Our Common Heritage: Oppression of Children
As I have begun exploring the dimensions of our experiences as children in an adult dominated world, I have realized the commonality of our experiences as children. We may come from different social identities and experiences, and yet the overwhelming majority of those of us who are now adults had common experiences as children.
It is this commonality that creates the foundation for inequity and domination in our society. As we grew and were socialized by individuals and institutions, the impact of other social identities such as socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and/or religious identity became much more pronounced.
We may have had loving parents and caring teachers. However, in our culture and society, the dominant paradigm is one of adults controlling the lives of children. Even if done with love, this control and domination fundamentally disempowers children.
Our paradigm teaches children to question themselves and rely on authority figures to make decisions for them and to tell them what is right. The need for autonomy and self-determination is sacrificed to the need for order and productivity. Indoctrination into this kind of world-view is easier if the power of children is dismissed and disregarded.
The loss of our inner authority and voice in childhood creates fertile ground for our institutions to teach us that using power over others is the only way in which our society can flourish, be productive and succeed.
On the margins of our society there have always been individuals and social movements that challenged the dominant paradigm. This is also occurring as it relates to adultism and the treatment of children.
Children have tremendous personal power. When they stay connected to this power and that connection is honored by the adults around them, they are able to create lives that are whole, authentic and healthy. They do not have the need to use power over others.
By no means does this imply that children who are connected to their inner authority and personal power will not be angry, sad, hit a sibling, or yell. But the need to re-gain their voice and autonomy will not be at the expense of those around them as they grow into adulthood.
If we are committed to social change, it is important for us to challenge the inequities we see in the world around us. If we do this, but never address the inequities of childhood, we are missing the most important opportunity we have to create social change.
I know that as a parent, I missed this opportunity for the first four years of of the oldest child in my life. My professional life had been dedicated to trying to address inequities, and yet, I perpetuated them (and at times still do) in my own home with the children in my life.
At a very fundamental and core level, if we create a world in which children are empowered from birth, we are starting a revolution in each child that will change the world.