I have early memories of experiencing Childism. I remember being thought of as less than. I remember not being asked whether or not I could be tickled, hugged, or transported somewhere. I remember the power of an adult being lorded over me. I remember the unfairness of it all. I recognized the injustice of it when I was very young.
I have gotten over trying to place blame for these things. It’s interesting because every single one of us has experienced Childism. No matter how wonderful and fair our parents were or whether or not we went to school, we grew up in the world. And in the world Childism is rampant.
It is easier for us to recognize Childism in more cruel illustrations like a father demolishing his daughter’s new car because she broke curfew, or a mother shaving her daughter’s head because she did not brush her hair often enough. Child shaming, specifically publicly shaming children, is easier to recognize as overt Childism.
What is Childism?
In its simplest form, we might think of Childism as treating children differently because they are younger than us. Generally, we think of them as “ours”; to manipulate, make life choices for, and control. Many think of children as property- even if we will not admit it.
Sadly, the roots of Childism are far darker than this. It is deeper than I ever understood. From policies and systems that are touted as being in the best interest of children yet separate babies from their families, for example, to it being legal to hit a child (both at home and in school in many states). From forcing children to finish eating a food that they hate to making them wear clothing that is uncomfortable or embarrassing, childism is an accepted and normalized part of our living.
Childism: a prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
All we have to do is watch a certain Halloween segment on a certain late night TV show and the reactions to it to see what we really think of children: they are here to serve the purposes that adults want. Whether that is entertainment, serving us through housework, childcare, or other chores, or using them as an emotional scapegoat (me), children are used for our purposes and they have no way to change that.
Childism: It’s Personal
It’s hard to read those words. Believe me, I know. As I have learned more about the darkness and depth of Childism over the last year I have faced stuff I never wanted to. Some of it was personally devastating.
Like with all things though, when we face our own biases well we make the world, and our relationships with the people in it, better. There is no quick lesson for understanding Childism- just like all the other hard stuff we have to learn to move past.
Awareness is a great start. I mean, awareness is always a necessary start. Change doesn’t happen instantaneously. I think there has to be a time of introspection and intentional opening of ourselves before we can explore the hard truths we have to face.
This journey is not for everyone. I even wonder if the wrong person sets off on it if it will make life worse for some children. For those who do want to embark though, please join us. It will be a slow and intentional process. It will not be easy, but it could make the world better.
I am not sure exactly what this is going to look like. I think mostly it will offer points to consider and resources to better understand Childism. It is a vast and lightly explored topic.
If you have resources that you think should be included please e-mail them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For now, we can all be more aware of how we view our children, and what our interactions with them look like. In my opinion, that is an excellent start.
Stay tuned for what comes next.
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