|Is there room for children in our society? Most of
our culture is structured for adults, and children are unwelcome
or even excluded. Children spend most of their time in school and
school-related activities, where parents are not welcome. When my
son and I looked for activities to do together, he was told that
he didn't need me, and I was told to be glad for some time alone.
That we may be good friends who wanted to enjoy an activity
together was never considered.
This harsh attitude toward children can be most evident when
shopping; many store personnel seem to view every child as a
potential source of trouble. The presence of a child is tolerated
– as long as he is perfectly quiet, doesn't touch anything, and
doesn't look as though they'll hurt themselves. I suspect, though,
that it isn't so much the child's potential suffering that
storekeepers are concerned about, but rather their own: they are
afraid of being sued! This fear can be unreasonable to the point
of lunacy. My son, at age seven) was once loudly warned in a
bookstore, "Get down from that ledge! You'll hurt
yourself!" This dangerous ledge was exactly five inches from
When we look closely at a child at play, we can see that
children have the same instinct for self-preservation that adults
have, and a good sense of what they can handle. Why, then, are
children so mistrusted? At those times when something does need to
be said about a child's behavior in public, this is often done in
a harsh, impatient, and disapproving tone. Yet adults too
sometimes behave in inappropriate ways in public - such as smoking
in a non-smoking area. If the adult is corrected at all, such a
request is usually made with the utmost cordiality. Do adults
deserve more consideration than do children?
When children venture out in public, they are rarely spoken to,
unless, like soldiers, they are asked their name and grade. If
circumstances are such that children appear in public during
school hours, they are asked, almost crossly, "Why aren't you
in school?!" How would an adult respond if asked, "Why
aren't you at work?"
Children are expected to be infinitely patient during boring
errands and conversations, and never interrupt adults - no matter
that children's conversations can be far and away the more
fascinating. Wouldn't you rather hear about Planet Wonderful, or
how you are loved "Infinity squared", as my son told me
when he was 3?
Despite their delightful ways, children in public places are
treated as though they are invisible, and their needs are often
considered irrelevant. In making their needs known to others, they
are at a particular disadvantage, because of their youth and
inexperience. Unlike senior citizens, who also encounter unfair
age discrimination, there are no child spokespersons to elicit
empathy for their condition. Who has not seen a distraught infant
or child whose tears are ignored by angry parents and indifferent
strangers? If an adult were crying in public, would not everyone
be concerned? If an animal were obviously suffering, would
everyone walk past?
Even churches, while teaching of love within families,
segregate children from the most meaningful activities. Housing
discrimination against families is still a problem in many areas,
where children are placed in the same category of undesirables as
pets. They presumably rank somewhere between a parakeet and a boa
Could things be different? Sometimes they are. When my son (at
age five) and I visited an herbal medicine clinic, all three
therapists gave him respectful, warm attention. Needless to say,
his behavior in that situation was impeccable.
All children behave as well as they are treated - just like
adults. Why is it so difficult for adults to understand this?
After all, we have all been children. How have we forgotten so
soon what it is like to be a child in an adult world? Children
deserve to be treated in the same way that we wish to be treated
– with kindness and understanding, dignity and respect. As
physicist and author Richard Feynmen wrote, "Human beings
should be treated like human beings." We are all human
beings, and, in a sense, we are all children. Some of us have just
been around a little longer.