Why should we adults respect kids? Let’s face it. They’re clueless, right?
They’re born unable to move or feed themselves, and fifteen (or more!) years later, we still can’t trust them to drive a car responsibly.
So should they have our respect? I mean, real respect, not just patronizing “Oh, you’re so great for playing on my team! Here’s a trophy!” respect.
Yep. You betcha.
Why? I’ll give you two reasons.First, to say they’re “clueless” is to look at them through a very adult-centric lens. As Allison Gopnik demonstrates so eloquently in The Philosophical Baby, babies’ brains are actually superior to those of adults in some important ways such as creativity and problem solving. Also, children are way happier than adults. One study showed that children laugh roughly ten times more than adults do, on average.
Second, even if we adults believe that they’re clueless, we shouldn’t accept that as an unchangeable fact and protect them from their own cluelessness. We should help them get more of a clue every day. In other words, we should give them constant opportunities to get more of a clue and earn our respect. After all, we’re not going to live forever.
Unfortunately, we’ve been doing a horrific job at giving them a clue. Even if one defines “a clue” to be what today’s parents care most about by far, academic achievement, we’re failing. Pretty much every standardized test shows a downward trend over the past few decades. Beyond tests, numerous university professors (e.g. the author of The Dumbest Generation) contend that the quality of student work has diminished noticeably in their careers.
Outside of academic achievement, though, children are doing even worse. Their rate of depression and suicide is increasing rapidly. Meanwhile, they’re having a difficult time taking on the responsibilities of adulthood when they reach their twenties, which has traditionally been thought of as the first decade of adulthood. Many books and magazine articles have recently been published documenting this. In fact, there’s a movement in psychology to define a new life stage between adolescence and adulthood called “emerging adulthood.” Oh brother…
So, how can we help children get more of a clue? The key, I believe, is that we should give them opportunities to earn our respect constantly, from the beginning of their lives. Every time they earn new respect from us, we should ratchet up, giving them more responsibility to work things out on their own.
Respect – real, authentic respect for real competence – is something that all human beings seek. Many researchers consider earning respect to be fundamental to true fulfillment in life.
How do we give them opportunities to earn our respect? We should take their present passions seriously if they can find a way to pursue them. If they can’t identify their own passions, we should give them enough space to find them for themselves. We should give them room to fail, and to learn from failure. We should give them space to figure many things out for themselves, and we should accept their solutions if we find them reasonable, even if they differ from the ones we came up with.
Twenty-somethings aren’t going to emerge as responsible, thoughtful, passionate adults one day after being controlled by their parents and other adults for two decades. Their ability to think for themselves must be nurtured and encouraged throughout their childhoods.