Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Children Have Few of the Rights of Citizenship, Yet They are Citizens

I'm worried about children. No one is asking them what they want. Of course this is nothing new. Oh sure, we make a show of listening to individual children, but since they possess precious few of the rights of citizenship, there is no reason, beyond compassion of course, to heed them.

I wonder what they are thinking right now, children in the aggregate. We poll adults, we offer them forums, we have elections in which the adults express their collective voice, but we have nothing like that for children. We know what the white middle class is thinking. We know what the seniors in the South are thinking. We know what urban black women are thinking. We know what Republicans and Democrats are thinking. But we don't know what children are thinking about what is going on the in the world today.

I imagine that many of them are simply bored with it all. I know that at least some of them simply tune out the moment the adults with whom they are quarantined start, for the forty millionth time, to belabor the fine details of what this politician has said or that doctor has warned or that study has found. Who cares?!?

I imagine others are frightened, their imaginations ablaze with the scary news that never seems to end.

I imagine some are interested, asking lots of questions about viruses, ventilators, and vaccines.

I imagine most children, like most adults, are at some level sad.

What do they think about returning to their schools and child cares? There are, of course, many who are chomping at the bit, but I'm certain there are others who would really rather not, either for fear of their own safety or because they're really rather enjoying this time in the bosom of their families. And then there are those who want to be anywhere but home because their home life is broken. We might know what the children in our own homes feel, but because they have no voice in this, we have no way of knowing what children as citizens are thinking about what is happening or what should be done about it.

I suppose there are some who feel I'm wasting my time with this sort of wondering. After all, in the end the kids will just have to fall into line with whatever the adults decide, but that is exactly my point. There is no "normal" or "new normal" or any way forward at all until we figure out what we are going to do with the children. Many of the plans I've seen for early years "re-opening" are appalling. No child would voluntarily agree to subject themselves to those rigors and rules. Much of what I've read strikes me as almost cruel, knowing what I know about the physical and psychological needs of children. If the economy did not require that their schools and child cares re-open, I expect there would be no question of waiting at least a few more months, but as it is, in some places at least, we are choosing money over the rights of children.

If we are re-opening the economy on the backs of children, shouldn't we at least acknowledge that their contribution is essential? Shouldn't we at least acknowledge that they are sacrificing their rights for ours?

Children have few of the rights of citizenship, yet they are citizens. In lieu of these rights the promise is that we adults will advocate for them. But how can we advocate for children if there is no way for us to know what they, collectively, feel, want, and need? Or maybe we don't think that what they feel, want, and need is important. Maybe we feel that we know what's best for them and their opinions have little to do with it. That's not how I feel, but, again collectively, it seems to be what we the adults believe. At least it seems so as we march forward into an immediate future in which schools are turned into sanitation factories, places where touch is forbidden, smiles are hidden, and movement is limited.

This is, of course, to a certain extent, the immediate future for us all. None of us like it, but we are not toddlers. We at least have a voice as citizens and can make choices about which bridges are too far. Our children do not and because of that we have a sacred responsibility to represent them, both individually and collectively. There is a special responsibility placed upon us to not just listen, but heed.

In considering the rights of children, I believe that we are moving too fast in re-opening our preschools and child cares. Our governments should continue financially supporting families who need it until we can do it right, even if that means raising taxes on the corporations that are currently profiteering from this crisis. I understand that this will be economically painful, but keeping young children in their homes and with their families is the right decision until we have the testing capacity to ensure the wherever they are, children are allowed to be children. That is my opinion, informed by decades of listening to young children.


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