Controversial opinion: children are humans, with everything that entails.
That may seem uncontroversial. Everyone agrees with that!
But it’s not true. Everyone says they agree with that, but they don’t, not really.
Here is what I mean: children do not have to be sheltered from pain, because they have experienced it. children are not some sort of ultra-pure and special kind of human being; children can be abusers. children do not have to be shielded from knowledge of sexuality, because the knowledge alone cannot harm them–and if they’ve been harmed by sexuality, the knowledge will not further traumatize them, but help them articulate what happened. children can be kind, or intelligent, or cruel, or all of the above. children can be mentally ill. children can be gay. children can be disabled, and it’s not just “normal childhood stuff”, nor does it make them extra-innocent and fragile. children are not ultra-pure creatures that need protected from reality. children deserve to be listened to and respected. children are human fucking beings.
children do not have to be sheltered from the “real world”: they already live in it.
“what happens to all your teen angst when you’re 20… like where does it go”
“they diagnose it as anxiety”
I have a love/hate relationship with the word “bullying”. On the one hand, it’s the only consistent word I have that can be readily understood by basically everyone. On the other hand: it treats abuse by children as a unique, special thing that everyone grows out of when they turn 18.
In reality, that’s not the way it works. Do you know why It Gets Better? It’s not because the bullies stop. All that happens is that, when you turn 18, “my girlfriend insults, ridicules, publicly humiliates, isolates, and sometimes physically harms me” magically transforms from ‘bullying’ to ‘abuse’, and you’re given the capacity to move away from them instead of being forced to go to the same school as them every day. Isn’t it weird how that works?
Bullying is a fancy word for an ugly thing, coined because nobody wants to believe that an 8-year-old can abuse another child until they want to die. Children are pure, powerless; how could they be abusers?
I can trace my sexuality back from when I was 4, my kinks from when I was 5. I am told that I should not be allowed to talk about these things, that knowledge is dangerous, that only 18+ are allowed to have Dirty Thoughts, and I think back to my 7th grade teacher, who risked her job to teach her class how to have safe sex under abstinence-only laws that claimed to be for the sake of Protecting The Children.
Children do not need your paternalistic “protection” that claims to know better than them what’s right for their lives. Children need you to listen to their questions, their requests. Children need you to answer them with the truth instead of hiding things from them.
It’s no secret that not taking kids seriously harms kids. All you’d have to do is ask them–there is no shortage of suffering kids, mentally ill and traumatized kids, screaming as loud as they can for help, screaming about the injustice they’re facing, but not being taken seriously because they’re kids.
Here are some stories:
A child doesn’t want to hug their relative. Their parent says, “come on, you have to hug them.” The child, reluctantly, agrees.
A child is happy, and wants to talk about it–and maybe they stutter, or talk “too much”, or maybe they want to flap their hands or write or draw instead of talking. And they are shut up and shut down, made to feel ashamed of themselves.
The child grows up, and doesn’t know how to say “no” or “yes”, because they were taught all of their life that their feelings, desires, boundaries, communication, doesn’t count. That their voices can and should be overwritten by other people.
Or maybe the child is still a child, and maybe the child is hurt by an adult. And they don’t say anything, because they think it’s normal to have their desires overwritten. Maybe they allow it, because they were taught all their life to agree with adults, to comply.
Or maybe the child is hurt by another child, and the adults dismiss it, because they’re just kids being kids, playing around. No big deal. After all, kids hurt each other all the time, right? But it’s not serious, because kids can’t actually hurt each other.
I look at things like Murphy’s Law–taking away all right to confidentiality and privacy, which should be basic human rights, from mentally ill minors–and I want to scream and cry. I look at laws that tell me that keeping my friend at my house for a week against the wishes of her abusive parents is kidnapping and I want to fight. I want to ask the people who fought against this, at what point do we become human beings to you?
The way to be a good child is to be silent. Don’t talk, don’t cause trouble. Don’t scream or throw a tantrum. Don’t show your pain, don’t be mean where we can see it, don’t communicate. They want an honest child, but they’re going to punish you every time you’re honest, and so by teenage years everyone is quiet, grunting, reclusive, liars, and they wonder what possibly could have gone wrong. Be quiet, stop bothering the adults, we’re trying to talk here.
Tell an adult if you experience bullying, they said. I did. They asked her for her side of the story, and concluded that I was lying/exaggerating/actually the mean one. It did not stop. It got worse.
There was a “bully box” at my old school, where people were supposed to drop in papers describing the abuse they dealt with. The guidance counselors threw them out at the end of every day.
My friend had pain in her ankle from the time she was in 3rd grade. Everyone dismissed it as her making a big deal out of nothing, as exaggerating. She got put in physical therapy last year; they say it will never fully heal.
I asked my mom for Wintergirls in 7th grade, when I was going through the worst time in my life. I was actively suicidal, self-harming, eating disordered; I got less than 4 hours of sleep a night. I consider it a miracle that I survived that year.
“I think that book is a little too… mature for you,” my mom said, putting it back on the shelf.
I stole it from the school library, read it at night by flashlight.
There are countries where children have difficulty accessing education, and they go to huge lengths to get it. Kindergartners enter school excited, full of questions, ready to learn. In places where voluntary schooling has been tried, children do, in fact, choose to go to school! On a basic, fundamental level, most people want to learn.
And then you get to high school, and everyone skips class, and I can’t count the number of hospital visits me and my friends have taken on both of my hands, and I treasure learning on my own with books or a computer but have panic attacks at the idea of classrooms and homework, and when a teacher tries to start discussion he is met with 20 dead pairs of eyes and not a single question.
I was punished, in pre-school, for being able to read, for wanting to read instead of naptime or cartoons. I, and my friends, have been given bad grades for using shortcuts, doing things in more advanced ways, doing things in unconventional ways that work for our brain better than the “normal” way. I’ve been accused of cheating or plagiarism multiple times because I used “large words”, so now I make sure to write more simply. When I do poorly, they don’t motivate me to understand; they just make me feel stupid for not already understanding it, and so instead of trying I just cheat.
This is broken.
I’m going to be honest: I don’t actually see much of a difference between most instances of “kids shouldn’t [do x harmless but weird/inappropriate-for-their-age thing], so i’m going to [abuse them, take away their rights, harass them, try to ban them from doing the thing, basically just insert any punishment here]”. I really, really don’t.
Kids are going to do whatever it is you’re trying to forbid anyway. Abusing them for it will only make them hide it out of fear or shame or both.
Why is putting a total ban on something suddenly an Effective Method, and not a shaming tactic that will do nothing but make people more unsafe (and here I’m thinking of abortion, and drugs, and prohibition, and sex work–and all of those apply to minors as much as adults), when you’re dealing with kids?
When abled people see a disabled person, they don’t see us as people. They take over our autonomy, try to force us into normality, abuse and abuse and abuse us, and then turn around and tell us it’s our fault for not telling them. And we tell them, and we get punished for it. They say they want us to speak honestly, but really they just want us to tell them what they want to hear, and not admit that it’s a lie, so they can hold us up as proof: look! they liked it! they’re fine! they’re better, they’re fixed!
(of course, they don’t acknowledge that the only reason we thought we were broken was because of them.)
And when you’re a kid, you don’t know enough to tell them that they’re wrong, and you can’t escape them, and everyone you trust is telling you that they’re right.
When they look at suffering kids, they rationalize it away. Kids don’t suffer. Kids don’t feel pain, right? Only adults feel real pain, not just tantrums and angst. Kids can’t feel pain, and they can’t inflict it. After all, they shouldn’t even know what pain is. After all, childhood isn’t the “real world”. After all, everything they’re complaining about is just for their protection and/or for their education and/or for their development of thicker skin. They’ll understand and be grateful when they’re older. Right?
We’re forced into the closet, punished for being ourselves, over and over and over again. And we’re told it’s for our own good.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
The real question: “Why did nobody listen?”
The answer: Because they didn’t think my voice mattered.