This is my recent column in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
People complaining on social media, talkback – or via opinion pieces – about children running amok in cafes, or crying on planes, is one of those topics that keeps sporadically rearing its ugly head.
It popped up again recently and it made me wonder why, as a country, do we hate children so much?
Hate might seem like a strong word, but the thing about the “child-free spaces” argument is if you replace “child” with any other group (Maori, women or people with a disability for example) you can start to see the problem.
It’s bizarre how some still wish to sanction incredibly poor treatment of children.
Remember, it was only recently that we changed the law so it was illegal to assault children: the only group it was legal to use violence against.
Yet the same pearl-clutchers who want to bring back “smacking” and protect their right to a child-free soy latte, would wring their hands and shake their head at the level of child abuse and youth suicide, bemoaning it as a “National Tragedy” while never being able to see the connection.
And there certainly is a connection.
Children are quite literally the embodiment of vulnerability. Yet there is an element of our culture that responds to children being children, with a desire to get rid of, punish, discipline and shame.
In Aotearoa we’re not very good at being vulnerable – expressing our emotions and our fears – and our response to children is just another way we can see this played out.
Because of our discomfort with vulnerable feelings, we tend to respond to vulnerability in others with, at best, invalidation: “Get over it, mate”. Or, at worst attack, an absence of empathy: “They just need a kick up the bum”.
But to argue that children should be excluded from public places is quite simply discrimination. When we marginalise any societal group we also make it okay to mistreat and abuse them.
We single them out for abuse – remember we have one of the worst rates of child sexual abuse and violence in the OECD.
Of course, it’s much more comfortable to simply dismiss what I’m saying: to see child abuse and complaining about children in restaurants as two completely different things.
But actually, to address the ways in which children are mistreated is to strive to make our whole society more child-centric, and more child friendly.
One of the ways we can all do this is to stop and take the time to see the world from the view of the child. To take the time to connect with, and wonder what our world might look like from their eyes.
We should also all take the time to play more.
Not only should we all actually want to engage with – and even take care of – the bored child in the local cafe, or the distressed child on the plane, we should all be building a society where no child ever goes without.
Because they’re not someone else’s child, they’re all our responsibility.
So if you find yourself hating on a child being too loud, too much or getting in your way in public, ask yourself, what can I do to help? And most importantly learn to tolerate your own discomfort with vulnerability.
Ultimately, trying to get rid of them will just ensure that child grows up to hate children as much as everyone else, and sadly maybe even themselves in the process.
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