Is “childism” real?

Hanging out Sunday night, I happened across this piece – ‘Childist’ Nation: Does America Hate Kids? by Judith Warner. The concept is interesting: we, as a nation, seem to have swung back in some crazy-ass direction where now people are all okay for stifling the creativity, joie de vivre, and very safety of children in the country. Hmm. I think I beg to differ. I think it’s been around for a lot longer and is far more ingrained than any ‘ism’ can possibly express.

Sure enough, things like No Child Left Behind do little to show that we’re trying to handle the immense variation in children’s learning development, but standardized tests were around decades ago and didn’t seem to derail children from having useful and prosperous futures back then. (I had to pass four state-level standardized tests just to be eligible to graduate from high school, and somehow I managed to do that without ending up in a padded cell.)

And while the terrible tragedy of a young girl being run to death for having lied about eating a candy bar is just that – a terrible tragedy – it’s not like there weren’t screwed up parents for pretty much the entire history of, well, parenthood.

It seems like a week can’t go by without hearing some horrifying story of what someone’s done to a child: sexual assault (I’m looking right at you, Jerry Sandusky, and it makes me want to puke), physical abuse, emotional abuse…the list just goes on and on. It’s to the point where you almost have to go numb if you want to be able to listen to, watch or read the news; otherwise, you might lose your nut listening to the filth and bile that humankind seems to heap on itself, especially its most vulnerable population.

But, I’d like to point out that there’s more to it than that. Sure enough, Warner does point out that America’s lack of support for affordable, high-quality child care is part of the problem, and I agree 100% with her. I’d also like to note that it shouldn’t take Beyonce whipping out a boob in a New York restaurant to get people to agree that breastfeeding is okay in public. As far as I can tell, the only people who think bf’ing in public is offensive are those who see breasts as “tits” only. Au contraire – boobs can sometimes be breasts, sometimes be tits, sometimes even be BODACIOUS TA-TAS… – and whatever they are, it’s none of anyone else’s business. Feeding your child should be okay in a restaurant. People go to restaurants to eat, right? OK. (nods)

And setting aside the Tiger Moms and the Parisian Moms, and whatever other form of Titled Mom you want to come up with, kids need structure. They need boundaries. They need freedom to run while simultaneously being able to know that there’s a home to come back to. That’s why I get so completely annoyed when I hear about how we need to make sure that everybody gets a trophy whenever there’s a competition. No, they don’t. Whoever wins should get a trophy, and maybe the next 2 or so other kids. Everybody else just gets to see the trophies. Sounds harsh? Well, which is harsher – letting kids think that everybody always wins or teaching them that winning has to have some value to it or else it’s not really winning? I think of this exchange from the movie, The Incredibles, where the mother (Helen) is trying to make sure that her son, Dash, understands why his superpowers might be too much for competitive sports. She tells him that “everybody’s special”, which prompts his grumbling retort: “Which is another way of saying no one is.” We’re not all Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, or {pick the really fast/gifted athlete of your choice}. Doesn’t mean we can’t strive for it, but doesn’t mean we’ll all get there. Teaching kids otherwise is actually crueller than giving them some dose of reality, in my opinion.

Where else do we fall down? All over the place. We medicate kids early and often when it’s not always clear that they need it. We leave parents of autistic children to fend for themselves all too often, when it’s clear that they need access to MORE assistance, not less. We actually debate whether or not dads should have access to paternity leave. We fill the shelves of grocery stores with countless boxes, jars, cans, and plastic cups of foods targeted to kids that are filled to the gills with high fructose corn syrup, chemicals and other crrrrap that growing bodies (or even fully-grown bodies) just don’t need.

Oh, I could just go on and on.

I’m not saying that kids don’t need to be separated from adults at times. I like having some free time to myself when no one is hanging on my leg, asking me whether they can watch “Wiggly Wiggly Christmas” for the umpteenth time, or jumping off the couch when I expressly forbade that not two minutes prior. But, the thing is: these are my kids. I take them as our responsibility. It’s up to me and dh to decide how to civilize these wild creatures who were brought into this world as a way for us to extend our family tree one more generation. I’ll do everything in my power to protect them from the stupid and mean people, but I know there will be a point when my reach won’t be good enough. At that point, I have to rely on them to be able to take care of themselves to some extent and call me in when they recognize that they need help. So I have to do what I can to prepare them for that eventuality, and the stupid and mean people keep coming up with new and exciting ways in which they can be awful to kids (and their parents, which has a trickle-down effect on the kids), so it seems to make the life of a parent that much more challenging.

Of course, no one put a gun to my head and made me have kids. And it seems like every generation has some point when parent A turns to parent B and says, “Are we really doing the right thing, bringing kids into {this} world?” (where {this} is always punctuation for some really awful thing, like nuclear proliferation, homophobia, or the rampant spread of reality TV). So maybe it’s just a never-ending cycle. On the other hand, there is somewhat of an antidote to this. If parents all over the place said, “I won’t be like that” and then actually WEREN’T that parent, and if employers, school superintendents, politicians, and everyone else went about their day trying not to be that guy, maybe we’d get somewhere.

As I’ve said to dd on more than one occasion, “Politeness costs you nothing.” I really do consider that to be true. It costs you nothing to be nice to someone, to do the right thing, to smooth the path for the person behind you. But it seems to cost you your very soul (if not various other possessions) when you deviate from that. Quoth Wil Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick”. Oh that more people could live their lives with this in their hearts. Kids – and adults – everywhere would rejoice.

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