Thursday, January 10, 2013

Respect: It’s not just for adults anymore

by Amy | Edited version. Original posted on Unschooling NYC on January 7, 2013

Is it respectful to post an iPhone contract of rules regarding the use of a gift given to a child by his parent? Is it respectful to post a photo of a child’s room taped off with duct tape and marked as hazardous & then say you had to do it to get the kid to clean the room?

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Such were the issues at the heart of a recent Twitter/Facebook firestorm.

Which made me think about Tom Cruise’s interview on the David Letterman sometime last month. Tom’s son is 17 and Dave’s son is 9, and they were basically talking about the various stages of childhood. Dave asked Tom if he’d had “the talk” with his son, and immediately answered his own question by saying “Of course you have, he’s 17 for god’s sake!” (Which got a laugh) Then he asked how that conversation went, and Tom paused. He said, “You know, he doesn’t really want me to talk about that.” He said his kids (he has three) don’t always want him to discuss such things in public because, well, it’s PUBLIC and then their friends or other people can come up to them and say, “So, I hear you and your Dad had ‘the talk’, and tell us about it.” So he declined to answer out of respect for his kids; for his son, in this case.

I tell you this story because the topic of respect for kids was what this week’s maelstrom was all about. Specifically, private issues having to do with kids being presented by parents for public consumption (and perhaps some fishing for ‘good parenting’ praise from peers on social media).

On the one hand, the Facebook thread in which I took part was great; disagreements were thoughtful, respectful and direct. Which is almost always the case among that group of homeschooling parents. The Twitter feed, less so. One parent (she of the duct tape) took immediate offense when challenged about her choice – or perhaps her judgment in broadcasting her choice – and called in her ‘tweeps’ & FB followers, whose answer to the criticism was condescension, name calling, insults, and threats. Dissenters were berated in vulgar terms for questioning her. And for questioning her in public! Parents should never disrespect other parents; mothers should never question other mothers, and so on.

But what about respect for the kids?

I don’t believe any kid would love for his/her parent to discuss a private matter on a public forum, even if that matter were as simple as cleaning a room. Especially when it’s presented as a joke. But what can the kid say? And hey, maybe it was all in good fun, but the utter inability of a parent to even consider that what they did might have contained an element of disrespect? And to respond with vitriol and hate? My first thought is, “Well THAT must have hit pretty close to home.”

When we started unschooling there were times I’d read something by Wendy Priesnitz or Sandra Dodd and think, “Jesus, that thing that is adultist and disrespectful to my kid? I’VE been doing that!” Tough to admit, but necessary if one is to encourage and support a life of curiosity and learning for your child. I truly believe life learning / unschooling cannot fully succeed otherwise.


Laurie A. Couture, in her book “Instead of Medicating and Punishing”, addresses the issue of how we view children. She says:
“Historically, children have been and are still, the most oppressed, exploited and victimized group of human beings on the planet. Children remain the most voiceless and the most discriminated against group of people in our culture. While every adult group in the United States has won basic human rights, protections and freedoms, children remain the only group of human beings without the same rights to equality, respect, protection from bodily harm and freedom of speech. 
If you have difficulty believing this, ask yourself these questions: 
1. Why are children the only people in the United States and England that it is legal to hit? 
2. When your children make a mistake, do you respond to them the way you would respond to an adult?  
3. Do you speak to your children with the same respect that you would speak to an adult friend?”
The answer to the last two, quite obviously, is “no” for most people.

This is a problem for those of us who wish to change the status quo regarding education and parenting. It is disheartening to try and engage someone in a constructive debate, only to have them retreat behind a wall of profanity and vitriol. Equally disheartening is that disrespect for kids is so ingrained in our society that it goes largely unnoticed. Children themselves often have a hard time putting into words what is wrong. They think, “Well that’s just the way grown ups are.” And how sad is that, because barring some type of interim revelation, it means they will repeat the disrespect with their own children (and all children) once they are grown.

Respecting kids in equal measure as you do fellow adults does not make you a weak parent or person. Just the opposite, in fact. It is far too easy to retreat behind the excuse of “I’m the parent and what I say goes” because that’s what our society supports. But we can be better.

We can grant kids the respect they deserve.
We’ll get it back in spades.
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