Why I Don’t Say I’m My Kids’ Friend

For very important anti-childist, anti-authoritarian reasons, many peaceful parents promote friendship between parents and children. Yet, I struggle with the concept of being in a friend relationship with my children for similar reasons why I don’t believe people who support marginalized communities can declare themselves allies. I can’t dictate to my children how they will regard me. I can demonstrate to them the qualities of friendship and how positive relationships work, but I will simultaneously be working out my anti-childist journey. While they remain children, there will be tension in the balance of power and fragile progress in my unlearning of childism. It’s not as simple as declaring myself their friend and then palling it up with them.

It’s up to my children to decide how they will characterize our relationship. I can provide many of the wonderful qualities of friendship like honesty, acceptance, and respect, but I am also responsible for teaching, guiding, and protecting. It’s… complicated. If they don’t view me as a friend, I’ll be ok.

Truth be told, I completely understand and agree with the reasoning behind why parents want to be friends with their kids. I don’t think it’s strange at all that adults and children enjoy friendship. Obviously, the content of such friendships is different from adult-adult friendships. For instance, we should never burden children with our adult worries. But, we already know that different friendships manifest in different ways. We have coworker friends that we go to lunch with but may never see outside the office. We have childhood friends who remain in our lives but at a distance. We have mom friends online who know our deepest, darkest secrets but whom we may never meet in person. Friendship is not a one size fits all scenario. Adult-child friendships are cool as long as there’s a high degree of propriety and a complete absence of abusive behavior. I hope someday to achieve the status of “friend” to my children and here’s why.

Friends are their own complete people first and foremost. It’s one thing to want to be close to another person and another to be codependent. Friends have their own separate identities, needs, and wants, and they have mutual respect of all these things.

Friends care and are invested in each other. Friendship involves a selflessness in that friends pay attention to each other and elevate each other’s needs.

Friends have integrity. They are trustworthy and dependable. They tell the truth, even when it’s unpleasant. And, they do these things with the intent to uplift and never to tear down.

Friends improve morale. Friends offer a self-esteem boost. It feels good when people want you around and even better when they go out of their way to seek you out. As social creatures, humans need friendships for our mental health and this aspect of friendship in no small way explains why.

Friends believe in each other. It is so important to have people in our lives who know us well and understand us. One of the most critical aspects of friendship is being trusted.

Friends forgive. All relationships experience decline and growth. When we mess up, we have to know that our friends love us enough to mend the bond and move forward even stronger than before.

Friends listen and support. Good friends know when they need to be quiet and listen intently. They empathize and seek to support their friends in the most helpful ways whether that means validating feelings or giving advice or even riding out to take care of business when the situation calls for it.

Friends give and take. Allowing for free flowing reciprocity is so important. Friends don’t need to keep score. They just need to provide whatever support is required and ask for what they themselves need. That’s how friends show up for each other in the good times and bad.

There isn’t a single thing in that list that doesn’t also apply to my hopes for parenthood. This is the type of parent I want to be, which means there must be room for friendship in my relationship with my children. How that will end up looking is anyone’s guess. It’s going to develop organically, fostered with love and intentionality. I will demonstrate friendship to my children whether or not they consider me their friend and, maybe in time, I’ll hear those sweet words “You’re my best friend, mommy.” What an awesome day that would be!

In Defense of Unlimited Screen Time

Did y’all see the study from November 2019 that found screen use greater than the amount recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics was associated with decreased microstructural organization and myelination of brain white matter tracts that support language and emergent literacy skills? Big yikes! Does that mean screens cause brain damage? That’s certainly a question I’ve seen floating around the internet. Parents are rightfully concerned about screen time when study after study shows these terrible outcomes.

There’s that 2013 literature review on screen time use in children under the age of three. Bad news.

And, that 2015 literature review on the effects of screen time on children’s sleep found. Terrible stuff.

And, that 2018 literature review on the physiological and psychological effects of screentime. You might as well just give up at this point.

And, that whole Research Roundup that seems to exist to fill parents with dread. Oh, the horror!

But, check this out.

The 2013 review found that there is very little research on infants and toddlers and that more research is needed to better understand the environmental, socio-cultural, and behavioral correlates for young children.

The 2015 review found that none of the studies they looked at from 1999-2014 could establish a causal connection, measurement errors of screen time exposure and sleep limited the outcomes of the studies, and factors like characteristics and content of screens was not well understood.

And, the 2018 review found that psychophysiological resilience in children requires the ability to focus, good social coping and attachment, and good physical health all of which could be impacted by “excessive” digital media use. They further recommend more research on duration, content, after-dark use, media type, and number of devices.

In fact, there’s a 2015 literature review on the association of parental influences with physical activity and screen time among young children found that there is a causal connection between the parents’ physical activity and screen use and that of the children. It should come as no surprise that the behavior of parents directly influences the behavior of their children.

And, that first study I mentioned? The one from 2019 about how screens change the brains of little kids? If you look a little deeper, you’ll see that the sample size is both small and homogenous and that the survey and testing scores used in the study did not meet the threshold for statistical significance when income was included in the model. Those details change the story a bit.

Minding the Nuance

The reality is that there is valuable research happening, but we simply don’t understand what’s really going on. That’s why the pediatric organizations that exist to protect our kids are sounding the alarm. They’re saying look at all this data we’re seeing! Something is happening. Pay attention. So, if your family’s lifestyle flows better without any screens, by all means, do what works for you. This post is for those of you who want to incorporate screens without fear.

There are some things we can discern intuitively about screen use.

  • It can be distracting. Background sounds from a TV at low volume add static to the environment where infants and toddlers play. A measurable impact has been found on the ability of very small children to develop play skills naturally when TVs are used as noise fillers.
  • It can signal trouble. While we don’t know that screens cause depression, we do know that children who watch a lot of TV often have clinical depression that necessitates medication. So, it’s worth paying attention to what your kids are doing, so that you can intervene if necessary.
  • It can replace other healthful behaviors. A child who is watching TV or playing video games is not outside running around. And, a child who is watching TV or playing video games is not telling you about the troubles they’re having.

Now, something that doesn’t get enough air time in these discussions is the economics of restriction. Essentially, by restricting a thing, we increase its value. As explained by Pam Sorooshian, unschooler extraordinaire,

When you only allow a limited amount of TV, then the marginal utility of a little more tv is high and every other option looks like a poor one, comparatively. Watching more TV becomes the focus of the person’s thinking, since the marginal utility is so high. Relax the constraints and, after a period of adjustment and experimentation to determine accurate marginal utilities, the focus on TV will disappear and it will become just another option.

The more you restrict, the more they’ll crave screens. It can feel uncomfortable to loosen the reins and it’s pretty likely your child will consume seemingly impossible amounts of flickering deliciousness at first. But, over time, and in the presence of intentional investment in your child’s needs and wants, screens will lose their luster and become just another activity.

If you’ve been restricting your child’s screen time, because you wanted to do the best possible thing for them or because you felt their screen use was getting out of control, it’s ok. You’re not alone. Not by any means. Just know there is an approach to screen use that is responsible and respectful, whenever you’re ready.

Anti-Childist Screen Use Monitoring

One of the things about the furor over screens that particularly bothers me is the emphasis on cognition and school performance. We’re encouraged to limit our children to a screen schedule of our making, so they can possibly do better in school at some point in the future. But why? Why is academic success the measure of a good life? Why are we not prioritizing our children’s ability to regulate their own behaviors and activities by giving them ownership over the way they choose to spend their time?

We can trust our children to make good decisions when we set them up for success. In our house, I try to limit my compulsion to set rules for everyone. Whenever my kids want to watch TV, I’m ok with it. They have free access to their tablets to use as they wish. But, I also create an environment where they don’t have any desire to obsessively consume that visual stimulation. We spend lots of time outside. We read. We do chores. We play, craft, and bake together. When I see one of my kids struggling to transition from screens to another activity, I intervene. When that happens, it means there’s something deeper going on that needs to be addressed. It doesn’t mean I need to arbitrarily limit screen time. I have some guidelines for my family in the back of my mind to help ensure that I’m providing the most effective mix of activities and the best possible education around the use of screens.

  • Be Intentional. Consider using screens on purpose. That means avoiding the use of TVs as background noise and trying not to hand your kids screens to keep them occupied. Instead, let your children decide when they want to use screens and for how long. And, have them choose one screen at a time. In general, our TV doesn’t get turned on until 3 PM, if at all. There’s too much other fun stuff to do.
  • Be Interactive. Studies show that children can learn a great deal from interactive touchscreens when their parents help them and reinforce what they’re learning.
  • Be Wise. Particularly when it comes to older kids, parents need to prepare children for the risks of predators and dangerous malware. Talk to your kids about these dangers and make a plan together for how to stay safe.
  • Choose Educational Content. Programs like Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger provide important information and skills to little kids, especially when families reinforce in daily life what the kids are learning online.
  • Eat Without Distraction. One rule we do have is that our dining table is a toy-free, screen-free space when we’re having a meal. It’s a matter of mutual respect and consideration. Family meals are sacred in my house. They’re one of the few opportunities we have to get together and chat over one of the most fundamental human activities.
  • Get Plenty of Fresh Air and Exercise. Getting outside is so important for every member of the family, but especially children. They need lots and lots of movement throughout the day to improve focus, digestion, motor skills, and sleep. Rather than restricting screens, think about encouraging more movement for balance.
  • Practice Good Sleep Hygiene. The so-called warnings about blue light got a little kick in the pants this year. A study challenged the idea that blue light impacts circadian rhythms. We don’t actually know if blue light is a problem. What we do know is that stimulation of any kind interrupts our sleep cycle. In our house, all screens and radios go off at 6:30 pm. That’s our family time and we cherish the ability to interact with each other without distraction. For a great night’s sleep, keep your kids’ room very dark, relatively cool (65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit), and comfortably quiet.

Like many parents, when I first became a mom, I was hypervigilant about everything. I stressed myself out trying to do everything by the book, until life taught me that wisdom beats out perfection every time. If you want your children to enjoy screens, let them. Formulate some guidelines for yourself and conduct self-checks to make sure your guidelines are working. Talk with your kids about your concerns. Let them know your values and also that you trust them to know what their minds and bodies need. As new evidence emerges, we’ll be in a great position to shift some of our guidelines to better support our children’s development. Screens are ok, y’all. Promise!

Do the Least Harm

As parents, we will harm our children in some way. It’s the nature of genuine relationships to expand and contract in closeness, to struggle in balancing boundaries, and to waver between selfishness and selflessness. Committing to do the least harm requires that we spend much time considering the impacts of our actions, which is what makes peaceful parenting so challenging for many of us. Reacting is easy. Thoughtfully responding to our children gets exhausting fast, even for those of us who have been doing it for a long while.

This past week, a reply to one of my Facebook posts got me thinking about my own inclination toward defensiveness around my parenting choices. I had posted a meme that compared two ways to speak gently with a child who doesn’t want to take a nap. A reader remarked that a third potential solution was to allow children to choose for themselves when they want to sleep. Gasp! I was poised to explain why their solution couldn’t work for me rather than admitting their suggestion was the gentler, more respectful approach. My childist reaction was to defend my situation whereas the anti-childist response was to simply sit with the suggestion, however uncomfortable it was.

You see, I’ve battled lifelong insomnia. Aside from medication, nothing helps. It is just one of the many symptoms of autism that I experience. My daughter appears to have the same issue with insomnia, which may or may not be a prelude to a future autism diagnosis. She can stay up for an impossible amount of time considering she’s only two. When she decides to sleep, she crashes and you can’t wake her up until she’s ready. Even then, she doesn’t sleep for long. And, we can’t leave her alone when she’s awake or she will tear the house apart. I mean, she will literally peel the paint from the walls. So someone has to stay up with her. And, that someone is always me. So my best solution has been to try to keep her on the same schedule as my son. To do that, though, I have to lie down with her every time she goes to sleep. Sometimes, she plays as we cuddle. Sometimes, she thrashes angrily because she’s so overtired. And, sometimes, I can’t get her to sleep no matter what I do and I have to get up with her to play for a while.

As she gets older, I can teach her some of the skills I’ve learned in my four decades on this planet. The reality is that she needs sleep, but she struggles to get an adequate amount. My solution to impose a schedule is not the ideal option for me as a peaceful parent. My preference will always be to give my children autonomy over their lives.

And, that’s what this reader was offering… an opportunity to make a better choice. I often hear people say things like, “every child is different,” implying that parents should have free license to use whatever approaches we deem necessary. I disagree. While every child is different, children have a right to be free from coercion, punishment, and violence. It is never okay to yell at or hit a child. And it’s not okay to pressure children to bend to the will of an adult. I can’t excuse the childism that influences the way I interact with my kids and neither should you. Our goal must be to reject childism and to choose to be anti-childist.

Ultimately, my anti-childist decision was to like react this reader’s nap alternative and withhold my defensive reaction. Other readers needed to know the clearly anti-childist solution and I needed the reminder. It’s not really about naptime at all. It’s about investigating and diminishing the adult-centric way we address the challenges our children experience.

When we are deciding how we will approach these challenges, there are some questions we need to ask ourselves and wrestle with:

What does my child need?

What do I need?

How can I address both our needs while respecting my child’s autonomy?

Are there alternatives I haven’t tried because they’re inconvenient?

How is childism affecting the decision I’m about to make?

How might this decision harm my child?

How might this decision harm our relationship?

As we seek to do the least harm, we will be challenged by people who have better solutions than the ones we’ve been using. Instead of explaining why we can’t choose the anti-childist option, let’s look for ways to incorporate those better solutions into our approaches. In doing so, our anti-childist orientation will grow and mature with the help of our partners, our children, and our peaceful parenting community.

Rights Versus Freedoms

Last week, when I wrote about children’s rights, I was expecting some pushback. Members of a childist culture will obviously struggle to cut through their conditioning… and that includes me. However, I was not prepared for one subset of responses that popped up in several places where my post was shared: accusations that advocating for children rights equates to condoning pedophilia. I was floored. Why would sexual abuse be the first thing that pops into someone’s mind when they consider the rights of children? And, why would anyone put the responsibility on the child and not the adult predator? Clearly, I do not have the answers to these questions, particularly because nothing about what I wrote indicated that children should be left entirely without the guidance and protection of trusted adults.

I do, however, have a response to this incredibly disturbing line of reasoning. Child sexual abuse is happening already in the U.S. where children do not have anywhere near the number of rights that adults have. And, you’ll never guess one of the crucial things we should be teaching our kids to help protect them from predators: children can say no to adults. Many children have never had that opportunity without being punished, so they don’t realize they can use that word when speaking with an adult. Check out this post from the Child Mind Institute for more information on ways we can empower our children to escape from and report attempts at sexual abuse.

Why Childism Matters

Early in my Peaceful Parenting journey, I was debating spanking in a Facebook group. I said, “I don’t hit people” to which a commenter responded, “We’re talking about children, not people.”

Childism isn’t as simple as whether or not you like children. Some people don’t like kids and that’s ok. You don’t have to like kids to believe they should be assured human dignity. Unfortunately, in the U.S. alone, more than 3 million cases of child abuse are investigated each year and an average of 5 children are murdered every day of the year by caregivers. A sobering report from the U.S. Department of Justice states that, in the previous year, “60 percent [of children in the U.S.] were exposed to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes, schools, and communities. Almost 40 percent of American children were direct victims of 2 or more violent acts, and 1 in 10 were victims of violence 5 or more times. Children are more likely to be exposed to violence and crime than adults. Almost 1 in 10 American children saw one family member assault another family member, and more than 25 percent had been exposed to family violence during their life.” To be clear, THIS IS A HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS.

Childism is the basis for the abuses children suffer, because childism says that children are not people. Our entire culture is complicit in the abuse of children.

One doesn't have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient."

Charles M. Blow

Defining Rights and Freedoms

In my efforts to speak clearly and accessibly about childism, I neglected to anticipate a common concern many readers would have about the Anti-Childism Scale from last week’s blog post.

I received questions about how to balance equal rights for children with parental responsibility. So, I’ll begin with a very basic distinction between rights and freedoms.

  • A right is a privilege enjoyed by all members of a society.
  • A freedom is an absence of constraints.

The study of rights is so massive and so arguable that it’s difficult to pin down exactly what categories of rights exist. I will attempt to be brief and clear with the understanding that others may not agree with how I’ve broken these down.

Natural Rights: These are the rights we’re born with that need no special dispensation, such as the rights to life, liberty, and so on.

Moral Rights: These are the rights that hold societies together. They may or may not be enforceable by law. Moral rights may include things like the right to be treated fairly, whatever that may mean in the given culture.

Legal Rights: These are rights that are enforceable by law. They are typically moral rights that become codified. Legal rights include things like the right to move through life without being discriminated against, the right to own property, and the right to vote.

(Duties: Where a right is an entitlement, a duty is an obligation. I include this here as an aside to note that children’s rights advocates do not seek equality in duties, such as requiring young children to be subject to military conscription.)

There is tremendous interplay among these categories and rights vary from country to country. It is also important to note that rights can be limited by a society, as in the case of the famous prohibition against using the U.S. Constitutional right to free speech to justify the act of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. And, of course, there is the matter of incarceration where many rights are suspended (but many remain).

Children’s Rights

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a legally-binding collection of 54 articles detailing children’s rights. It was ratified over 30 years ago, so it is not new by any means. To date, it has been signed by 196 countries, including the U.S. (1995). Regrettably, the U.S. regularly violates the agreement, as a country, and does not hold parents to its tenets. For instance, the UNCRC declares that children must be free from violence, yet the U.S. government has not taken a stance against spanking. At the very least, children’s rights advocates would see every child in the U.S. guaranteed the rights dictated by the UNCRC, but there’s so much more we could do.

For example, we could embrace the youth suffrage movement and eliminate the voting age, especially given the fact that “the quality of these citizens’ choices is similar to that of older voters, so they do cast votes in ways that enable their interests to be represented equally well” (Source). And, perhaps surprising, a study out of Scotland that controlled for socio-demographic diversity found that “the newly enfranchised young people in Scotland indeed show substantially higher levels of engagement with representative democracy (through voting) as well as other forms of political participation (such as signing petitions and taking part in demonstrations); and they engage with a greater range of information sources about politics and reflect greater levels of political efficacy.” Kids are brilliant and observant if we give them half a chance to be.

There are certain rights that are extremely sensitive and uncomfortable to debate, like marriage age. In some states in the U.S., there is no statutory minimum age at all with parental consent. In our current, childist culture, allowing parents to marry off their children can be disastrous. However, in a hypothetical anti-childist culture where children are treated with respect, taught appropriate boundaries, and included in all facets of society from childhood, the option to marry at a younger age to a peer would make a lot more sense than it does now. And, when I say “younger age,” I mean teenage. I do not believe young children should have the freedom to marry whenever they please as the risk of harm is far too high. So, their right to marry would need to be limited in this hypothetical culture.

Parental Responsibility

Here’s the really touchy part. Where is the line between a right and a freedom drawn? Freedom is the absence of constraints. Even adults do not enjoy unlimited freedom and children much less so. While a child may not be free to get a tattoo, they have the absolute right to consent to being circumcised or having their ears pierced. And, a tween might be permitted to go on a group date with peers, but should not be permitted to date an adult.

I think that, perhaps, the simplest way to respect a child’s rights while fulfilling our duty as parents to protect and guide our kids is to put ourselves in their shoes. Would we allow someone to rip our clothes off and force us into a bathtub? No? Then, we shouldn’t do that to a child. Would we allow someone to hit us when we make mistakes? No? Then, we shouldn’t do that to a child. Would we allow someone to force us to eat food we don’t want to eat? No? Then, we shouldn’t do that to a child.

Yes, it’s a worldview shift which is what makes all of this so difficult. Most of what I do here in this space is to provide parents with alternatives to doing these things we do to kids but wouldn’t do to an adult. There are other, gentler options for children, including children who are resistant (which I’ve written about). And, until we get to the point where our relationship with our kids leads to mutual cooperation, there will very likely be times when we apply force. It’s far from ideal and it is certainly not respectful of children’s rights, but as a culture, we’re just not there yet. Individually, we may have more success or less success.

What Does Anti-Childist Parenting Look Like?

The reality is that we all come to parenting with a perspective that has been informed by our upbringing, our culture, our stressors, and our wounds. People have legitimate reasons for doing the things they do, including all the things I encourage parents not to do. What I try (and probably often fail) to do in my writing is to acknowledge the thought process and validate the parents’ needs while simultaneously advocating for children. I’m looking to help families heal whatever needs attention between parents and their kids so that, together, they can move forward in an enduringly positive bearing.

I can see a situation and grasp why a parent might react in an aggressive way toward a child. I want to offer the space to deconstruct what is happening in that parent’s life that led to the moment in time where they were at odds with their child. Is the parent struggling financially? Is the parent a member of a people group that experiences constant discrimination? Does the parent have a combative relationship with the children’s other parent(s)? Is the parent completely overwhelmed with no help? Are there other factors at play that make responding peacefully seem completely impossible? Does the parent honestly have no idea what else to do? Yes, often, and I’m empathetic to the struggle. It’s tough out here.

I’d like to share a little of my own experience here to illustrate why I am so deeply committed to the Peaceful Parenting philosophy. It’s a daily effort to choose a de-escalated response even when I’m barely holding it together. That part is so hard for me but the payoff is extraordinary. These are some common issues that frustrate many parents but aren’t a battle in my house (and I’ll explain why!):

  • Car Seat Safety
  • Toothbrushing
  • Bathing
  • Trying new foods
  • Choosing clothes/getting dressed
  • Diapering

They are not issues in my household, because we’ve never made them an issue. My kids have always had the right of refusal 99% of the time. It’s just not a big deal, so they don’t make it one. They do these things willingly and without much effort on my part. That said, we do have other struggles and, as a Peaceful Parent, limits are a necessary aspect of my approach. So, please, understand that I am not saying children should, or even could, be given unlimited free rein.

Because I believe deeply in equal rights for kids, I work toward becoming a Subverter in every interaction I have with children. Here are some of the ways I acknowledge my children’s individual personhood and preferences:

  • I’m patient with my kids and I give them lots of time both to respond to me and to switch gears when we need to do something else.
  • I don’t tell my children how they feel (“Oh, you’re ok”).
  • I don’t mandate manners.
  • I assume competence and I don’t jump in to save the day while they’re problem-solving.
  • I invite my children to handle delicate things, work on a hot stove, and use adult tools (all with supervision of course) because involving kids helps them build skills and understand safety.
  • I include my kids in my daily life and expect them to share family responsibilities.
  • I don’t require my children to clean alone. This may seem an odd point, but I struggled so much as a child when my parents told me to clean my room because I didn’t have the executive functioning skills to figure it out. So, with my kids, I’m present to help them when they need guidance well before they become frustrated.
  • I acknowledge that the things they believe are important are as critical as the things that are important to me. If my son accidentally breaks a toy, I know his strong feelings about it are equivalent to how I’d feel wrecking my car. It’s a big deal.
  • I don’t manipulate (“I’ll cry if you don’t give me a hug!”), threaten (“If you don’t stop right now, it’s time out for you!”), or coerce (“Be a good girl and pick up your toys.”)
  • I encourage my children to say no to me and to negotiate.
  • I don’t want obedient children. I want wise and cooperative children who are self-motivated.
  • I don’t bribe or use rewards of any kind.
  • I respect my kids’ property, space, and privacy.
  • I don’t prank or laugh at my children unless they are clearly in on it.
  • I don’t force my children to eat anything. No “You have to try one bite.” No “You won’t get dessert if you don’t eat!”
  • I expect my children to have their own interests, have emotions, need time to rest without my interference, and resist my agenda/schedule for their lives.
  • I don’t relish time away from them because they annoy me. I don’t blame my children for my emotions. I do appreciate self-care and time to myself because it’s good for my health.
  • I respond to undesirable behavior with the Three Rs to help my children find their peace instead of punishing them or otherwise further escalating their heightened emotions.
  • I don’t make excuses for my behavior if I treat my kids poorly (“You made me angry, so I yelled.”). Instead, I readily apologize and make amends.

Now, read back through that list but imagine I’m talking about my husband. Wouldn’t it be pretty much a given that I shouldn’t treat another adult any other way? Of course! Once I understood that, seeing my kids as equals in my humanity became easy. Kids are people, y’all.

Last week, many readers saw the line under the “Subverter” description on the Anti-Childism Scale that says, “children deserve equal rights as adults,” and missed, or didn’t understand, the part that says, “children have varying capacities to manage freedoms.” I hope everything I’ve explained here helps to clear up any misconceptions about the Anti-Childism Scale and my position on children’s rights and freedoms.

The Anti-Childism Scale

If you’re not familiar with childism, you aren’t alone. Most of the people I talk with aren’t familiar with it. Some even scoff at the idea as though the concept of prejudice against children is so preposterous, it could not possibly exist. If you’re struggling to see how we systemically discriminate against children, consider the following ways, as described by Happiness is Here, in which we treat children differently from adults:

It’s every time a parent is asked ‘is she hungry?’ or ‘does she like strawberries?’ instead of the question being directed at the child who is very capable of answering.

It’s every time a child’s emotions elicit laughter instead of empathy.

It’s withholding food/water/affection until a child says ‘please’ to satisfy an adult ego.

It’s adults believing they have the ‘right’ to physically punish people because of their age.

It’s countries where hitting children is legal and there are guidelines as to where and how you can smack them. Guidelines for hitting your wife would be abhorrent, but age somehow changes perspectives.

It’s a general intolerance for childish behaviour interfering with an adults desires, and the view that children should be ‘seen and not heard’.

It’s adults making decisions about cosmetic alterations to their child’s body such as circumcision, ear-piercing, haircuts, without consent.

It’s forced affection or ‘give me a cuddle or I’ll be sad and cry’, sending the message that a child does not get to make decisions about their own body.

It’s whenever a child’s photo is posted online in an effort to shame them as a way of getting them to submit to an adult’s will.

It’s adults who believe they deserve automatic respect (most often defined as ‘obedience’) for nothing more than their greater age.

It’s children’s emotions being dismissed or stifled for adult comfort.

It’s every time children are talked about in a conversation as though they are not even in the room.

It’s rejoicing in their absence when it’s back-to-school time.

It’s developmentally inappropriate coercive education systems.

It’s finding it acceptable to use punishment and rewards to manipulate a person’s behaviour to meet your needs, if that person is a child.

It’s a world where there are books, tv shows, and blogs devoted to teaching parents how you can ‘train’ your child, often by means of ignoring their needs.

It’s needing research to prove that abandoning a child so that they will learn to ‘self-settle’ is detrimental, instead of just treating babies like humans.

It’s reading this list and dismissing it as ‘over the top’, ‘ridiculous’, or ‘not a big deal’.

By Sara at Happiness is Here

The term childism was coined in the early 1970s after which it remained a relevant concept within the realm of children’s rights. However, the term didn’t really enter mainstream discourse until the late psychotherapist and children’s rights activist, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, wrote her groundbreaking work, Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, which was published posthumously in 2012. Her mission in proposing that our culture adopt the word childism was not to “launch an inquiry into prejudice against children” but rather to establish a term that would “have political resonance, something that [could] operate as sexism did to raise our political consciousness” (page 8). According to Darcia F. Narvaez Ph.D., Young-Bruehl’s solution to childism can be summarized in four actions:

  1. Understand the ideas and institutions that perpetuate childism. See how it is manifest in individuals, families, institutions and the wider culture.
  2. Educate society about the causes and meanings of these prejudices, and the harms they have done and continue to do.
  3. Create program [sic] to repair the damage of childism, secure the progress that has been made and continue to work to eradicate the prejudice.
  4. Demand full and equal civil and political rights for children.

Here, I need to pause and explain a disagreement among children’s rights advocates. Some people take issue with the way Young-Bruehl defined childism. They prefer the term adultism to mean “prejudice against children,” and they view childism as akin to feminism in that it is a term of empowerment for children. While I understand the arguments for using childism in this way, my fundamental disagreement rests in the systemic nature of childism which I use as akin to sexism. Children can both reinforce and internalize prejudice against themselves in addition to that prejudice being levied by older people. I believe that the term adultism risks suggesting that the issue is adults disliking children. That is not the case. Childism requires a cultural breach of humanity and is bolstered by harmful influences like White Supremacy Culture. You may disagree with me and that’s ok, but I do want to make clear why I use childism in the way I do.

Origin of the Scale

I’ve been thinking about developing an anti-childism scale for years. It’s been a long time coming. I initially got the idea from the work of Dr. Barnor Hesse, Associate Professor of African American Studies, Political Science, and Sociology at Northwestern University, who produced a scale of white identities that increasingly cultivate genuine anti-racism. For a text version of this list of The 8 White Identities, check out this post.

Based on Dr. Hesse’s work, I set out to form a similar scale toward the neutralization of childism that borrows from the Transtheoretical Model to foster growth and behavior change.

My scale is meant for personal reflection and self-improvement purposes only. I would be disappointed to see it used as a weapon against people who do not agree with my belief system. My hope is that it will get people thinking and give them an idea of where they stand with respect to embracing or rejecting childism.

The Anti-Childism Scale

The following six identities increasingly represent an anti-childist worldview and indicate the level of action a person is willing to take in opposition to childism.

  1. The Dominator: Believes children must be controlled by adults and must be respectful of adult authority. Grants only minimal rights to children.

The Dominator aligns with traditional cultural values in which children effectively live their lives at the pleasure of the adults around them. This person has no insight into their own childism. Moving from this stage may prove the hardest as such movement requires a significant worldview shift.

  1. The Inquirer: Questions the power dynamic between children and adults and is open to discussion. Continues to behave as Dominator-lite.

The Inquirer has realized something isn’t right and works to determine if childism is worth investigating or if it is nonsense. Moving through this stage may be frustrating as it sits on the cusp of full understanding.

  1. The Convert: Accepts that children face discrimination at the hands of adults. But may be uncomfortable taking action beyond discussion.

The Convert is the first stage of intentional anti-childism work. This person is convinced that childism is unacceptable but is either uncertain or uncomfortable taking action. This person likely discusses actions and attitudes toward kids and validates the reality of children’s lived experiences.

  1. The Critic: Regards children as deserving of protection from discrimination. Expresses beliefs when safe, but may not speak out when the cost is too high.

The Critic wants to help and is willing to speak up if doing so will not result in blowback. For instance, Critics may debate childism online but may not speak up in real life even when they know something is wrong. Moving from belief to action can be scary, but this person is making progress.

  1. The Embracer: Recognizes children as equals in humanity and chooses inclusion whenever possible, even in the face of open criticism. Retains unexamined childism.

The Embracer actively advocates for kids and speaks up no matter who is listening. This is a transitional stage where we learn how to do what needs to be done and gain the courage to do it.

  1. The Subverter: Elevates children in word and deed, believes children deserve equal rights as adults, understands that children have varying capacities to manage freedoms, meets children where they are, and encourages others to do the same. Seeks out and actively resolves internalized childism.

The Subverter is a powerhouse for kids, working alongside children rather than in place of them. This person understands that children are not helpless or unaware. As such, the Subverter seeks out the needs and wants of children and works toward true allyship. This is the person who speaks up when others don’t and boldly treats children with respect even in the face of chastisement from other adults. This person works to change societal views toward children and undermine institutional childism. This person is capable of starting a chain reaction up The Anti-Childism Scale and effects change through discussion, action, and activism to help others achieve elucidation.

Working Through the Scale

The Anti-Childism Scale is not strictly linear nor is it neat. There is transmutational space between each of the identities where we work through the discomfort of growth and struggle against our fears. Even as we take big steps, we will have moments when we slip back into a more comfortable state. It’s crucial to remember that this is not an all-or-nothing metamorphosis. Our choices matter, moment-by-moment, for life. Each new stage we enter brings us self-awareness and self-improvement, and it elevates children at the same time.

Some of the things we can do as caring adults to ensure the rights of children are:

  1. Read and understand the 54 “Rights of the Child” as adopted by the United Nations. These are children’s most basic rights. We can do even better with a little effort.
  2. Share the 54 “Rights of the Child” with our children so that they understand the standards to which they should hold all adults.
  3. Consider how our choices affect our children and ask them for their input.
  4. Respect our children’s names and avoid using them as a threat. (Most of us know what it means to be called your full name by a parent.)
  5. Accept our children’s unique identity and genuinely see who our children really are.
  6. Listen to our children’s opinions and be open to negotiation.
  7. Recognize that children are intelligent. Assume competence and protect our children’s freedom of expression.
  8. Give our children adequate privacy and access to information. Where issues of safety arise, work it out with the child, not for the child.
  9. Find ways to teach and coach our children that do not involve punishments.
  10. Provide our children with ample opportunities to play and rest.

I hope I’ve given you something to think about. You can expect more posts from me on childism and how to root it out. For now, I’d love to find out where you see yourself on the scale. And, of course, please feel free to share it to give others the same opportunity for self-exploration.

Check out the post Rights Versus Freedoms for a deeper dive.

White Supremacy Culture and You (Yep, You)

Have you ever heard the term __________ People Time to refer to someone running late? That blank could refer to Black people, Latinx people, or any number of other cultures. Do you know why it’s a thing in the first place? Because of something called “time orientation.” Some cultures don’t have any real investment in the passage of time, some are polychronic, and some are monochronic. Perhaps, unsurprising, it’s been theorized that the less concerned people are about time, the warmer the climate in the culture’s ancient past. The idea is that inhabitants of warmer climates, historically, had to concern themselves less with clothing and food than did inhabitants of colder climates who spent more time on basic survival. If you have a short growing season and a long winter, time will feel in very short supply.

Polychronic cultures are those in which people are lax about time. Their focus in on community and relationships and they value things like relaxation. Monochronic cultures are centered around time and schedules. They work through time in a linear direction and they value things like promptness. So, when I tell you that predominantly white cultures are primarily monochronic, including the colonizers who settled in the United States and built a culture around their values, does it come as a shock? Probably not. Fast-forward to today and people from historically polychronic cultures are made to feel that they are wrong for being late or for talking for too long or for assuming context or for interrupting. However, they aren’t wrong. They’re just different.

The characteristics of any culture arise from legitimate needs during that culture’s history. However, one group’s cultural values, in particular, have obfuscated the valid cultural traditions of people groups the world over via mass colonization: White Supremacy Culture.

As defined by DismantlingRacism.org,

White Supremacy Culture is the idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

White supremacy culture is reproduced by all the institutions of our society. In particular the media, the education system, western science (which played a major role in reinforcing the idea of race as a biological truth with the white race as the “ideal” top of the hierarchy), and the Christian church have played central roles in reproducing the idea of white supremacy (i.e. that white is “normal,” “better,” “smarter,” “holy” in contrast to Black and other People and Communities of Color.

White supremacy culture is an artificial, historically constructed culture which expresses, justifies and binds together the United States white supremacy system. It is the glue that binds together white-controlled institutions into systems and white-controlled systems into the global white supremacy system.

Dismantling Racism names the following fifteen characteristics of White Supremacy Culture. I will seek to describe each in brief and explain how White Supremacy Culture influences childism, though you will likely see the problem before I get there.

  1. Perfectionism: Inadequacies matter more than competencies, mistakes reflect badly on the person rather than being seen as neutral opportunities for reflection and growth, and problems are more identifiable than strengths.
  2. Sense of Urgency: Schedules are more important than people, decision-making and strategizing are rushed, and results are more important than the process.
  3. Defensiveness: Saving face and not ruffling any feathers get prioritized, hierarchies control for perceived insubordination, and leaders reject constructive feedback as unjust criticism.
  4. Valuing Quantity over Quality: Meeting measurable goals takes precedence, emotions have no place, and completing the checklist wins out over any harm or the actual outcome.
  5. Worship of the written word: Documenting everything accurately is more trusted than putting faith in people, and alternative communication styles are abhorred.
  6. Belief in Only One Right Way: Divining the perfect solution to a problem is the goal and no flexibility exists to apply a fundamentally good solution in ways that address differences.
  7. Paternalism: Only people in power are capable of making the right decisions for the people they rule and little vertical collaboration in the hierarchy occurs.
  8. Either/or Thinking: Binary thinking rules, all nuance is lost, and the agenda of people in power gets advanced.
  9. Power Hoarding: Preserving power toward the top of the hierarchy is key and those not in power are viewed as incompetent and emotional when they defy the power structure.
  10. Fear of Open Conflict: Politeness rules all, conflict is unbearable, and emotional responses signal lack of intelligence or capacity.
  11. Individualism: The ability of the individual is valued over the ability to work as a team, people should solve problems on their own, individuals want credit rather than cooperation, a rampant lack of accountability for those in power exists, and everyone is pushed into isolation as a result.
  12. I’m the Only One Who Can Do This Right: The focus is on concentrating knowledge and effort into individuals, others cannot be trusted to do the thing correctly
  13. Progress is Bigger and More: Progress matters more than process and those lacking power are exploited and excluded.
  14. Objectivity: Neutrality is the priority, emotions invalidate the emotional person, perceived illogical thinking is met with impatience, and out of the box thinking is discouraged.
  15. Claiming a Right to Comfort: Comfort for those in power is emphasized, those who cause discomfort get blamed, and fragility is the result.

Tema Okun, author and social justice advocate explains further that “the characteristics listed [above] are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being proactively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. Because we all live in a white supremacy culture, these characteristics show up in the attitudes and behaviors of all of us – people of color and white people.”

We are all influenced. Our worldviews are impacted. And, the way we approach parenting is affected. Here are a few of the ways in which White Supremacy Culture is impacting the way we treat our children.

Signs You’re Buying Into White Supremacy

At this point, your chest might be tightening a little. You might already be convincing yourself of how wrong I am. You couldn’t possibly be buying into White Supremacy Culture! Could you? Let me me the first one to admit that I struggle. I truly struggle. I see clearly where White Supremacy Culture has molded my thinking, even as a Peaceful Parent. The truth is that acknowledging reality and being honest with myself is the only way forward. Not only is it a way to become a better parent, for me, it’s also a way to help me become a better, more responsible white person.

I invite you to read through this list and see if your parenting has also been influenced by White Supremacy Culture like mine has.

  1. Children can’t make mistakes without being punished
  2. They are pulled to and fro by the draw of our schedules
  3. We become incensed when our kids “disobey”
  4. If our children aren’t progressing then they must be falling behind
  5. Preliterate children in particular are infantilized by our communication requirements
  6. We push kids toward the “right” way to do things and ignore their unique ideas
  7. Children have no say in their upbringing
  8. Children are either good or bad
  9. Parents hold 100% of the power in the relationship
  10. We demand politeness over realness
  11. We expect our kids to figure things out on their own (“I’ve told you a hundred times! Go figure it out!”)
  12. We react to mistakes by taking over
  13. We praise progress and criticize mistakes made during the process
  14. We believe we are more objective because we are less emotional than children
  15. We punish children for “embarrassing” us in public

In the beginning of this piece, I looked at the ways in which cultures perceive time to illustrate the legitimate differences that exist across cultures. I talked about White Supremacy Culture and how ubiquitous it is. We are impacted by it without knowing it. I laid out the characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, followed by some of the ways in which White Supremacy Culture affects our children. If we accept that White Supremacy Culture does not contain exclusive knowledge of the only right way to believe and behave, what does that say about the way we treat children as isolated subordinates under the influence of white supremacy?

In 2013, Ghanian researcher, Patricia Mawusi Amos, authored a chapter in a book called Parenting in South American and African Contexts. Her chapter, Parenting and Culture – Evidence from Some African Communities, highlights common parenting practices in Ghana, Nigeria, and Liberia that produce positive results in children. Notably, she includes the extended family system, folktales, and puberty rites. These practices defy the White Supremacy Culture values of Paternalism, as multiple family and community members help care for the children; Sense of Urgency, as time is taken to teach children through storytelling; and Individualism, as children are included in cultural rites of passage.

And, research backs it up. For instance, Tadesse Jaleta Jirata’s 2014 paper, Positive Parenting: An Ethnographic Study of Storytelling for Socialization of Children in Ethiopia, concludes that the tradition of intergenerational storytelling “is a means for parents to accomplish their parenting responsibilities in line with the needs and concerns of their children,” “fosters close social relationships between parents and children and facilitates intergenerational transmission of knowledge and values,” builds “creative child-to-child interactions and help[s] children adapt themselves to their social world.”

So, if you find yourself locked into a White Supremacy Culture mindset, try moving in another direction. Read up on how parenting happens in other cultures. Look to find ways in which you can reduce the childism inherent in White Supremacy Culture. At this point, I should note that simply by engaging in Peaceful Parenting, you’ve already begun the work. One of the most common criticisms I’ve received about Peaceful Parenting is the amount of time it takes to go the gentle route. So, you know what? Go the gentle route! Ready for a final list?

How to Make a Positive Change

It’s one thing to say we want to reject White Supremacy Culture and quite another to actually do it. It’s hard to go against the grain. How about starting with a few resolutions to incorporate into your daily life?

  1. Let children make mistakes without judgment. Check out this really cool research on how allowing people to self-correct their behavior builds executive function.
  2. Slow down and be more choosy about the activities your family will engage in. Psychology Today has a great piece on how to do just that.
  3. Try shifting your mentality from demanding obedience to inviting cooperation and consider these ideas from Positive Parenting Connections.
  4. Live in the present! Delight in your child’s unique process. And learn about the benefits of focusing on process over outcome.
  5. Find out how you can support your child’s communication through all stages of development from ZERO TO THREE, a global organization powered by leading researchers and clinicians.
  6. Incorporate these amazing recommendations from Scholastic.com for encouraging divergent, creative thinking in children.
  7. Stop railing against “giving in” to your children and trying giving choices instead. Children who learn early how to make wise choices are better prepared for a lifetime of decision-making.
  8. Understand that people are too complicated to be either good or bad. We are a culmination of all our experiences and all our reflections. Children benefit from being guided toward wisdom rather than being held to the impossible standard of “good.”
  9. End the power struggles by keeping children’s power buckets full.
  10. Read up on Kindness versus Niceness and why Kids Don’t Owe Anyone Good Manners.
  11. Recognize that kids don’t just choose not to do what we ask of them. Their executive function is developing and they need our help to figure things out. Check out this great overview for more details.
  12. Resist the urge to step in and take over for your child. See this post at GoodTherapy.org to find out why.
  13. Instead of praise and criticism, try opting for empowerment and motivation.
  14. Recognize that you are not an objective observer removed from your relationship with your child. Both you and your child have human emotions that should be validated, not shunned.
  15. Stop worrying about what other people think about your parenting and practice skills to help you connect with your child instead.

I know this was a tough post to read. Did it help you see something you didn’t see before? Do you have a game plan for how you’d like to move forward with your new (or renewed) knowledge?

The Brutality of the “I Turned Out Fine” Argument

A couple years back, The New York Times published an article called “The Fallacy of the ‘I Turned Out Fine’ Argument.” In the interest of specificity, I will simply quote the key logical problems with this argument, as explicated in that piece:

It’s what’s known as an anecdotal fallacy. This fallacy, in simple terms, states that “I’m not negatively affected (as far as I can tell), so it must be O.K. for everyone.” As an example: “I wasn’t vaccinated, and I turned out fine. Therefore, vaccination is unnecessary.” We are relying on a sample size of one. Ourselves, or someone we know. And we are applying that result to everyone.

It relies on a decision-making shortcut known as the availability heuristic. Related to the anecdotal fallacy, it’s where we draw on information that is immediately available to us when we make a judgment call. In this case, autobiographical information is easily accessible — it’s already in your head. We were smacked as kids and turned out fine, so smacking doesn’t hurt anyone. But studies show that the availability heuristic is a cognitive bias that can cloud us from making accurate decisions utilizing all the information available. It blinds us to our own prejudices.

It dismisses well-substantiated, scientific evidence. To say “I turned out fine” is an arrogant dismissal of an alternative evidence-based view. It requires no perspective and no engagement with an alternative perspective. The statement closes off discourse and promotes a single perspective that is oblivious to alternatives that may be more enlightened. Anecdotal evidence often undermines scientific results, to our detriment.

It leads to entrenched attitudes. When views inconsistent with our own are shared we make an assumption that whoever holds those views is not fine, refusing to engage, explore or grow. Perhaps an inability to engage with views that run counter to our own suggests that we did not turn out quite so “fine.”

Where is the threshold for what constitutes having turned out fine? If it means we avoided prison, we may be setting the bar too low. Gainfully employed and have a family of our own? Still a pretty basic standard. It is as reasonable to say “I turned out fine because of this” as it is to say “I turned out fine in spite of this.”

Recently, I participated in a large 1,000+ comment discussion about spanking. Nearly every commenter supported spanking and many made the “I turned out fine” claim. Anywhere you see adults treating children in a violent manner, you are bound to also find people making complimentary comments to the effect that they received the same treatment themselves as children and it taught them to respect their elders. Respect? I’d be curious to know what that means to them, since so many people cannot believe that giving respect to children engenders respectfulness from children.

I was discussing that heartbreaking thread with a friend who remarked:

I was ruminating on statements of erasure like that. And I wondered if it exists because it’s too painful to consider that they themselves were also mistreated.

Because to acknowledge someone’s pain means realizing you were maimed too.

Statements of erasure. She took my breath away. That’s exactly what people do when they suggest that the often unbearable pain one person experiences can’t be that bad if others survive it without obvious scars. What about the deep scars? The ones they deny. The ones they can’t accept. The ones that offer points of empathy and connection to others who shared the same experience?

Adults who defend spanking, and were spanked as children, openly admit that they tried to avoid being spanked. They know it hurt. Yet, they inflict the same uncomfortable experience on their kids. Not only that, they also vehemently defend their parents’ decision to spank them. Consider the following description:

[Children who will become adults who condone spanking] are placed in a situation where they feel intense fear of physical harm and believe all control is in the hands of their tormentor. The psychological response follows after a period of time and is a survival strategy for the victims. It includes sympathy and support for their [parents’] plight and may even manifest in negative feelings toward [advocates] who are trying to help [spanked children].

I admit I tweaked the wording with my own edits. This is actually a description of Stockholm Syndrome, a survival mechanism that manifests when people cannot escape their tormentors and find themselves becoming psychologically attached as a means of protection from harm. It is a form of trauma bonding and it is frighteningly similar to what happens to spanked children who become spankers as adults. These adults demand their “right” to hit their children in order to make them behave despite the fact that spanking not only doesn’t make children behave, it also increases the risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children. Spankers will say that can’t be true, because their children are wonderfully behaved. If spanking works, though, why do you have to spank a child more than once? Moreover, is the child really well behaved, or are they experiencing an instinctive survival response that makes them passive?

The evidence is clear that harsh treatment does maim kids. For instance, a 2009 study found reduced prefrontal cortical gray matter volume in young adults who had been exposed, as children, to occasional spanking with a paddle on the buttocks that neither resulted in injury nor was conducted in anger. To be clear, the area of their brains that was affected manages the abilities to 1) distinguish oneself from others, 2) see oneself in others, 3) empathize with others, 4) predict behavior in others, and 5) use logical judgment in interpreting behavior in others. You can imagine how incredibly detrimental such brain changes would be. And, there are millions upon millions of people who have been affected and may not even realize it. And, the scariest part for me is that there is no way to predict the effects spanking will have on a child. Why take the risk?

When a commenter in that spanking discussion I mentioned earlier was asked what spanking offered that other forms of punishment didn’t, she responded “immediacy.” People are willing to permanently damage their children’s brains to achieve immediate compliance even when they know what the evidence says. And, if you’re thinking that perhaps spanking without the use of an object is a better option, think again. The evidence is staggering that physical (e.g. spanking, calisthenics, etc.) and emotional (e.g. public shaming, belittling, etc.) violence harms kids.

Years ago, when Adrian Peterson was being tried for abusing his toddler son, Cris Carter had this to say about right and wrong when it comes to parenting:

The harsh treatment we felt was unfair as children was unfair. We didn’t deserve it and our parents were wrong for it. The fact that we (me included) have ever felt any different is the result of the gaslighting our culture does to kids. We’re all left believing a lie. Consider times your bad experiences have been minimized. Think back to those frustrating moments when you’ve been made to believe you were overreacting when you weren’t. That’s what our culture does to children every day. Our entire culture is childist, so it’s no surprise that so many of us are convinced that it’s normal to yell at and hit kids. After all, they can be irrational and we adults have to assert our authority over them… just like men did to women not that long ago and just like white people have long done to people of color. We’ve seen this kind of discrimination carried out before. It’s not new, but kids simply don’t have enough social capital to effect change on their own.

Who would we be if our parents had been gentle and respectful with us? What would society be as a whole? Here’s the saddest part. No one can possibly know who they might have been had their parents been gentle and respectful with them. What we do know is that respectful, responsive parenting approaches are evidence-based. They succeed with all children, because they account for eventualities. They succeed across neurotypes and other differences. Even kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder find relief with peaceful techniques.

I have great empathy for parents. I know how stressful it is to be a mom with a unique set of challenges and others have so many more challenges. What some may see as judging parents, I see as protecting kids since kids are the ones affected by childism. I’m always speaking for the child’s perspective. The unfortunate truth is that no one who experiences violence in any form, be it yelling or spanking or whatever, comes out ok on the other side. We survive and can flourish, but we still carry those scars with us and they come out in unexpected ways, like losing patience with our own children. We fall back into the patterns we knew as children and those often become our parenting vices.

If you were treated harshly like me, you did not turn out fine. You survived… with scars. But, humans are extraordinary and resilient. We can turn challenge into promise through force of will and support by people who want to see us succeed. Now that you know, here’s the inevitable choice: continue the generational trauma, or choose a completely different path. The path I chose was Peaceful Parenting. You have to find your own path, though I do hope you find your way back to this blog! I would love to support you in your efforts to improve the lives of your kids.

Disrespectful Expectations

Several weeks ago, a friend told me this story about an interaction between her tween son and her mother. Since many of us are gearing up for big family events tomorrow, this topic is something worth thinking about. My friend, a 30-something-year-old Black mother of two in Texas, had this to say:

So today she apparently asked my 12 yr old if he could help her get 2 gallons of water from her car and he said no. She came to snitch and I’m sure was trying to embarrass him and I just said “I’ll help you.” He seemed annoyed she interrupted our conversation to tell me that. My family has no respect for children. I honestly assumed he didn’t feel like it. He had just gotten home and rode his bike from school today and he was getting his snack together. I wouldn’t want to stop preparing food to get water either when it can wait. It wasn’t perishable food she was asking for help with but it honestly didn’t matter to me. I teach them ‘you can always ask but sometimes the answer is no.’

She explained further that there is some background between her son and her mother. It seems she oversteps her bounds and tries to impose her ideology on the children. My friend’s son receives her actions as judgmental. When she asked “Do you want to help me with something?” he answered literally “No” because he was busy.

I can almost see the pearl-clutching! I come from a very Southern, very authoritarian background where adults owned all rights to the labor of children and children had no right to refuse. It was considered the height of rudeness and deserving of quite a spanking. I’ll grant that a young boy who had the strength to ride his bike all the way home from school surely has the strength to go outside to grab a couple gallons of water. Plus, it’s perceived as rude not to be considerate of an elderly relative’s wishes.

Before we had our children, Peaceful Dad and I created family guidelines, and one of those guidelines is “We always choose to help.” We teach our children that we are the heart and hands of Christ to our world. We help out of love. Not obligation. And never because someone wants to assert a flawed belief that my children should be subordinate. I don’t entertain discussing my kids negatively like this grandmother did, no matter who the adult is. I will always ask the adult to speak directly to my child if there’s been a problem. I can be there for moral support, but my child needs to be part of the conversation.

Had this scenario happened in my house, I probably would have broached the topic with my son to understand his perspective while affirming that no one is obligated to help anyone. I would want my son to know that there are relationship consequences for refusing a request for help, particularly since there exists a social expectation that children are to serve adults. This is something children need to be aware of, and it’s something worth discussing as we guide our children through the trials of childism.

Her entitlement was completely inappropriate. No one has a right to anyone else’s labor. I imagine my friend’s son would have graciously agreed had his grandmother asked, “When you finish eating your snack, would mind helping me get some gallons of water out of my car?” So, let’s flip this around. Is it not also rude of an adult, knowing this child was tired and hungry, to demand assistance with a non-urgent matter while the child is in the middle of making himself something to help him recover from his long day and his long ride? Could the request not have been made in a more understanding and compassionate way wherein both of their needs could have been met?

The trouble here is that, for many adults, the outcome isn’t as important as the interaction. They say they like seeing kind, cooperative, and respectful children, but what they really expect is deference and obedience.

That’s childism!

Rudeness is a matter of perception. In this case, the requester ultimately got the help she was requesting, so the problem was solved. I don’t want to suggest that kids be encouraged to break social “rules” for the sake of being controversial. I think it’s important for children to be aware of expectations and cultural consequences. But, at the same time, we also need to be holding adults accountable for how they interact with kids, and we need to instill self-confidence and self-worth in our kids so that they know how to navigate social expectations with grace and wisdom.

If a child is uncomfortable with a request being made of them, we can be there to help guide the conversation. Otherwise, we can give kids room to work out their own relationships and support them in upholding boundaries… even with elderly relatives. And, even at big family events.

I asked my friend what had changed since her own childhood that caused her to support her son in his interaction with her mother. She said:

In the past I would have felt pressured into forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do. When my daughter came along I realized that I was raising my kids differently than I was raised and than the kids in my family were being raised. One day my grandma asked my 1 year old for a hug at easter and my nephew who was about 4 said she “don’t do hugs.” My granny said “I don’t care, come give me a hug girl!” It was right then that I was like “oh hell no!” She is not about to force herself onto my child and traumatize her and then leave me with the job of cleaning up. So I stopped her in that moment and said “we don’t force physical contact on people,” and I looked at my daughter and said “can you wave bye bye to granny?” And she didn’t do that either and I said “maybe next time” and shrugged it off. That’s when I started looking into ways to fend off my pushy relatives because I knew there would be more situations like these in the future.

I went from spanking my son to not believing it was necessary I hardly ever took my kids out during nap time or would leave when they got tired because they just slept better at home and to prevent putting them in situations where they were over tired and would act out. Long ago, I decided that just because something is the way we’ve always done it, that doesn’t mean it’s not wrong.

Just because something is the way we’ve always done it, that doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. That is an entire lesson right there on its own! We can teach our children how to say, “I’m busy right now, but I’ll be with you as soon as I finish.” We can foster relationships in our children’s lives that meet their needs and those of the adults they care about. When the challenge in a child’s life is a social expectation, let’s allow genuineness and honesty to win out. It’s ok for children to say “not now” or even “no” to adults. Unclutch those pearls!

So, how do you instill a sense of selflessness in your kids? How do you foster the development of a human who enjoys being helpful whenever possible? I’m sure there are many ways families are doing this every day (and I’d love to hear from you in the comments!) I’ll mention one of the ways that has been invaluable for my family. We include our children in our everyday lives. Sounds pretty simple, but it takes planning and patience. It can be difficult to allow kids to help in their own developmentally appropriate ways. It’s messy and time consuming, but it is wonderfully affirming for your child! If you’d like to try it out, the key is to resist the urge to do things for your children. Don’t take over. If you want to insert yourself into the activity, help out! Demonstrate by modeling what’s expected. Openly speak with your child about the expected outcome, step by step. Children don’t know the process to get to an end result until they learn it. For example, including children in putting laundry away might look something like this:

  • Parent invites the child to help
  • Child accepts
  • Parent quickly explains what’s about to happen – “We’re going to take the clothes out of this laundry basket, fold them neatly, put them back into the basket, and then put them into their drawers. I’ll help you!”
  • Parent demonstrates how to fold an item of clothing and hands some clothes to the child
  • Parent and child go through the steps together

Many children will likely not be able to fold to an adult’s expectation, be able to open drawers and sort, and the like. Some direction is helpful, but allowing the child to try and accepting their effort as is goes a long way to instilling a love of helping in a child. And, start young. Thank your infant for helping you pick up toys even if it becomes a game. There are so many ways to include and appreciate kids. You and your child will figure it out together.

Squaring Santa

Most people would agree that there’s nothing troubling about millions of adults working together to convince children – and only children – of a lie. However, if an adult did such a thing to an adult, it would be met with something less than delight. Is it an innocent tradition or an example of how pervasive and deep-seated childism really is? It’s worth a discussion at the very least.

Let me say at the start here that I am not judging what you do. I’m not suggesting we burn down modern-day Christmas into a heap of social justice-scented ashes. I do, however, wonder if we’ve thoroughly thought this through and if, maybe, there’s a better option.

Childism, A Graphic Explanation

The Jolly Man in Red

Our favorite jolly man in red arrived in New York for the first time by way of Dutch immigrants in the late 1700s. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that Christmas became a big shopping holiday, and Santa got a big boost. He was, after all, the face of Christmas! Around that time, in 1823, minister Clement Clarke Moore wrote “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” in which Santa was conceptualized as a magical man who flew from house to house in a reindeer-drawn sleigh. Years later, in 1881, Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, drew his vision of Santa based on Moore’s poem. His drawing of a man with white beard, red suit, North Pole workshop with elves, and lovely wife Mrs. Claus, solidified our national image of the portly, jolly fellow. For all intents and purposes, Santa Claus is only 196 years old, which is fairly recent considering the expanse of human history. His story was written when my great-great-great-grandparents were children.

The Real Santa Claus

As you may already know, Santa Claus is the modern incarnation of a real man, Nicholas of Myra. He was born in the 3rd century and grew up to become a bishop. Because of his faith, Nicholas was arrested and imprisoned by Roman Emperor Diocletian who had a terrifying reputation for persecuting Christians. In fact, he imprisoned so many Christians that the prisons could no longer accept criminals for a time.

Nicholas, now famously, threw bags of gold into the home of a poor nobleman who couldn’t afford the dowries his daughters required in order to be married. Although the act was done is secret, the nobleman found him out and anonymous gifts began to be attributed to Bishop Nicholas. Legend tells that the gold landed in stockings or shoes that were left by the fire to dry. This is where our custom of stockings derives.

How My Family Honors Saint Nicholas

Since we are Orthodox Christians, we have a special feast day during which we honor St. Nicholas: December 6th (which is December 19th on the Gregorian calendar). In my family, this is the day our children receive their stockings. Prior to St. Nicholas Day, we choose a family service activity to do together in reflection of the good works done by St. Nicholas in his day. We also read a book about St. Nicholas and his works on the evening of December 5th, and we choose toys to donate for other children to enjoy.

On St. Nicholas Day eve, the children receive their stockings! Each year, their stockings contain:

  • Money (for their savings accounts): Representing the money St. Nicholas threw into the window of a poor nobleman’s house.
  • A Toy: Representing the toys St. Nicholas commissioned a toymaker to make for children whose families couldn’t afford any.
  • A Prayer Related Gift: Representing the saint’s devotion to God.
  • A Treat: Representing the food he would give to people who were hungry; including a candy cane to represent his staff.
  • Clothing: Representing the clothes St. Nicholas gave to people who couldn’t afford any.

We do not participate in the modern myth of Santa Claus, because we already celebrate the real man! Our children aren’t old enough to spill the beans to other children, so to speak, but our plan is to explain to them that other families have traditions they hold dear, and we respect those traditions out of care for our family and friends. We will also tell them all about St. Nicholas and encourage them to tell their friends about all the wonderful things he did. If they are pressed to tell if they believe in Santa Claus, they will be able to say “Yes, I believe in St. Nicholas!” and leave it at that.

I recognize that other parents, including Peaceful Parents, enjoy the Santa Claus tradition. My intention is not to be abrasive or cruel, so while I want to encourage people to think through how the tradition may impact kids, I do not advocate purposely interfering with how other families celebrate Christmas.

Addressing the Childism in the Myth

Why do we not view the Santa Claus myth as childist? I ask to generate contemplation; not to judge. Here are some of the reasons that gave me pause when Peaceful Dad and I considered how we would handle Santa.

  • If it looks like a lie and behaves like a lie, it’s probably a lie. It’s a culturally acceptable one, but it’s a lie nonetheless and we consider lies coming from our kids to be unacceptable. It’s a double-standard.
  • Santa Claus is used in popular culture to manipulate children into “being good.” Even if families don’t do this themselves, their children are still going to be exposed to this mentality outside of their homes.
  • Children are often heartbroken and embarrassed when they learn the truth.
  • Caring parents have been compelled to manufacture even more lies to explain away the Santa myth in a less destructive way.
  • When parents talk about when and whether they should tell their children the truth about Santa, invariably, their decisions are based at least in part on how the parents feel about this developmental milestone. It’s not really about the kids.
  • Lying about Santa isn’t the only way to engender the Christmas Spirit.
  • Bonus: Santa rose to fame as a result of the commercialization of Christmas. The modern image of Santa was first used to sell a cartoonist’s work and then used to sell Christmas products in the 19th century stores. Not exactly the pure Christmas tradition we like to think about.

As a Peaceful Parent, will you take all of this into consideration? What are some other ways we can include Santa Claus at Christmastime that don’t involve culturally-encouraged deception?