Before I get to the subject matter of the video, I want to address the idea of ownership as it relates to children, which is something that I find very troublesome.
Whenever we talk about what’s best for a child, we often talk about the ‘rights of the parent,’ as if they somehow supersede the rights of the child. This may not be easy to digest for some, but whenever the topic comes up, it’s often the child who is totally forgotten and who is then treated as if they are the property of the parent. The discussion goes something like this, “As Johnny’s parent, I know what’s best for him,” which is then turned into an argument in favor of Johnny receiving abstinence only education, or being prohibited from learning about the theory of evolution or Johnny not receiving a vaccination. In all of these cases, and numerous others, the selfish whims and desires of the parent are the sole concern, while what truly is best for Johnny (robust sexual education, knowing and understanding the theory of evolution and being vaccinated) is totally forgotten as well as the concept of Johnny being an agent in and of himself. While it is true that minors lack the ability to make informed decisions, their agency ought to be remembered, as well as their ability to solve problems and think critically for themselves.
I’m probably wrong, since I’m not privy to every conversation about children and childhood that anyone has ever had or ever will have, but this point of view isn’t often brought up when we talk about what’s ‘best for children.’ And, as is typical whenever we talk about children, the moment that the above video was seen by the nation, a furor was kicked up with numerous different voices and opinions joining the fray. What I find distressing, however, is the voices of those who often use children as vessels that are waiting to receive views that are thrust upon them and then can regurgitate those views. The concern is that children are supposed to be the property of their parents, and not an active member of a local, national and global community.
This is often an issue when talking about children and childhood as it pertains to political concerns, and this is one of the reasons why I wrote the preface that I did. Mrs. Perry’s choice of words may be misconstrued or misunderstood, but the meaning is fairly clear, and its message is very much in the spirit of helping children to become active agents and future participants in a society that’s waiting for them. Whether we want to accept it or not, children are, in and of themselves, individuals and participants in society from the moment that they leave their parents home for the first time. Their impact may be small at first, but it reverberates outwards in ways that we may never be able to fully perceive. We cannot treat this participation, and we cannot treat the agency of children as if neither exist or matter.
We need to be able to look past our own selfish desires when it comes to children. We need to put away what we want to impress upon them, and we need to actually understand that these are not homunculi that are merely being rolled off of an assembly line, waiting to be filled up with the views of those who came before them, ready to pick up from where their parents left off. It may be desired for these children to become whatever their parents want, but that is often at clear odds with what the children themselves want, and that desire must not be put away and must not be forgotten. We need to consider what is actually best for these children, rather than mistaking what we want for them with what is best for them. This is, of course, a difficult task, but it’s one of the most important that anyone can take upon themselves.