Simply sitting back and observing in a general crowd with children it becomes clear so quickly that children seemingly require permission to be human by so many adults.
To cry. To make mistakes. To go to the toilet. To have a hard time. To feel heard. To be excited. To be scared. To feel safe. To struggle. To own their bodies. To not be threatened. And so much more. Ultimately, children are consistently made to feel like they require permission to be respected and treated as the people they are.
“You’re okay, don’t cry”
“Oh, just be patient!”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“It’s not that big of a deal, come on now”
“It’s not that scary”
“Finish your dinner now”
“Sit still would you!?”
“Because I said so”
“Don’t be silly”
“Don’t talk back to me!”
“Come on, give Grandma a kiss”
“I’m not giving you that until you say please”
“If you don’t do X, I’ll [hurt you/take something away from you/put you in time out/etc]”
I hear parents barking orders, lacking connection, and punishing their children for being children. It hurts my heart. Children don’t need to be punished to take what you’re saying seriously if it’s reasonable. All humans deserve to feel respected and heard. Why is it socially acceptable for children to not have a say in the decisions that affect them? You see, it doesn’t have to be this way, it’s a self-fulfilling system. If you spend your time battling the humanity of your children, of course parenting is not going to feel like an enjoyable experience.
Humans don’t like being controlled. Children, like all humans, resist control. Surely no one as a parent wants to be in charge of controlling people who don’t want to be controlled? This is precisely the struggle that authoritarian parenting creates. Parenting doesn’t need to be you vs them. Just like any relationship (even friendship) one with a foundation of respect is going to be far healthier and connected. Children don’t need to be controlled and forced and punished to learn. Children learn what they live. They learn how to cope with big emotions, conflict, difficulty, everything – from watching you. Modelling the values you hope to see in your children is one of the most powerful things you can do in raising them.
Children don’t need to earn their humanity. Children aren’t humans in training, they are humans right now. They’re not waiting to live their life, this is part of their life in this moment. Society treats children as though they’re preparing for a time where they’re allowed respect – and not before then. Until that time it’s acceptable to treat them as sub-human under the guise of parenting and education. For many, parenting is synonymous with punishment and learning is synonymous with schooling which are both so far off the mark.
This all comes down to childism and it is so deeply sewn into the fabric our society. So much so that talking about it creates such cognitive dissonance that I know I’ll get defensive, even angry comments sharing these thoughts. People who genuinely respectfully parent and speak up for the injustices towards kids are so often ridiculed. Like I’ve said in the past, I don’t want to be viewed as a ‘good parent’ by a society that thinks so little of children.
You can likely see examples of childism every time you step out of the house or open up the internet. Every day, in many ways, children receive the message that they are less important, less deserving of respect, unequal, and inferior, whether we mean to send that message or not. It is so ingrained into our society the majority don’t even recognise it. – Sara, Happiness is here.
The dehumanisation of children is accepted and sometimes even celebrated as adults joke about, mock, shame, blame and generally dehumanise the very people who are learning how to treat humans by watching us. I hear parents complaining about their children, often in earshot of the very people they’re belittling. I’ve seen people argue the idea that people don’t like children. What they don’t realise is that they tend to have a conditioned definition of what constitutes respect to children. People mostly only tolerate children genuinely being children.
I understand that parenting can be hard, which is often the excuse people use regarding ‘joking’ about children… but I’m not going to join in with the shaming of children. We don’t need to put down children in order to share in the struggles that we face as parents. It’s so cyclic in nature, this abusive discourse, that people lose sight of their part in it.
There’s a lot of ways that society feeds this inferior view of children. One is definitely confirmation bias. Parents can read about respectful parenting and see people sharing their successes but they often are only interested in the information that will confirm what they feel they have always known and be validated in their choices. It’s confronting to recognise that the ways we act may not be ideal for our children. It’s simpler to feed their conditioned views of children. Given that there’s no shortage of support for mainstream parenting, parents can so surround themselves with the view that the common authoritarian practices and disrespectful parenting are both necessary and best. Then due to their control and force their children act in ways that ‘warrant’ punishment in their eyes because the children themselves do not feel respected or valued or heard.
Another factor is how conditioned people are to view behaviours as indicative of the child themselves. Most people can distinguish between say their partners behaviours and them themselves. However, due to the systematic dehumanisation of children, many can’t segregate the two if a child is displaying behaviours we feel are ‘wrong’. Too often adults subconsciously think ‘the child = the behaviour’ so disliking the behaviour means disliking the child and consequently disrespecting them.
Children may behave in a way that feels unacceptable to you but the feelings that influenced their behaviour ARE acceptable. You can dislike and feel uncomfortable with your child’s reaction to struggle without dismissing their feelings or belittling their experience. Not to mention that you’re responsible for your reaction to their behaviour and it is your choice to meet their difficulty with compassion and empathy or resort to blaming/shaming/punishing/threatening. Meeting our children with compassion and empathy will always be the answer. Again, you don’t have to agree with their reactions and behaviour, but there’s never a time where the child isn’t worthy of respect.
Very frequently I hear that I need to stop judging parents. That I should respect all parenting choices. But I simply cannot respect that which dehumanises and disrespects children. I’ll happily challenge and perhaps bruise the egos of some adults in my efforts for advocate for children.
The point of this post isn’t to shame parents, but to empower us. All it takes is a perspective shift to dramatically alter how we parent and therefore how our children are treated and who they become. Explaining how we have gone so wrong and how we are protecting the dehumanisation of children is the only way we can begin this process. First you must recognise it, and it may not feel great reading about it because we have all been a victim of it ourselves as well as likely perpetuated it to varying degrees. But this is the powerful part – we can aim higher and dismantle this paradigm in our own lives! I’ve linked to different related posts throughout this to read more about specifics and what to do but essentially, it’s the opposite.
The only way this is going to change is if more and more people speak up about the dehumanisation of children. We need to unapologetically advocate for children. We need to bust the myths and break the stigma surrounding treating children with respect.
Parenting now needs to be about re-humanising children. My wish is that everyone could feel how it feels to have a relationship with your children that is based in protecting their humanity and individuality – one that is respectful, equal, compassionate and loving.