How the Appeal to Children Actually Harms Children

It should go without saying that whenever any group of people are automatically treated differently than everyone else, things aren’t going to turn out well.

There is almost no sentiment in our culture as universal as the sanctity of childhood. Violations against children are treated with a universal outrage shared by no other single identifiable group of people. Because of this it has become politically expedient to appeal to children to make ones point, or to use violations of them opportunistically as weaponized rhetoric in the war of worldviews.

Questioning this sanctity, which I am about to do, will get you vilified and accused of a plethora of character flaws. Many readers are bound to equivocate a rejection of child sanctity with not caring about or actively disliking children and wanting to see them come to harm. That is an absurd reductionism, and as I will attempt to show you, child-centric moralizing actually harms children in the bigger picture.

Before I go into those reasons I want to share with you that, even as a child, I have always found that sort of behavior/rhetoric to be empty and often hypocritical. The same adults who appealed to my safety and well-being never seemed to care about it when things were tough. And often they were the same ones who were quick to dismiss my personal agency and force me to “do what is best” which almost always what was most convenient for them. I learned pretty quickly that people who use you to make a point don’t really care about you at all. As I a child I was not grateful for the ‘children’ first pose at all.

To treat children like precious cargo to be protected is to treat them like property. In this way the appeal to children serves to reinforce the patriarchal structure of the traditional Judeo-Christian family unit. That patriarchal structure and ideology is the same one that underlies our systems of authority, which are the most pervasive threat against people who are the most vulnerable and at risk for exploitation and oppression. The sanctity of children narrative strengthens the very ideological roots of the greatest threat to children, ensuring it continues to be a threat far into the future.

Threats against children not coming directly from systematic authority often comes from damaged adults. And when adults are treated as unworthy of the same considerations as children, more of them become damaged. So by playing favorites and giving unequal consideration, we create more risks against the well being of kids.

Let me drive that last point home with an example.

Tommy’s dad lost his job and has been unable to find another one. Unemployment ran out long ago and family is tired of helping out, and nobody seems to have any sympathy for Tommy’s dad and his circumstances since he is an adult and expected to deal with it on his own. Conditions in Tommy’s home have been going downhill for awhile, and soon his dad starts drinking and becoming angry about his predicament. It isn’t long before this anger begins spilling out as abuse, which Tommy takes the brunt of.

Now you might be saying that some people do care about guys like Tommy’s dad, and that the situation did not force anybody to abuse Tommy, that was a choice that was made. You are correct, but you cannot ignore the tendency of certain circumstances to particular outcomes, even if causation is indirect. But the story doesn’t stop here for Tommy.

After years of abuse Tommy runs away when he is fifteen. He is not quite a child anymore, so the level of sympathy for him has lessened. As a result he ends up on the street. To get by he starts committing petty crimes, but as these things usually do, it escalates over time. Eventually Tommy kills a rival drug dealer and is sentenced to death, and the media and public decry him as a terrible monster.

At what point did he go from victim of abuse, to monster?

The answer is: When people stopped caring about him.

It just so happens that, with our child-centric morality, that point is when he became an adult; which probably isn’t actually even a thing.

This attitude of ‘children first’ creates generational layers of damage that produce violence and strife. That damage and discord often affects the most vulnerable, which are kids.

While it may sound counterintuitive, the best way to look out for children is to treat everyone with the same concern for personal well being, not to treat children as especially deserving. So long as anyone gets left behind, kids will come to harm more than they would otherwise. When I said before that I am not anti-children, this is what I meant. I am for everyone.

And when I say I am for everyone, I don’t just mean seeing after their well-being, but also respecting their personal agency. It is hard to do that when you view a child as a perpetual vulnerability, rather than as a full individual. No matter their age, race, nationality, gender, sexuality, etc. – if we do not treat everyone as valid personal agents worthy of respect and care, then we shall create the conditions in which suffering and oppression thrive…with indignity and injustice for all.

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