I wrote the following article for Wikipedia, and for a while it was being threatened with deletion as some of the editors there didn’t feel it worthy of inclusion. The consensus was to keep it, but for the sake of sharing I thought I would include it here. I have expanded on it a bit, and added a summary statement. Let me know what you think!
Pedophobia is the fear of infants, children, or the time of life known as childhood.(1, 2) Pedo- comes for the Greek word for child; -phobia is the Greek word for fear. It is related to other age-focused fears, including ephebiphobia, the fear of youth, and gerontophobia, the fear of the elderly. Outcomes of pedophobia include adultism, which is placing the interests of adults before those of young people, and by extension, ageism, which is any discrimination against any person because of their age.
The fear of children has been diagnosed and treated by psychiatrists, with studies examining the effects of multiple forms of treatment (3). Sociologists have situated contemporary fears about children and childhood as “contributing to the ongoing social construction of childhood”, and suggest that “generational power relations, in which children’s lives are bounded by adult surveillance” affect many aspects of society.(4) More than one study has identified the fear of children as a factor affecting conception and pregnancy.(5, 6)
Pedophobia is the raison d’etre for several international social justice movements addressing young people, including the children’s rights and youth participation movements. Major international organizations addressing pedophobia, either outright or by implication, include Save the Children and Children’s Defense Fund. However, some organizations, particularly those associated with the youth rights movement, claim that these movements actually perpetuate pedophobia (7).
The complicity of this notion is exacerbated by observations by experts such as Letty Cottin-Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. magazine, who is said to have diagnosed America as having an “epidemic of pedophobia”, saying that,
“Though most of us make exceptions for our own offspring, we do not seem particularly warm-hearted towards other peoples’ children.”(8)
Causes of pedophobia
One author suggests that the cause of pedophobia specifically extends from adults distinct awareness of the capacity of children, as they wrote, “Children embarrass us because they point ever too cleverly and clearly to our denial of personal, material, and maternal history.” (9) A separate report suggests that the source of the current popular trend towards fearing children extends simply from their numbers and growing presence:
“James Q. Wilson, a professor at UCLA‘s School of Management… back in 1975… helped inaugurate the current climate of pedophobia [when he said] ‘a critical mass of younger persons… creates an explosive increase in the amount of crime.'”(10)
As mentioned above, social services, human rights, and social justice organizations have been tackling pedophobia for dozens of years. The United Nations has created the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is implicitly designed to address pedophobia by fostering equitable relationships between children and adults.(11)
Exploring the roles of children and adults throughout society, at least one scholar has suggested that pedophobia creates a basis for the oppression of women that continues into adulthood.(12) In a separate study pedophobia is identified as the tool most commonly applied to allow single gender-approaches to running households, neighborhoods, and local governments.(13)
Pedophobia is distinctly addressed by academics, especially evidenced since the creation of the field of cultural studies. Exploring R. Kelly’s pedophilia and the victimization of females in the African American community, Michael Eric Dyson addresses pedophobia head-on, suggesting that the way to change the popular fear of children is to,
“Pay attention to a culture of subtle pedophobia that ignores the devastating impact on children’s lives of the practices we have learned to take for granted in our communities.”(14)
The influence of the fear of children in American popular culture is examined by critical media analysts who have identified the effects of pedophobia in both Disney(15) and horror movies(16).
A wide range of other authors and scholars, including Henry Giroux, Mike Males and Barbara Kingsolver(17), have suggested that the popular modern fear of children actually stems from corporatization of mass media and its complicity with a range of political and economic interests. Males perhaps goes the furthest, actually writing an entire book exploring the subject(18).
There is a popular consensus regarding society’s fear of children today. One musician recently shared his anxiety when he explained that,
…Maybe you don’t understand: Children are scary to me… I was convinced that my kiddie concert would inevitably involve a huge gymnasium full of shrieking children pelting me with spitballs while I tried to explain Schubert while also somehow stressing the importance of saying “no” to drugs and staying in school. I was sure that holding the kids’ attention would be a major struggle, and that if I tried to be stern with them they would laugh at me and that maybe I would turn bright red and maybe even cry.
That author inadvertently supports the critical perspective of the cultural scholars above as he goes on to suggest that the way to overcome pedophobia is to recognize the neoliberal benefits of not fearing children, as he explains,
I… bought a little book… this past summer in order to help me prepare: ”How to Make Money Performing in Schools: Definitive Guide to Developing, Marketing & Presenting School Assembly Programs”.(19)
Pedophobia exists throughout society, commonly suggesting that there is a cultural consensus behind the forced attendance of children in schools, and a certain allowance for the youngest among us to “slip through the cracks.” This popular inability of adults to respond to the genuine mistrust of children inherently undermines the future of our society. Advocacy with and for children, against the fear of children, must go front and center soon – or else we may be promoting our own social demise.
1. Kring, A., Davison, G., et al (2006) Abnormal Psychology. Wiley.
2. Djordjevic, S. (2004) Dictionary of Medicine: French-English with English-French Glossary. Schreiber Publishing, Inc.
3. Schwartz, C., Houlihan, D., Krueger, K. F., Simon, D. A. (1997) “The Behavioral Treatment of a Young Adult with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a Fear of Children,” Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 19(1) p. 37-49.
4. Scott, S., Jackson, S., & Backett-Milburnswings, K. (1998) “Swings and roundabouts: Risk anxiety and the everyday worlds of children,” Sociology, 32 p. 689-705. Cambridge University Press.
5. Kemeter, P. & Fiegl, J. (1998) “Adjusting to life when assisted conception fails,” Human Reproduction. 13(4) p. 1099–1105.
6. McDonald, R. (1968) “The Role of Emotional Factors in Obstetric Complications: A Review,” Psychosomatic Medicine 30, p. 222-237. American Psychosomatic Society.
7. Axon, K. (n.d.) The Anti-Child Bias of Children’s Advocacy Groups. Chicago, IL: Americans for a Society Free of Age Restrictions. Retrieved 1/4/07.
8. L. Pogrebin, as cited in Zelizer, V. (1994) Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. Princeton University Press.
9. Coiner, C. & George, D.H. (1998) The Family Track: Keeping Your Faculties while You Mentor, Nurture, Teach, and Serve. University of Illinois Press.
10. Murashige, M. (2001). The Future of Change: Youth Perspectives on Social Justice and Cross-Cultural Collaborative Action in Los Angeles. Los Angeles: MultiCultural Collaborative.
11. Penn, J. (1999) The Rights Of Young Children. London University Institute of Education.
12. Prout, R. (2001) “Fear and Gendering: Pedophobia, Effeminophobia, and Hyermasculine Desire in the Work of Juan Goytisolo,” Worlds of Change, 42.
13. Scharf, R. (2001) “Pedophobia, the gynarchy, and the androcracy,” Journal of Psychohistory 28(3) (Winter 2001) p. 281-302.
14. Dyson, M.E. (2004) Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye. Basic Civitas Books.
15. Giroux, H. (1999) The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
16. Phillips, K. (2005) Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture. Praeger Publishers.
17. Dudley-Marling, C., Jackson, J., & Patel, L. (2006) “Disrespecting Childhood,” Phi Delta Kappan. 87(10) (June 2006).
18. Males, M. (2001) Kids and Guns: How Politicians, Experts, and the Media Fabricate Fear of Youth. Common Courage Press.
19. (2005) “Pedophobia Conquered.” Tomness blog.