On April 3, 2007, Harpers magazine reported that in India the market price for children fell below the price of buffalo. In 2006 the same magazine found a scientist who claimed parrots are as intelligent as five-year-olds, an appeals court ruled that a Montana mother who gave bong hits to her baby daughter should not have to spend five years in jail, and at least 2.5 million American children were taking antipsychotic drugs.
First off, there’s nothing wrong with my daughter – she’s awesome. In just two weeks she’ll be four, and I am flipping out thinking of how little time has passed and how much she’s grown – its freaky. While I was walking to preschool to pick her up this afternoon, I thought of a problem a lot of parents, teachers, youth workers and other folks who work with young people have: We tend to think of these young people as “ours”.
You’ve heard it dozens of times, either from your own mouth or the mouths of others: “Oh, I’d never let my kids do that!” or “My kids are little terrors.” or “Where are those children of yours?” Sometimes its positive, too: “My students seem so interested,” or “Does your class do that?” It is as if we never listened to Bob Dylan preaching about “The Times…“
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command…”
Maybe this looseness with ownership over young people is left over from the times when people treated children as chattel who were to be treated as mere property. That’s a dangerous notion that has been destructive in many ways here in the United States, leading to corporeal punishment in schools and execution sentences for 13-year-olds, as has happened here in Washington State.
Aside from that, what are the effects of saying and believing that we own kids on youth voice? While I know many youth cannot and do not find their authentic voices in the midst of too many adults, I also know that there is a profound impact on adults. If we own something, that means we know it – and if we know it, why listen to it? In this case, we believe we know our children so well that we do not need to listen to them. I’m afraid this extends far beyond families, too. Classrooms, youth programs and city governments are rife with the belief that adults know best for young people, and that adults already know young people.
These assumptions and this way of thinking is simply wrong.