Isn’t taking children seriously a risky experiment with children? Is there any evidence that it works? Has it been studied?

“Isn’t taking children seriously a risky experiment with children? Surely the tried and tested methods must be better? Is there any evidence that taking children seriously works? Has it been studied?”

That is like someone in the past asking: Isn’t taking women seriously a risky experiment? Surely the tried and tested methods must be better? Is there any evidence that taking women seriously works? Has it been studied?

If you were in the American slave-holding South in the days of slavery, and a supporter of slavery was demanding studies and ‘evidence’ to justify your argument for ending slavery, would that not strike you as a highly immoral stance? The fact is that slavery was wrong, and studies do not tell us about morality.

In the Daily Telegraph, there was an article saying that ‘studies have shown’ that hitting a child below the age of 3, even once, causes all sorts of nasty things in later life. While that kind of pseudo-scientific ‘research’ is undoubtedly well-meaning, and might seem cheering to non-coercive parents, I am sure one could find other studies purporting to show that children need a firm hand. So then what if you had read that one instead? Would you now think it right to hit your child? The trouble with all such pseudo-scientific ‘studies’ is that they are someone’s well-meaning agenda dressed in the authority of science.

When eugenics was all the rage there are all sorts of ‘scientific studies’ which purported to ‘prove’ that certain races and other groups are inferior and advocating forcible sterilisation and other coercion ‘for their own good’.

The ‘tried and tested methods’ have not been tried and tested. They have not even really been tried. People just do what they feel compelled to do. And it is not as if for the past 10,000 years there have been experiments comparing different ways of treating children, the good and bad effects being tested. That is not how moral knowledge is created. That is not how we abolished slavery. That is not how we created freer countries. That is not why we dropped eugenics. People argued for freedom; they argued that slavery, racism and eugenics are wrong. It was not based on studies.

Epistemology and morality are not sciences, they are branches of philosophy, and you make progress in those through arguments addressing moral and philosophical questions, not through experiments.

Trying to make how children should be treated, and Taking Children Seriously in particular, into a science, in which one demands evidence, is the mistake of scientism. It would be the semblance of science – trying to do science in a domain that is not actually scientific – to give the ideas false authority.

This is why paternalistic parenting books nowadays so often purport to be ‘evidence-based’: they are fallaciously arguing from authority – the authority of (the semblance of) science.

If someone rejects the idea of Taking Children Seriously on the ground that it seems like a risky experiment on children, that is an argument for stasis, which can’t be good. We want things to improve, not stay the same. Actually it is worse than that. It is worse than merely things never improving: it is systematically impeding improvement. If you treat your children the way that has been done before, not only are you going to avoid doing anything better, you are going to instil the hang-ups and anti-rational memes that you had and that your parents had, and that people have had since time immemorial.

Since the Enlightenment, there has been a steady change, faster and faster, not only in the way that politics at large is conducted, but in interpersonal relationships too. So if you look at how children were treated even within living memory, things which were completely customary in my childhood are now not just not customary but actually illegal. That is how fast things are changing. This is a good thing. It is people not accepting the “risky experiment…tried and tested better…where is the evidence?” argument advocated in the question above.

We hear a lot about the importance of taking an evidence-based approach, but think about what that implies. Where is the ‘evidence’ of new and better ideas that have yet to be studied (if they are in scientific fields)? What about ideas that are philosophical and psychological rather than amenable to experimental testing, like how we treat our children?

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘Isn’t taking children seriously a risky experiment with children? Is there any evidence that it works? Has it been studied?’,

1 thought on “Isn’t taking children seriously a risky experiment with children? Is there any evidence that it works? Has it been studied?”

  1. It’s my belief that it is irresponsible not to follow the evidence. While it’s important to remain open to new ideas, it is generally wise to approach untested ideas in parenting with caution. Following the science provides a foundation of knowledge and research that has undergone rigorous scrutiny. By relying on established theories and practices, we can have more confidence in their effectiveness and potential benefits for our children. We should be seeking out reliable research and expert opinions before implementing them in our parenting approach. Deviating too far from established parenting practices in favor of untested approaches may introduce unnecessary risks and uncertainties into their upbringing. Prioritizing their safety, well-being, and overall development should be the primary focus, and relying on evidence-based practices helps provide a more reliable framework for parenting.


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