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GOLF MAGAZINE How To Hit Every Shot
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Are We a Childist Society?
Only two countries - America and Somalia - refused to sign the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Two new books point to a new phenomenon: childism.
What we need, according to two recent books, is an entirely new attitude toward children. Both books point to engrained attitudes toward children that view them as a subservient class in the same way as we Americans once viewed slaves, and both show how these attitudes cause harm to children and to our society.
Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's book, "Childism: Confronting Prejudice against Children," notes that only two countries-America and Somalia-refused to sign the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which among other things forbade the imprisonment of children. Bruehl contends that imprisoning children, rather than looking at the societal and parental attitudes (prejudice) that are at the root of juvenile delinquency, is one of the many manifestations of childism.
Eileen Johnson takes a different approach in "The Children's Bill of Emotional Rights," but she comes to a similar conclusion. Johnson calls children "The last unheard minority," and proposes a bill of rights for children that would treat them not as a subservient class but as equals. That is, she proposes that their rights are just as legitimate as those of adults.
It seems that unless a political movement comes along that forces people to take notice of a prejudice, the prejudice remains unnoticed and unmitigated. The civil rights movement forced people to confront racism; feminism forced people to take note of sexism; and the gay rights movement made people aware of homophobia. Unfortunately, there is no political movement to compel adults to confront this prejudice toward children.
Popular sayings such as "Spare the rod, spoil the child," and "Children should be seen and not heard," serve to put children in a subservient position. And then there is Herbert Hoover's famous quotation, "Children are our most valuable resource." Such sayings stereotype children as a group, view them as a possession, and fail to consider children's emotional needs.
Children are virtually defenseless until a certain age. Hence adults can have whatever attitude they want toward them and there is nothing children can do about it. And over time the adult's attitude-even an abusive one-will seem normal. If you are rude to another adult, there will be consequences. If you are rude to a child, the child's response can easily be ignored. And if parents teach children that they have a right to be rude to them-in the guise of discipline-children learn that they do not have the right to defend themselves against rudeness.
One parent, Judy Dutton, takes Young-Bruehl to task by focusing on one sentence in Bruehl's book to the effect that parents who don't "make paramount the needs of their children over their own needs" are acting out childism. "I feel that American parents already kowtow to their child's every needs to the point that they're miserable," Dutton complains. Dutton's critique, published in Psychology Today, takes this statement out of context and fails to make a distinction.
Young-Bruehl and Johnson are not advocating permissiveness or suggesting parents give children the last word on how they are treated. Rather, they are saying that we should consider children's feelings just as we consider the feelings of other adults. Recently, for example, I heard a mother addressing her little boy as if he were a monster. In an extremely angry and contemptuous tone she warned him, "If you don't stop asking me that I'm going to knock you down! All you want to do is make me miserable." This mother was not treating the child as she would want to be treated. She was taking out all her pent-up frustrations on him. He was simply an object to her, not a human being.
Childism is something that is passed on from generation to generation. When the current generation of children is raised to think prejudice against them is normal, it will in turn replicate the same attitude toward its children.
Childism can only stop when we adults become aware of its existence.
Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D., is a licensed psychoanalyst, adjunct professor and author of 20 books on psychoanalysis and psychology.