Spotlight On Childism: The Uncomfortable Truth About Mainstream Parenting

I remember very clearly the first time I came across the concept of Childism. It was a complete blow-your-mind moment. In the space of one beautifully written article, I went from being completely oblivious, to the startling realisation that not only was this prejudice rife in society, but I was a major culprit.

Disclaimer: this is a challenging post. I myself am challenged because I see how much work I have left to do in my own family. I have made almost every one of these misdemeanours and held most of these prejudices myself.

Spotlight on Childism: The Uncomfortable Truth About Mainstream Parenting | Learning about childism can be an uncomfortable reality-check. But what matters is what we do with the information. Will cognitive dissonance win-out and result in a forceful rejection of this idea? Or will we swallow that pill, consider our motives and resolve to do better?  It's never too late to start parenting respectfully.

I’m not here to judge those to whom childism has never occurred. But someone once introduced the issue to me, and now I’m introducing it to you! My aim is not to criticise past parenting choices, but to trigger a sea change in future choices. I’m still a LONG way from eliminating childism from my attitudes and parenting, but I am running hard in that direction.

Learning about childism can be an uncomfortable reality-check. But what matters is what we do with the information. Will cognitive dissonance win-out and result in a forceful rejection of this idea? Or will we swallow that pill, consider our motives and resolve to do better?

It’s never too late to start parenting respectfully.

 

My aim… is to call attention to the way we as a society approach problems involving children and families. For childism is a societal phenomenon. Most individual parents, given the opportunity to be heard and supported, are not childist. They long to help their children, not merely control them.
Claudia M. Gold
Understanding Childism: Are We Prejudiced Against Children?

 

So what is childism?

In brief, childism can be defined as:

A prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs.
Elizabeth Young-Bruehl
Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children

Wait, whaa? No way do I think of kids as property! No way do I want to enslave them… do I?

 

What about clothes, for example?

I like to dress my kids in cute, coordinated clothing – but would it rankle me if they wouldn’t wear the clothes I chose for them? Or messed up the lovingly designed colour code that helps people tell my identical twins apart? Would I treat them as disobedient if they flat-out refused to ‘cooperate’ when I was dressing them?

At first glance this seems like pretty normal parenting. But viewed through the lense of childism, I was forced to admit that yes, I was assuming that it was a parental right to have control over how my child dressed. Never mind my child’s right to autonomy & self-expression. Essentially, I was viewing children as dolls to be dressed-up.

Spotlight on Childism | The Uncomfortable Truth About Mainstream Parenting: Learning about childism can be an uncomfortable reality-check. But what matters is what we do with the information. Will cognitive dissonance win-out and result in a forceful rejection of this idea? Or will we swallow that pill, consider our motives and resolve to do better?  It's never too late to start parenting respectfully.

 

Now obviously I need to provide appropriate clothes for the season, and keep them laundered. But once they are toddlers there’s no reason they can’t choose the day’s clothing themselves. Come to that, when they are old enough to understand, there’s every reason to involve them in the clothes shopping – an excellent opportunity to teach them about planning and budgeting for your wardrobe.

 

How about haircuts?

There’s been a huge furore over Racheous’ article on body autonomy. Reading some of the more abusive comments, it’s clear that the issue parents were most struggling to accept was that she lets her kids decide how they want their hair cut – even if that means shaved down to a fuzz!

But I still have to admit that I’d struggle if my children refused to brush their hair, for example. I’d harp on about hygiene concerns, but that wouldn’t be the root issue. 

It’s much more truthful to say that I’d be concerned what other parents would think of me. And eventually I would have to face it: if I want to be a respectful parent, then I don’t get a say in how they wear their hair! My children are autonomous people who need to develop intrinsic motivation when it comes to hygiene and appearance, not pets to be groomed as I see fit.

Spotlight on Childism | The Uncomfortable Truth About Mainstream Parenting: Learning about childism can be an uncomfortable reality-check. But what matters is what we do with the information. Will cognitive dissonance win-out and result in a forceful rejection of this idea? Or will we swallow that pill, consider our motives and resolve to do better?  It's never too late to start parenting respectfully.

Now obviously I need to ensure their hair is clean within reason, and not infested with headlice for example, but there are respectful ways of handling this. Certain boundaries might need to be mutually agreed-upon. Other than that, it’s not my choice!

 

The Internal Struggle

I, of all people, know how important it is to safeguard body autonomy. (I’ll Raise Them Rude | Sexual Abuse Prevention) So why is it so hard to let go of control?

I think there’s a great deal of fear involved, and a great lack of trust. Fear of being judged. Fear that our children might go ‘off the rails’. Not trusting our children to make good choices of their own accord, or to take responsibility for their own lives.

 

Childism is the hardest form of prejudice to recognize because children are the one group that, many of us think without thinking, is naturally subordinate. Until they reach a stipulated age, they are the responsibility of their parents or guardians — those who have custody. But what does custody permit? What distinguishes it from ownership?
Elisabeth Young-Breuhl:
Childism: The Unacknowledged Prejudice Against Kids

 

The concept of Childism is like ink on blotting paper.

It starts as merely an interesting thought, but over time it seeps into your perception of the world until it’s saturated and you realise that yes: this is a huge deal and yes: it’s completely endemic in society.

I mean, it is rampant.

How did we not realise that a whole segment of society is being marginalised and mistreated? A quick Google tells us that children make up 27% of the world’s population. It’s even stranger when you think that we were all of us children once ourselves – surely we should all be able to remember and empathise? I can only conclude that we are ignorant because this is the one section of society that cannot fight its own battles.

 

We patronise kids.

We talk down to them.

We talk over their heads.

We call them names and give them derogatory labels.

We laugh about their failures and misdeeds on social media.

We post naked photos of them online, long before they can give permission.
(Hashtag #nakedbabies).

 

All of these scenarios would be unacceptable if they didn’t contain children…  But being dependent does not equate to being subordinate. Just as you should not treat a disabled adult who depends on your care with less respect, the same is true for children.
Happiness is Here:
We Need to Talk About Childism

 

We make jokes at their expense, to relieve our own feelings of stress.

We shame them for potty-training accidents.

We hold them to higher standards of self-regulation than we do ourselves.
(How come we are allowed to ‘vent’ but kids ‘throw hissy fits’? How come we are allowed to get up for a drink and a snack if needed but kids should ‘sleep through’?)

We object to any show of autonomy.
(Why does an adult have ‘preferences’ but a child is called a ‘picky eater’ or ‘contrary’?).

We apply behaviour modification techniques such as punishment and rewards.

We value quiet obedience & conformity above individuality & freedom.

We tolerate the physical punishment of human beings, and pat ourselves on the backs for being good disciplinarians.

 

 

Spotlight on Childism | The Uncomfortable Truth About Mainstream Parenting: Learning about childism can be an uncomfortable reality-check. But what matters is what we do with the information. Will cognitive dissonance win-out and result in a forceful rejection of this idea? Or will we swallow that pill, consider our motives and resolve to do better?  It's never too late to start parenting respectfully.

Possession & Control

As a society, we are hugely triggered by any suggestion that we relinquish control over any aspect of our children’s lives.

But that’s just it. It’s my child’s life I am trying to control, not my own. By definition, it’s not mine to control.

Even the phrase ‘my child’ has been corrupted. My son is my child only in the way that my brother is my brother. He’s not mine in the sense of ownership, only relationally. But if we don’t respect this nuance, it opens the way for ‘Oh he’s my child and I’ll do what I like with him’.

 

One of the essential ingredients of childism is a claim by adults to the effect that children are ours to do with exactly as we see fit, or children exist to serve, honor and obey adults. These claims make a subordination doctrine out of natural dependency, out of the fact that children are born relatively helpless and need to be taken care of until they can take care of themselves.
Elisabeth Young-Breuhl:
Childism: The Unacknowledged Prejudice Against Kids

 

This is just a drop in the ocean.

Once you become alert to childism, you see it everywhere. I was forced to reevaluate almost every interaction I had with my kids, and examine my motives. How would I feel if our roles were reversed? Would it be okay to treat another adult this way? If not, why is it okay with a child?

Children don’t need to earn their humanity. Children aren’t humans in training, they are humans right now… Society treats children as though they’re preparing for a time where they’re allowed respect – and not before then. Until that time it’s acceptable to treat them as sub-human under the guise of parenting and education. 
Racheous:
The Dehumanisation of Children

 

Childism.

It’s a massively steep learning curve, and one that I am far from mastering. But each day I swallow my pride, apologise for my failings and try again.

If you are struggling to keep your cool, and are triggered by your child’s behaviour, I’ve shared my 15 Coping Strategies for When Gentle Parenting Feels Impossible (day-to-day solutions). And 15 Survival Strategies Parents Need When Feeling Enraged (emergency first-aid solutions) is in the pipeline!

Is this a concept you’ve come across?  Or are you a long-time advocate for children’s rights? Let us know!

Spotlight on Childism | The Uncomfortable Truth About Mainstream Parenting: Learning about childism can be an uncomfortable reality-check. But what matters is what we do with the information. Will cognitive dissonance win-out and result in a forceful rejection of this idea? Or will we swallow that pill, consider our motives and resolve to do better?  It's never too late to start parenting respectfully.

This post is not meant to shame other parents, but to raise awareness of childism and change the conversation surrounding children’s rights to body autonomy. If this post has triggered some uncomfortable reactions, you can find more information/support here:

Books
Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children

ParentSpeak: What’s Wrong with How We Talk to Our Children–and What to Say Instead

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

The Gentle Discipline Book: How to raise co-operative, polite and helpful children
Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting

Articles
The Dehumanisation of Children

We Need to Talk About Childism

Understanding Childism: Are We Prejudiced Against Children?

Childism: The Unacknowledged Prejudice Against Kids

I’ll Raise Them Rude | Sexual Abuse Prevention

15 Coping Strategies for When Gentle Parenting Feels Impossible

Organisations
Challenging Childism (Facebook group)

Gentle Parenting International (FB page)

Happiness Is Here (blog)


Racheous (blog)


Jitterberry (blog)


Sarah Ockwell-Smith (blog)


Safe Kids, Thriving Families (Charity)


NSPCC (Charity)

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