Genuinely protecting children versus coercing them

Mary Schultz

From the archives: Posted on 30th March, 1996

A poster writes:

“It certainly could be the case that I am imagining cliffs where there are none. Which ones are you thinking of in particular?”

You miss my point. There are plenty of cliffs. We could argue about which are steep cliffs and which are not . . . but my point is that you set up all kinds of rules and standards – “shoulds” (“Shouldn’t children be polite?” “Shouldn’t appropriate behavior be praised?”) – designed to keep children from ever taking a look at the cliffs themselves. You don’t seem to believe that it’s a child’s right to live his or her own life. I wanted to differentiate between so-called “protecting” children from cliffs by roping them off far from the edge, and what in my opinion is truly protecting children: telling them that you see a cliff and it looks steep to you, and warning them to be careful while they are taking a look, themselves. In the first case you are the one who is taking the responsibility for determining whether you are in fact dealing with a cliff, and for determining whether it’s steep or not. And you could be wrong. In the second case, you are giving children credit for figuring things out for themselves.

See also:

Mary Schultz, 1996, ‘Genuinely protecting children versus coercing them’,