How about explaining to your children?


From the archives: Posted on 24 Apr 1996

“Now, I could talk about the requirements of flight school, which you are supposed to complete before you take the yoke. One of them is that you are able to calculate whether or not you are overloaded. (And what were they overloaded WITH? That plane is a four-seater, and should be able to carry more than two adults and a 55-pound child.) But that is entirely immaterial, because Jessica is dead and buried, and we cannot do a damnable thing for her. All we can do is modify policies we use in the future.”

“What modifications to which policies did you have in mind?”

“The policy I had in mind was Nick’s Tips For Parents #2, the very first thing mentioned in the very first message on Jessica:”

“2. Coercion includes (contrary to what many people assume) stopping them from putting themselves into a dangerous situation such as climbing a tall tree, running out into the road or sticking their hand into an open flame. If the situation is really dangerous, rely on their common sense to stop them, when you simply give them a reasonable argument as to why they shouldn’t want to. If they still want to, the chances are that it is because they understand the situation better than you, and know that they are not in any danger.”

My Tips had nothing to do with Jessica. Tip #2 was about not forcing your child not to do something you think is too dangerous. Jessica’s crash was a case of the parents not forcing her to do something that they did not think was too dangerous. It is around this that the poster seems to base his theory that, because he thinks planes are dangerous, you should ban your children from flying in them.

“I do not believe that senility sets in with puberty, nor do I believe that experience causes stupidity.”

Neither do I. I do, however believe that assuming that a higher form of intelligence sets in with puberty, and that experience causes superiority is wrong and is a very dangerous assumption.

“I am not arguing that parents are smarter than their children; the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, and most children are about as smart as their parents. Presuming that the child’s inexperience and naivety results in greater understanding is illogical; more importantly, it’s frequently untrue.”

I do not think that children have a greater understanding of a situation. That’s why they can ask for advice. I do say that they are in a better position to know what hurts them than their parents are. Just because you are older than someone, and can’t see what they find so unpleasant about a situation, it doesn’t mean that they don’t find it unpleasant, and they are just being naive. A statement like It doesn’t hurt you, you just think it does is ridiculous, because just because it can’t hurt you, it doesn’t mean it can’t hurt them.

“Nick’s tips specify that the parent is to provide for the child, and I have no problem with that; if you don’t want to provide for children, you ought not have them. My objection is that they not only fail to charge the parent with responsibility for the child’s safety and well-being, but posit irresponsibility as a virtue, responsibility as a vice.”

It is not a parent’s responsibility to hurt their child for his/her own good, (especially since it is normally for the parent’s own good rather than the child’s). Parents like to claim that they have the right to decide what is best for the child, because in most situations, they have more experience than the child, and are better facilitated to make the decision. But if the parent were to explain the situation to the child (in as un-patronising way as possible) then what exactly can the parent claim to know that the child does not? In fact, in this situation, the child is better equipped to choose, since they also have the benefit of knowing their own feelings about the matter, and perhaps other people’s advice too. But parents seem afraid that the children may still make the wrong decision. Yet if the children have all the evidence, then their decision can only be wrong from the parent’s point of view. What, then, makes the parent’s decision any more worthy than the child’s? The decision may be the wrong one, but it is no more likely to be than the parent’s (assuming that the parent has bothered to explain the situation fully, rather than just saying “that’s dangerous, I don’t want you to go near it”). Responsibility is a virtue, but it is not responsible to control people against their will, for whatever reason.

“We all agree that ham-handed oppressive parenting is abusive. My argument is that abandoning a child to his own devices is equally abusive.”

I agree that “ham-handed oppressive parenting is abusive” (though many do not, and believe that loving protection consists of beating your child into submission), I would also agree that abandoning your child is also abusive (unless they ask you to). But you do not seem to be able to tell the difference between telling a child that they can touch anything because it is safe, and then leaving, and telling a child exactly what is and what isn’t safe, and then not forcing them to not play with them, because you don’t trust their own ability to think.

“And I thank you, I thank you, for doing your duty,
You keepers of truth, you guardians of beauty.
Your vision was right, my vision was wrong.
I’m sorry for fouling the air with my song.”

I assume that this sig is supposed to suggest sarcastically that you have the truth, but that all the non-coercive people in the world are perversely refusing to change from their old fashioned ways? Amusing.

From that nasty little adolescent


See also:

Nick, 1996, ‘How about explaining to your children?’,