Protection Versus Self-Reliance

“Protection is never neutral, disinterested or without negative consequences. Sheltering children from the work world has made them totally financially dependent on parents. The daily regime in school reproduces factory discipline. Their bodies, their time and their intellects are monitored by bells, confinement to desks, by exams, grades and punishments, and by teacher surveillance.

Other institutions have arisen to contain those who do not adapt in home or school. With each new outburst of rebellion, there is a cry for more discipline, more specialists. With each new act of brutality against children, which comes to light in the press, there is a cry for more protection, more intervention. Is it not time, while keeping in mind the very real vulnerability of children in the current system, to call into question the idea of protection? To ask what has it achieved?

If protecting children we are making them more dependent and vulnerable to exploitation, then this is not only counterproductive, but hypocritical. When adults think of protecting children, it is always against the danger “out there,” against other adults since they themselves know “what is best.” We seem incapable of realizing that a protector can also be an abuser, a person who does not respect a child’s integrity or wishes – in short, any adult, be they parent, teacher, stranger or youth worker.

Real protection is self protection. Adults need to work with children to confront dangers and problems, to examine what resources and rights children need in order to be stronger and more independent. And adults need to look at how they benefit from children’s dependency.

This section comes from As Soon as You’re Born They Make You Feel Small: Self Determination for Children, a small booklet written by Wendy Ayotte that was first printed in 1986. I enjoy reading like this, whether or not I fully agree with it, simply because I like the challenge inherent in reading and reflecting on it. The rest of the booklet is just as powerful, and Ayotte was successful in her guerrilla marketing effort with the booklet: my Google search turned up almost 400 hits online, for this booklet that was printed in 1986. I know its been re-released again, but still – its nowhere to be found online. That’s awesome.

My thoughts on this section? I agree with Ayotte’s point about childrens’ reliance upon adults, and the dichotomous and alienating relationships enforced throughout our society that ensure that reliance. However, I do take exception to the implication that children and youth do not have any need for a protective role between themselves and adults. In reality there is a role for that reliance – just as much as there is a necessity for adults to rely on young people. That is the nature of interdependence.

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