Letting Children be Children

Is having a healthy, happy childhood a good thing? Is it important to have that foundation in order to be a productive, healthy and happy adult? All of us would agree that, “Well, duh. Of course.” Well, of course…yet, around the world, it seems that the short-lived glorification of childhood as a separate, sacred stage of life (in many ways a 20th century movement) is crumbling away.

In some European nations, 14 year olds have attained the age of consent to sexual activity with adults. Here in the US, they aren’t expected to remember their homework and thus teachers must dutifully post assignments on a school website so parents can check. For the record: 14 year olds can remember homework. Try breaking a promise about a privilege and see how good their memory actually is. The same child, however, is not capable of informed consent. They are not equipped to really understand long-term consequences due to brain development.

In the Netherlands, a 12 year old who is seriously ill – and consider that here, an awful lot of parents don’t expect 12 year old children to do chores or remember their own shin guards for soccer – can petition a judge to be euthanized due to illness. Their parents get to choose whether to grant permission up until age 16. That means that a 17 year old can petition to be medically killed. The same child might not be able to follow through on a college admission essay, or otherwise exhibit normal responsibility, but somehow their request to die ought to be treated as a perfectly normal legal procedure.

In our own country, about 9% of children have been diagnosed with ADHD and are being treated with medications, most often powerful stimulant medications – a rate that dwarfs much of Europe’s less-than-1% rate for medicating children.

Psychologically and physically, children aren’t miniature adults, as was so often the view in the past, due to the physically challenging, dangerous life most humans lived over much of history. They need love, secure boundaries, and guidance in learning to make good choices as they mature. Where these needs are unmet, adult dysfunction, emotional distress and physical illnesses are apt to follow.

They definitely don’t need to make life-or-death decisions, or be exploited by bad adults, or otherwise be treated with an expectation that they are fully rational, insightful grownups.

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

 

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