The longer I’ve had kids (which, granted, at just under 3.5 years isn’t that long), and the longer I’ve kind of “studied” different attitudes towards child-rearing, the more I think society in general really has a healthy disrespect for children.
There are the people who don’t have (and maybe don’t want) children who speak of them as stinky, messy, screaming parasites. There are people who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to keep children “seen and not heard.” Children who behave ‘inappropriately’ (usually by adult, not developmental standards) are often frowned at. Think about a child yelling in a library — that child will be shushed and possibly glared at by any number of people!
It’s sad. Why do we have such disrespect for children? And how can we put childhood into its proper perspective?
Children Are People Too
I don’t have the answers here, since I haven’t been a parent very long. This is just a topic that keeps coming back to me.
It occurs to me that we don’t treat children like people. We treat them more like pets. They need to be well-trained and controlled so that they don’t misbehave in public and offend society. We shouldn’t let people see them throw fits…run around near breakables…or say things that aren’t very nice…right?
However, children are people too! They deserve respect. Yes, they are smaller. Yes, they are immature. That’s why they’re children. But do we have to talk to them like little idiots? Do we have to ignore them? Do we have to exclude and shame them?
I didn’t think any of this was very fair when I was a child. I still don’t. I don’t like “rules for the sake of rules” just because a person is younger. I didn’t, as a very basic example, find a strict bedtime to be fair when I was a child…perhaps earlier or later was needed depending on the day’s activities and level of tiredness. Granted a general routine and similar time structure is good for small children (and my kids now go to bed “around” the same time every night), but what about flexibility based on needs?
We have no patience with children’s idiosyncracies. We see them as misbehavior, to be trained out of them. We don’t put up with behavior that, in another adult, we may excuse. For example, if the child is having a bad day and says “You’re a mean mommy and I don’t have to listen to you!” — Most would at least reprimand, some would punish. But is it really that different from an adult saying, “Just shut up, I don’t want to hear it today.” Neither are nice behavior and an apology is certainly warranted, but why can’t we talk to the child as we would the adult? “I know you’re upset today, but that was uncalled for. I think you owe me an apology.” Some handle it this way…some don’t.
A lot of what I see is focused on controlling children. There is little allowance for the natural developmental stages that children go through.
It’s perfectly appropriate for a two-year-old to throw himself on the floor and scream when you tell him no. Not especially fun (for the kid, the parent, OR the onlookers), but it’s normal. Some take this in stride — especially current parents, or those with grown children — and some don’t. Really, all you need to do is say “We don’t throw fits when we don’t get what we want,” pick up the child, and carry on. They soon learn not to do this anymore, as they get older and develop some self-control. My 3-year-old does not ever throw fits to get her way (unless she’s really, really tired, sick, etc.). When I say no, her typical response is, “Next time,” as we walk away.
Older kids like to talk too loudly or too often…dance around without paying attention to who’s around them…and so on. Frankly, some adults do these things too! Think about people on hidden cell phones, or who stand in the middle of the aisle at the grocery store, contemplating a product without being aware that no one can get through! It just takes time and conscientious parenting to get them past this, by helping them become aware of their behavior and others around them.
Society in general doesn’t have patience for this. They don’t want to see kids screaming, or dancing in their way, or asking loud (potentially rude) questions. How many times has my 3-year-old said: “Why is he buying/doing that?” And we talk about how other people make different choices, so normally she can answer her own question now.
Children Are Not an Annoyance
Okay, if you’re a parent, you know that children are sometimes annoying. Isn’t everyone? But children, in general, are not an annoyance.
Strollers are often seen as big, unwieldy, and “not belonging” in certain areas. Don’t they? They can be a handy way to transport toddlers and all their stuff, holding up the ‘traffic’ as little as possible. Try walking behind a mother who’s holding her not-quite-two-year-old by the hand and see if that’s any faster! (No.) Of course, that has to happen too…gently training a child to walk while holding an adult’s hand. And yes, that means you’ll move slowly sometimes, and get in peoples’ way. But there should be some understanding of this process.
Some people don’t like children asking questions. Most children are extremely inquisitive and love to talk about anything they can see. They will tell you everything they know, and ask you about anything they don’t. This makes people uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say…and some of them can’t understand why a child would have the “audacity” to say it or ask it in the first place! Some adults will try to put off a child and refuse to answer because “You’re just a child, what do you know?” That’s so disrespectful. No adult would appreciate being spoken to that way! Why is it acceptable to ignore a child’s questions, or worse, belittle them? I personally try to answer every question I get asked, even if the answer is “I don’t know.”
We Need Respect
As a society, we need to have more respect for children. We need to understand and expect the normal developmental stages they go through. We need to treat them kindly and gently, just as we would (should) other adults. Not that we shouldn’t discipline them or expect developmentally appropriate behavior; we should! But this can be done with love and respect, not heavy-handedness and discouragment.
What do you think? Does society have disrespect for children?
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