“Thinking in terms of coercion being a mistake on the grounds that it leads to future harm like trauma or ‘coercion damage’ mistakenly focuses on the unknowable future instead of seeing that coercion is problematic right now. Possible future effects do not change what is right or wrong to do to people now.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge
“Is the purpose of taking children seriously to avoid the harm coercion would do?”
“Are you saying that coercion is damaging or harmful to a child? What is this coercion damage?”
“If coercive parenting is as bad for children as you seem to be saying, why isn’t coercion damage and trauma ubiquitous in the adult population?”
There is a slight misconception here. Thinking that coercion is a mistake because it might lead to some future harm such as trauma or ‘coercion damage’, is prophesying: it is unknowable what the future effect will be—it is impossible to construct a scientific experiment on the issue, and the effects will be different in different individual cases. Thinking in terms of coercion being a mistake on the grounds that it leads to future harm like trauma or ‘coercion damage’ mistakenly focuses on the unknowable future instead of seeing that coercion is problematic right now.
Irrespective of any possible future harm (and I am not saying that there isn’t any—it can be harmful, it is just not predictable), coercion is a mistake now, because a child is a person and people have a right to make their own decisions for their own life. Disagreements between children and adults are confrontations between ideas. And rationality says that there is only one rational way of confronting ideas, and that way does not involve giving one of them privilege or authority. In fact, we should have institutions that remove privileged ideas, authoritative ideas, entrenched ideas, and so on. So it is quite misleading to identify Taking Children Seriously with the proposition that coercion is harmful. It would be more accurate to say that coercion tends to disable the very processes in the child’s mind and in the family’s dynamics which can solve problems and avoid harm.
When we are talking about children in particular, if we were focusing on the harm that coercion is going to do them, then that would raise the question, “Then what about other harms that could come to them? Why don’t you reduce those too?!” Having the aim of avoiding harm is not a viable model of how to deal with other people, because if you really had that as an overriding aim instead of epistemological considerations about institutions, then you would be stopping your children doing rock climbing or defending our freedom by pursuing a career as a bomb disposal officer in the military, or other high-risk choices that they might make (that might actually harm them), instead of non-coercively supporting them in their own choices for their own lives.
Actually we cannot know what harm coercion is going to do. And even if it would not be doing them any harm at all, it would still be bad, because it would still be interfering with the growth of knowledge, and it is not for us to try to get our children to do what we ourselves think best instead of what they themselves think best. They are individual sovereign people, just like we are. Someone can think that if I make this or that choice for my life, it will be harmful, but they don’t get to impose their preferred choice on me. It is my life, not theirs. Children have the same moral right to make their own choices.
It is quite haphazard what harm coercion does. Sometimes a small amount of coercion affects you for your whole life, and sometimes people seem to thrive in their lives despite unimaginable coercion in their childhood. But even if it were true that the world is staggering under the weight of childhood coercion and all adults are barely functional, or, the opposite, if childhood coercion has virtually no effect—or anything in between those two extremes—it would not change what it is right or wrong to do to people. And it is not right to do things to people that will impair the growth of knowledge.
- What is the psychological impact of not taking children seriously?
- Surely suffering and frustration make us stronger?
- What do you mean by non-coercive? What is the difference between coercion and non-coercion?
Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘Is the purpose of taking children seriously to avoid the harm coercion would do?’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/is-the-purpose-of-taking-children-seriously-to-avoid-the-harm-coercion-would-do/