Why not say that the policy is non-coercion except on important issues?

“Isn’t this false advertising? Why not be honest with your children that your policy is only non-coercion on issues you don’t find important?”

“Maybe all interactions SHOULD be non-coercive (I’m always suspicious of shoulds), but they aren’t, at least in my house, and you have said you yourself are not perfectly non-coercive either. Thus, surely it would be more apt to say ‘in all interactions there is some degree of attempt to persuade, so one tries to be non-coercive provided one doesn’t give up anything too important to one’.”

What about the child? Where does a default of trying to be non-coercive unless that means giving up anything too important to one leave the child on the sharp end? Does the child also get to coerce when something feels important, or is it just the adult? This default implies coercing our children because we can – using our adult strength and power against our child, as in might makes right. But having the strength and power to force our preferred outcome does not make it right to do so.

More importantly, such a default will systematically prevent problems being solved. It embodies the pessimistic theory that (some) problems aren’t soluble. When people feel pessimistic about a given problem being soluble, the chance of solving it is very low indeed, because we are then not even trying to solve it, because it feels like a waste of effort. Attempts are half-hearted at best. So then we are seeing many problems seeming not to be soluble, and we conclude that Taking Children Seriously is exaggerating or deluded in suggesting that problems really are soluble. And think about the effect of such a policy on the children. How are they to know that this or that issue is one in which the parents are open to creating a real solution, as opposed to being one of the issues on which the parents will override the children’s wishes coercively? Why bother trying to come up with a solution if you know that your parents have that policy? It is entirely unrealistic to imagine that such a policy will not sabotage and impair the family’s ability to solve problems.

The question is conflating two issues: how things are, and what is best. The fact that no one is perfect and sometimes we fail to create a real solution does not mean we are being dishonest in saying that problems are soluble and that our intention is to solve them. Nor does our lack of perfection mean that we might as well pack it in and adopt the standard coercive paternalist approach instead.

Your reformulation is like saying: “The police force should respect human rights except on important issues”. I’d rather say “let’s have a police force whose ethos embodies respect for human rights” – and know that there will be some failures to respect human rights – than have an ethos which embodies systematic disregard for human rights in some areas. Similarly, with our children, having systematic exceptions to the ethos of taking them seriously instead of coercing them, makes the whole idea incoherent. It also makes it unworkable, as I indicated above.

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘Why not say that the policy is non-coercion except on important issues?’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/why-not-say-that-the-policy-is-non-coercion-except-on-important-issues/

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