a person under 18 can prove *competence* in certain areas, they still can’t achieve the rights of adults except in rare cases (emancipation).

        While brain development is not totally irrelevant (even I don’t think a 4-year-old can make decisions equal to those of an adult), I think the relatively minor differences in brain development between a 15 year old and a 30 year old are a poor reason to deny the 15 year old most of the legal rights of a 30 year old.

        I’m kind of thinking out loud here, trying to put my finger on what exactly bothers me about this…

  • Winifred

    This is a really interesting post — I’m sorry I didn’t read and respond to it sooner. I don’t know if this helps, but I think one of the big things here is intent and outcome. My mother and I have talked about this a lot, because she appears to others to be a very authoritarian parent — which is funny, because I was definitely the freest and most outspoken of my friends growing up. I think it worked like this:

    1) My mother’s view of parenting is that its purpose is to empower children. Notably, she believes that giving them power over situations they don’t understand and can’t control HURTS that goal, and shouldn’t be done. But, my brother and I were always explicitly, verbally made aware that we had power over our own behavior, and could make choices based on the facts on the ground. [I remember when my bro wanted to learn a song that had curse words in it, he was two. The deal with mom was, he could learn it, on the understanding that (i) he wasn't to sing it around adults who weren't our parents or select other few who wouldn't care, and (ii) if he broke the rules, that would make grown-ups unhappy with him, they would want to put him in time out, and mom wouldn't stop them. He did, daycare put him in time-out, mom didn't stop them, he didn't make that choice again.] As we got older, we got more power — especially when we asked for it.

    2) Mom followed the rules too. Going to the park is a good example — mom hated it (she only told me that later), but we love it. The rule was, 2 hrs. at the park. And that was an explicit compromise between our desire to play, and her desire to do other things. And we had to follow the rule, only two hours. But mom had to follow the rule, too, and stay for two whole hours.

    Basically, what I’m getting at, is that by communicating all the limits explicitly, and communicating with us the limits on her own behavior as well as those on ours, mom gave us to tools to use our own agency to the max of our ability, and she gave us increased agency with increased age.

    There’s more to it than this, and I’d totally be open to talking about it, I think it’s very interesting, but that way my first thought. Another thing I remember from my childhood: we were always told “there are no rules but safety rules,” which we understood to mean, you can act/be/think/feel whatever you want, and we will support you in all of this, but when it endangers you or someone else, we will say no, and you have to listen. You can ask why later, we can talk about it later, but all rules are safety rules, and following them isn’t optional.

  • Heather Scholl

    Just came across this and I am new to Libby Anne’s blog. I love it and am completely addicted now, I think. Everyone has their own parenting style but this is a smattering of mine. I think kids needs some limits but also need meaningful choices to make along the path to teen and eventually adulthood. I don’t just mean clothing or hairstyles either. I have a 10 year old girl. I do let her pick out most of her own outfits (within reason) but I also sometimes let her help make a decision about how we spend our time. We will talk over the options for a weekend day and she will give her input. Sometimes, I just let her choose if it makes no difference to her dad and I either way. She has so many times where she is just pushed/pulled about to and fro by us that I think sometimes it is only fair to let her be more involved in decision making. During these times she gets the opportunity to consider other family member’s/friend’s feelings and explore others ideas. I think it is a good learning experience, actually.
    A big pet-peeve of mine is when parents intentionally “hide” all their plans from kids simply because they do not want to be bugged about it from them. I understand not telling them right away about important things like a move, change of school, grandparent is sick, etc. But, planning for a fun day trip or for a visit from someone can be exciting and even somewhat educational for a child. They get to learn preparation and planning skills. They learn that you must WAIT for some things patiently and then receive the wonderful reward of it all taking place. Also, the memory of the actual event is MUCH stronger than it would have been if they had not been involved in any prep work. It is not just a memory of one fantastic day that came “BAM” out of nowhere but is a more complete memory with details of how it all came to be. I cannot imagine a life where I wasn’t allowed to look forward to anything. Looking forward to it is the best part!

  • Carol

    Someone posted your blog on their FB page and most of the comments seem to be by American readers. If I can add an English one, as a grandmother, I’m not sure “power” over a child or children is the real point. Any child who grows up knowing they are loved feels secure. They understand that there are rules and also that adults have to obey some, too. Children who are loved need fewer rules, they do fewer things to get them into trouble. A parent can reason with their child as soon as they reach an age to begin understanding reason and with a loving parent-child relationship communication lasts a life time. It can prevent teenage rebellion. The children reach adulthood and still ask their parents for advice from time to time. It’s great! I grew up feeling unloved and insecure so when I had my children I did my parenting in pretty much an opposite way to my own – and it worked. They knew and know they are loved. My grandchildren also know they are loved and it’s great to see them growing up secure. They still misbehave because that’s what children do. But they know they are loved – and I think that’s the key.