Why Children Should Rebel
Our current concept of childhood is a relatively recent invention. Throughout most cultures throughout most of human history, individuals today referred to as "children" had the right to marry, serve in the army, and even act as the head of state.
We can still see remnants of this in ceremonies such as Barmitzvah celebrations practiced by those who follow the Old Testament, though the true purpose of such events has been obscured by today's society. In the Judeo-Christian culture, boys who reached the age of 13 were considered to be full fledged adults, with all the associated rights and responsibilities.
This is a far cry from today's attitudes and practices, where even individuals considerably older than 13 are still not allowed to own property in their own name, enter legal agreements, or have any significant decision making power over how they are to live their lives. Instead, they are entirely at the almost arbitrary mercy of their parents or legal guardians.
This situation is similar to the subordinate legal status women had to their husbands just a few generations ago. It is in effect a form of slavery, though under the supposed belief that this is in the best interest of those who are enslaved. It was only in 1920 that women finally gained the right to vote in the United States. Prior to this date, it was considered outrageous to propose that these "irrational creatures" could be trusted to have a say in governance.
In exactly the same way, most people currently assume that children are not intellectually or emotionally competent to act as our equals in society. This view is reflected in our language when people tell each other to start "behaving like adults."
However, a few moments reflection should make us realize that "typical adult behavior" consists of resolving our disputes through military confrontations and through bitter lawsuits. Nothing in our daily behavior is in any way superior to the behavior of those we refer to as "children."
The very definition of what it means to be an "adult" has been warped by our society. When we refer to an "adult horse" or an "adult dog", the word "adult" refers to the reproductive maturity of being able to produce offspring. By contrast, our society's legal definition is based on an arbitrary age demarcation, long after biological adulthood has already been attained.
Neither biological adulthood nor legal adulthood are a prerequisite for intellectual or emotional maturity. Nor are they a guarantee of it. Some people are competent to make their own decisions by the age of seven. Others are still not able to run their own lives even by the age of thirty.
Just as racism is unacceptable, it is also unacceptable to use arbitrary age demarcation lines to determine who will have which rights.
Consider for example the right to drive a car. We obviously need tests to determine who can be trusted with this responsibility. However, to be fair, the same test must apply to all people, regardless of race or gender, and regardless of youth. If someone successfully passes the written exam and the "behind the wheel" test, then there is no justification to deny a driving license on the grounds that the applicant is too young.
The same principle can be applied to all other areas of life. There is indeed a real need for limitations. For example, newborn infants can not be trusted to make their own decisions. However, the point in time at which people are given various rights and responsibilities must be decided by fair and objective tests, not by arbitrary age demarcation.
If a five year old child born in the United States can pass the same test immigrants take to attain citizenship, then this child should be given the right to vote just as all other Americans. If a six year old child can pass a test demonstrating that he is aware of all the consequences of the issues involved, then he should be allowed to determine who he will live with and where he will go to school. If a seven year old child can pass a test demonstrating that he has the intellectual fortitude to make his own decisions in life, then he should be given the full right to determine the course of his own destiny.
Although no child should ever be forced to take these tests against his will, these tests should always be made available to any child who wishes to take them.
Of course, there are many people who doubt that any child this young can pass such tests. However, this is not the issue. Even if we were to believe that no child will ever pass these tests, we should not deny them the right to just "take the test" simply because they are too young.
If our skeptical predications are correct, and no child ever passes these tests, then no harm has been done, since no child will have attained these freedoms. If only one in a million passes this test, then nothing will have changed for the over 99% percent of the children who did not pass, but we should not restrict the rights of this one child who did pass simply because of the poor performance of his peers.
There is a reason why we are reluctant to allow children to demonstrate their competence through such tests. It is the fear that they will outperform us. Many teenagers under the age of sixteen would make better drivers than their parents, many young children are far more aware of international politics than are their parents, and quite frankly, there are many seven year olds who would make much better decisions in life than many adults do.
There is unfortunately no shortage of examples of adults who drown hopelessly in debt by living well beyond their means, destroy their family lives with extramarital affairs, or throw their careers away as the result of problems with alcohol. Yet our society gives even these types of individuals full sovereignty over the lives of their children, even when these children would probably be much more capable at running the family than their parents.
In fact, children have an advantage over the rest of society in many ways. They are far better at learning new skills and better at analytical reasoning. They also tend to be far more creative and open minded. These attributes tend to become far less keen as people grow older. This can be seen in many daily examples, such as the fact that parents often have to ask their children for help when learning how to operate their computers.
The sad thing about our current state of affairs is not just that a large segment of our population has its rights and freedoms systematically denied, but the fact that our society is routinely denied the contributions of those citizens who potentially have the most to contribute.
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