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We Shouldn’t Treat Kids as Adults … Because They’re Not

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Parenting advice. It. Is. Everywhere. We can’t set foot out of our house without someone offering their unsolicited tips. The Internet is full of helpful articles on how to navigate the often choppy waters of parenting … what to do, what not to do, what you never, ever, ever, ever should do.

For the most part, I’m a live and let live person. I usually stay away from hot-button topics: circumcision, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, helicopter parenting, and peanut butter. Like everyone else, I have my own opinions about what’s right (or wrong) for my family, but rare is the occasion where I’ll point my finger and say, “Dude, you’ve got that all wrong.”

But, this is one of those occasions.

I read a recent article by writer Brian Davis, “Why Parents Should Treat Kids as Adults.” Wait, what? Treat them like adults? But they’re — you know — kids.

According to Davis, treating children like adults is the answer to effective discipline and “traditional parenting” is condescending. If we wouldn’t say things like “stop pouting” or “don’t touch that” to our partner or other adult, then we should not say them to our children.

Uh … not so much.

I believe kids are people, too. Of course I do. Kids aren’t some sort of species of their own (although sometimes it seems like they are), but they’re not adults. Because they’re kids.

At some point, “because I said so” or “just do it” will come out of our mouths and we shouldn’t jump to label that as lazy parenting.
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Talking to your children like children isn’t “condescending” as Davis states. There’s a difference between age-inappropriate baby talk (i.e. asking your 12-year-old if she has to go tinkly tink) and being condescending. I am all in for allowing kids to grow up and bloom, but they are only children for a little while, so why treat them as adults before they are? Growing up, learning, and accepting responsibility comes in stages and we shouldn’t be in a hurry for our kids to get there.

Parents cannot always explain themselves to a child. Yes, providing some sort of answer when your kid “but why”s you to death helps them learn. It also drives you bonkers, but most parents understand and embrace their role as teacher. But, at some point, “because I said so” or “just do it” will come out of our mouths and we shouldn’t jump to label that as lazy parenting.

Of course, parents need to recognize and take advantage of those teachable moments, but when said teachable moment occurs in response to, “Put your shoes on and let’s get in the car right now, we’re 10 minutes late for the third time this week — for the love of Pete, child, MOVE,” stopping to explain why isn’t realistic. If you’re adamantly opposed to the “because I said so” response, I say you’ve never had to get two children under 5 out the door in a (semi-) timely manner.

Davis asserts, “Offering an explanation is also a great opportunity for your own reflection. If you don’t have a good reason for a rule (i.e. stop making faces) it’s probably a crappy rule and you’re probably taking yourself too seriously.”

Generalize much? If my kid were making faces in church or at my 88-year-old grandmother, I don’t think I’d take the time to stop and lay out my reasoning for insisting that behavior stops. Sometimes, telling a kid to knock it off without opportunity for discussion is necessary. I’m all for helping kids understand why rules exist, but there is a time and a place for “reflection.” There’s nothing wrong with a parent choosing when to explain their decisions. Opting not to give an explanation doesn’t mean the decision is crappy.

Raising a child that learns to make good decisions does not mean raising a child who always gets to decide as they please.
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Treating a child like an adult is not an answer to all of your parenting problems. Although Davis claims “treating a kid like a person prevents a parent from needing ‘discipline’ at all,” addressing a child in a manner consistent with their age is not failure to treat a kid like a person.

Different parents have different definitions of what constitutes appropriate discipline, but all kids need some structure. The world is structured. Giving children choices and options is sometimes appropriate … and sometimes just impractical for real life with real kids.

I am the parent. Treating my children like, well, children and allowing them to develop and grow doesn’t mean I’m some sort of dictator. Children don’t process information or make decisions the same way adults do, so we shouldn’t treat them as adults because they’re not. Our brains don’t stop developing until we’re in our early 20s, especially the frontal lobe which controls decision making. Raising a child that learns to make good decisions does not mean raising a child who always gets to decide as they please.

Davis also recommends “defensive parenting,” which involves, among other things, über child-proofing, like taping butcher paper to the bottom three feet of all the walls in the home so “stray crayon marks” don’t ruin the walls. Hmm. Remind me to hide the crayons when his kids come to my house. I’m all for making adjustments to the home environment to make allowances for the fact that kids make messes, but isn’t that sending the message that walls are for coloring on?

Although I don’t tow the “treat kids like adults” line, Davis does makes some valid points in his article. He discusses the importance of allowing children to do things for themselves and allowing them to mess up in the name of learning. Amen. Asking your children to help you with basic household chores, knowing that their assistance doubles the time it takes to do something simple, like taking out the garbage or cracking an egg? Double Amen.

Children are people. They are also often irrational beasts. Treating them like adults before they’re ready? I say no. I say we shouldn’t be in such a hurry for our kids to grow up. There’s nothing wrong with treating children like children. Because that’s exactly what they are.

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