“People’s notion that young children are irrational or that teenagers are obnoxious colours their view of what is happening in reality. They see irrationality/awfulness where none exists.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge
From the archives: The original post was posted on 16th April, 1995
“One of the things that can anger me about posts from The Gang1 is being lumped with all parents who use coercion, even though it’s been admitted that a perfect record of non-coercion is probably not possible.
What I guess I’m saying is that those of us who would like consensus in our families often find we have to be a bit coercive in the first few years in order to reach that stage later on. And I think that’s simply the nature of babyhood—children move from complete dependence to independence; they are simply not born with the ability to think rationally and know what is best for themselves. It comes gradually. The best we can do is facilitate it. I’m in no way arguing for coercion.”
The reason you might find yourself lumped in with “coercive parents” is that there is a significant difference of emphasis between your view and non-coercion. Almost all parents say they only use the absolute minimum of coercion. If you start off with the idea that coercion is necessary (and you are even saying that it is intrinsically necessary in the early years, because, you suggest, young children are not rational) then you are justifying coercion. If you have that attitude, you will simply not find consensual solutions.
Finding solutions takes a lot of creativity, and creativity is non-trivial—this is what building new knowledge is about—and if you start with the preconceived idea that young children are irrational, you will not be looking for their rational reasons for holding the ideas they do hold, so you’ll be discounting their ideas before you start. That is anti-rational.
All too often, parents have a view, and when their child does not agree with it, they say “What did I tell you? He’s irrational. He is not open to reason.” In fact, it is they, the parents, who are not open to reason, not the child. They have a preconceived notion of what the outcome of the disagreement must be.
You say that young children are not rational; well, I think they are (as evidenced by their learning language), and no young child I have ever spent time with has given me cause to think they are not rational. On the contrary, I am always finding myself struck by how very reasonable, creative, and open they are to ideas other than their own initial preferences in a disagreement.
I suggest that if you took my view, you’d find what I find, and that if an adult takes your view, he’ll find what you find. So what? That that proves nothing—but it does suggest that one’s theories colour one’s experiences. That is why it matters what your theories are.
Let’s look at this in terms of teenagers. I get the impression that most adults find teenagers unbearable to be around. They think teenagers are selfish, inconsiderate, rude, unhelpful, and so on. Parents often complain about how awful life with teenagers is. I think that is all rubbish. The Gang are only welcome in my house because they are so interesting, intelligent, helpful, considerate, and generally a pleasure to have around.
The point is, people’s notion that young children are irrational or that teenagers are obnoxious colours their view of what is happening in reality. They see irrationality/awfulness where none exists.
1. ‘The Gang’ refers to a particular group of friendly home-educated teenagers.
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