Is your child worried about death?

From the archives: Posted on 12th June, 2000

I had quoted the following Extropian principle:

1. Perpetual Progress – Seeking more intelligence, wisdom, and effectiveness, an indefinite lifespan, and the removal of political, cultural, biological, and psychological limits to self-actualization and self-realization. Perpetually overcoming constraints on our progress and possibilities. Expanding into the universe and advancing without end.

A poster replied:

Why would anyone want an infinite lifespan? I hope to go with dignity when my time’s up.

I hope not to “go” at all. Or if we have not solved the death problem by that time, to be cryopreserved with or without dignity. Death has got to go.

Another poster had replied to the first:

Why would anyone not [want an infinite lifespan]? When is your “time up”? Do you believe that some external entity owns you and has the right to decide this, or are you content to be (essentially) at the mercy of a lethal bomb hooked up to a random-number generator? An enhanced lifespan can be used for creating knowledge, developing oneself(with an ever-growing knowledge base & tool set), exploring(definitely including but not limited to, exploration of space, etc. This naturally leads to “perpetually overcoming constraints on our progress and possibilities” and “advancing (toward whatever goals one chooses, consistent with the structure of the multiverse) without end”. As for “grandiose” or “taking over the universe”, no one is suggesting that we will accomplish everything in one massive swoop(although some do expect tremendously accelerated progress) or an imperialist crusade(if there is anyone “out there” to colonialize). We can take it one day at a time, at least until the Earth stops rotating, at which point we’ll have to figure something else out. 🙂 Perhaps more to the point as far as Taking Children Seriously goes – are you willing to use your best efforts help children achieve any degree of advancement, progress, health, longevity,etc. that they desire, either by helping yourself or finding others? If a child learns of death and says/communicates clearly “I don’t want to die”, are you prepared to help em explore the available/forseeable options for postponing or avoiding death?

Yes, while it seems unlikely that most children would think much about death, in some families, where there has been a death, say, a child might well be concerned about death. In that case, Karen’s approach would, it seems prima facie, be very unhelpful. The most important thing to do would be to find out why the child (let’s call her Little Tia) is worrying about it and try to solve that problem. Is it that she fears that she might drop dead at any moment just like her Aunty Jane did? Then it would be a good idea to explain that Aunty Jane had died from such-and-such a disease, which old people sometimes (but by no means always – tell her the statistics) get but which Little Tia has not got, and is most unlikely to get until she too is old, and perhaps not even then. It would be wise to mention that by the time Little Tia is old, they may have found a cure for that disease anyway!

In general, if a child is worried, try to find out what the worry is, so that you can address it as directly as possible.

Tia might be interested to learn about the ways scientists are trying to solve the death problem, and it might make sense to point out to her that it seems likely that by the time she is an old person, our lifespan will have been extended considerably by all the advancements in medicine, etc. Another thing you might want to do, if your child is thinking about death, might be to read her a book such as The First Immortal, by James Halperin, or if she is a bit young to enjoy that, you could tell her about it, or retell the pertinent parts of the story, or tell her about cryonic biostasis.

OTOH, her interest in death might be nothing to do with fear of death. It might be that she is upset about no longer having the nice chats she had about Pokemon with her Aunty Jane. Or the trips to the zoo Aunty Jane used to take her on. So before you launch into a discussion of the ins and outs of cryonic suspension, life extension and the like, check that you have correctly identified the problem. 🙂

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 2000, ‘Is your child worried about death?’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/is-your-child-worried-about-death/