Is the purpose of taking children seriously to avoid the harm coercion would do?

“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. The idea that it is harmful for a child to be coerced is not a matter of definition but is a substantive theory. However, it is 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.

Focusing on ‘coercion damage’ and the ‘harm done by coercion’ is a slight mistake. Not that there isn’t such damage – there is harm caused by coercion – but that is not the point. The point is that children are people, and disagreements between them 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 although avoiding harm is a good thing, it is not the thing, and it 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.

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?!” And actually we do not know what harm coercion is going to do. And even if it would not be doing them any harm at all, it would be bad, because it would still be interfering with the growth of knowledge.

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 massive 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.

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘Is the purpose of taking children seriously to avoid the harm coercion would do?’,

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