Do children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends?

In a recent online discussion, someone said that ‘children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends’.  This is a variation on a common argument: children’s rights must be limited for their own protection.  If we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.

That this argument seems prima facie true is a symptom of our cultural prejudices.  It can be revealed as a prejudice through a simple allegory.  Imagine an intelligent adult from a culture without cars is visiting your area and you have been asked to show them around.  You are walking down the sidewalk together, and this individual suddenly steps into the street with oncoming traffic.  What do you do?

Your response wouldn’t be any different than it would be if a child did the same thing.

This isn’t because an adult from a different culture should have their rights limited for their own protection.  It’s not because if we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.  It’s because an individual unused to our world hasn’t yet gained the experience and knowledge to protect themselves from our technology.

And you wouldn’t respond by limiting this individual’s rights.   You would respond by taking immediate steps to protect them (despite their being an adult) and, in the longer term, educating them on how to protect themselves from the dangers of traffic.

You wouldn’t project from the fact that the individual needed protective intervention in this instance to limiting their freedom to set their own values or make their own decisions.

To intervene to protect the life of another human being is normal, no matter what age that person is.

However – if that same adult individual makes different life choices than we think they should make, we let them do so.  We try to understand and respect their differences in values.  We listen to them when they express an opinion and engage them in respectful dialogue instead of silencing them.  If they tell us they feel we have done something unjust to them, we take the allegation seriously and consider whether we have and if we should make amends.  We don’t think we have the right to coerce them into behaving in a certain way or engaging in certain activities because we value them or think them important.

Any individual deserves that respect, regardless of their age, and regardless of the fact that we’d intervene if they stepped off the sidewalk.

About these ads

2 thoughts on “Do children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends?

  1. It’s a lovely blog post but point of order: “Where The Sidewalk Ends” is the name of a young adult poetry book by Shel Silverstein. I was being flippant because I agree that limited rights are hardly rights at all :)

  2. I was thinking about this the other day. I briefly visited a family where one of other children is about to turn 2 and the parents were making “Terrible 2″ jokes. Simply because the child had learned the word “mine”.

    But it makes sense for children to learn the concept of “mine”. It’s part of being an individual and understanding what is yours and what is not. I don’t think that parents should make fun of their children if they say a toy is theirs.

    Isn’t it a contradiction to give a child something (like for Christmas or birthdays) and then punish them for thinking it belongs to them? Why is it socially acceptable just because a child is small?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s