Kids Getting Older Younger

The Freechild Project has faced charges of wanting to create “little adults”: young people who have with knowledge and/or abilities thought to be the divine provenance of adults. In one online rant an writer rails against the Freechild website, saying that

Freechild.org – more accurately imprisonchild.org – encourages practices that are meant to integrate children into adult society, all of which will be/are a failure and will make the condition of children in America worse…

The author goes on:

“Freechild… is talking about… ‘all children to realize they are part of something larger than themselves… They’re wrong. Children will NEVER be part of the American (adult) system.”

Anyone familiar with my workshops knows that I don’t take criticism lightly, as I often invite it during conversations, and frequently go over what I’ve heard/seen/felt with the Freechild Advisory Board and CommonAction’s board of directors. There is a tension that has become apparent to me over the last several months, and that may be the greatest barrier that we all known about, but rarely address. Let me identify the “Freechild side” of that tension by calling out three seemingly dangerous propositions that underlie the assumptions behind The Freechild Project.

First, let me aknowledge that Freechild does one thing well: We acknolwedge the vast variety of action that large numbers of the youth population of the world are actively engaged in. That is Dangerous Proposition One.

Freechild does another thing ambitiously, if not well: We openly identify the barriers that young people face throughout society, in the form of discrimination against youth. That is Dangerous Proposition Two.

Freechild seeks to prove a third thing: The transformation of the roles of young people throughout society is inevitable; that inevitable change should be for the collective good of all humanity. That is Dangerous Proposition Three.

That third proposition is where the greatest tension starts, particularly in that earlier criticism. That author’s perspective that Freechild is effectively “selling out” his vision of what childhood should be is probably true. In a recent workshop I was told that “kids need a chance to be kids,” and that’s not the first time I’ve heard that sentiment. I don’t disagree. What I do disagree with is the notion that all children must behave one way, and that any child-directed behavior that extends beyond that one way is deviant and should be suppressed.

Marketers often talk about “age compression“, or KGOY – Kids Getting Older Younger. While KGOY is rightly vilified when it comes to crass consumerism and commercialism, I think it is questionable when we talk about the overall roles of young people throughout society. Young people cannot continue to be the passive consumers that their parents were. Corporations, who past generations relied on to make decisions for them, have plainly proven that they do not act in the public interest. Therefore, young people must learn to be critical consumers. They must be taught to react accordingly when the public good is under attack.

This critical consumption is bound to spread beyond the economic marketplace. Schools, the “marketplace of ideas”, have been the site of critical consumption since they were created. Where that criticism once took the form of dropping out or failing classes, today young people are learning to react in a more public way by organizing campaigns and engaging in public discource about improving schools. All the other stations in our communities are in the sites of young critical consumers, as well: Government agencies, Police departments, Youth programs, Foundations and many, many other locations are feeling the challenge of critical engagement by young people.

While many observers mourn the loss of “childhood innocence” and the phenomenom of KGOY, young people aren’t waiting around to read their critiques. Instead they are moving ahead in bold, conscious and powerful ways. It then becomes the responsibility of adults to understand that the wisdom and energy of young people can – and should – work for our collective benefit.
Let’s learn, and more forward beyond the confines of “the way its always been” – primarily because its never gonna be that way again. And that’s a good thing.

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