Children’s Responsibilities – Part IV

The following is part of a series of articles on the rights and responsibilities of children and of families.  On our site, we’ve published a Children’s Bill Of Rights, with all of the sections in the bill.  You can take a look at Children’s Bill of Rights.

(To read more about the Children’s Bill of Rights, look at articles at this site, and at Homeschool Under Siege.)

Let’s look at more of the rights and attendant responsibilities.  I’ll again keep the comment on each of these short.  Again, the right will be stated, followed by child’s responsibility in italics.  That will be followed by my comments.

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Safe work

Every child has the right to be productive, and to enjoy being productive as well as to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Every child has the right to create whatever they wish to create. Every child has the right to productive action in a safe environment, and done in a way that is safe for the child. No person has the right to enforce “productive” labor on a child.

You have the responsibility to be productive whether at work, at home, in school, or anywhere, for a large part of almost every day. You have the responsibility to create things that are wonderful and that will make the world a better place to live in for as many people as possible. You have the responsibility to help make certain that anywhere you are working the environment is and stays safe for you and for others. You have the responsibility to refuse to work when you feel that it is wrong to do so.

Child labor laws were created to protect children from abusive forms of work.  In the 1800s, and well into the 1900s, without such laws on the books, children were often placed into abusive work situations.  Dickens wrote about the British workhouses and the situations faced by children from poor families in such books as Oliver Twist.  Charlie Chaplin lived such a life as a child, on the streets at age six and fending for himself when he wasn’t shut away in a Victorian workhouse.  Throughout western culture at that time, children often found themselves working 10 hours a day or more, and in unsafe and unsanitary surroundings.

Child slavery continues today in some parts of the world.  But there has been an increasing effort throughout the 1900s to today to end such practices.  Children are the most vulnerable segment of the population, and are easily taken advantage of by unscrupulous people looking for very cheap or slave labor.  Because of this, child labor laws were instituted.

But such laws are sometimes blind.  A child does deserve a chance to be productive if he wishes to be so, though certainly when working for others then only under strict rules as to the particulars.  A heavy restricting of the hours worked, the age a child must be to work, the conditions of the employment are all appropriate to protect children.  But again, there are children who, within that construct, WANT to work. 

My own son was an example.  He decided at age 16 to go into acting professionally, and immediately started getting jobs.  The laws required that a parent (me) be on location every day, and that he continue schooling until he graduated.  (He graduated in his 16th year, not too long after starting his acting.)  He loved the work he was doing, and he loved the idea of being able to support himself at a young age.  He was quite accomplished, and I feel that the work and his achievements seriously developed his self-esteem and sense of his own potential.

History is full of examples of people who started work at a young age.  You yourself may be one such person, or perhaps your parents or grandparents were.  Work is not a bad thing, and being productive is a good and necessary condition if one is to have anything at all to contribute to life.  We want our children to grow up not just “willing” to make an effort, but rather eager to do so.  Civilization NEEDS their very best ideas and efforts. 

Working does not absolve a child from receiving an education.  In fact, the best work for a child is anything that enhances his education while allowing him to be productive.  But to be on the safe side, parents, it is imperative that if your child complains of any work environment (including school, by the way), that you listen and take him or her very seriously.  You are charged with their safety and well-being.  And a child must have someone turn to, some recourse, if a work situation becomes in any way abusive or dangerous.  You are their recourse.

One more point about children working.  The work each individual loves is a personal thing.  We each have unique strengths and skills, and a child wishing to express his should be encouraged.  I am a writer and composer, a director and performer, as well as an educator.  I started working professionally at all of these things in my mid-late teens.  I always considered my efforts in each of these activities to be “work” – but a work that I loved to do.  I did not need “encouragement” to want to learn all about these activities.  In fact, I could not be stopped.

We should all want our children to discover work that they are good at and that they love.  When a child does so, you’ll find in him an inexhaustible student.  There’s a win-win!

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Education

Every child has the right to a thorough education, to be tailored carefully around the child’s evolving interests, skills, and needs. Every child has the right to learn about subjects that interests him. Every child has the right to work to develop skills that interest him. Every child has the right to reject excessive study time, or excessive demands in regards to study. Every child has the right to reject the study of subjects which the child feels are not productive for him, within reason.

You have the responsibility to fully get involved with your own education, to learn as much as you can as thoroughly and quickly as you can. You have the responsibility to decide which subjects or skills really interest you. You then have the responsibility to really learn about the things that interest you and to become “expert” in them if you can. You have the responsibility to at least attempt each subject presented to you. You have the responsibility to be honest to teachers and others about subjects you do and do not wish to study.

No one can force a child to learn.  A child must be interested and want to learn in order for education to take hold and be of any value. (This is true of adults as well.)  The child’s willingness and desire should accordingly be consulted in increasing amounts as he grows older, regarding what and how he studies.  As the child develops real interests and skills, he will want to pursue those.  He must be allowed to do so, and even encouraged.

But it is the child’s responsibility to do the heavy lifting in his own education.  It’s too easy for some children to simply remain uninterested in anything.  That’s an easy way and a cheap excuse for never committing to any effort, to one’s self, or to life.  To this end the responsibilities of a child toward his own successful education have been inked above.

We should expect a child, particularly when young, to at least attempt any and every subject placed before him.  He can decide following serious exposure to a subject whether or not to be interested in it.  As the child matures, he really is within his rights to elect to focus on subjects of interest, even at the expense of other subjects.  A wise educator or parent would generally support such a process as it evolved.  This is presuming that the interests being developed are constructive rather than destructive.

Once an interest is located, it’s almost entirely over to the child.  It’s heavy lifting time.  The child must jump in with both feet and learn everything possible about his chosen subjects.  The parent’s will have some responsibility as well, including keeping the child safe, and providing as many opportunities as possible for the child to fully experience his chosen field of expertise.  But no one can force another person to learn.  The ingesting of information and the development of skills and understandings are the labor of the child.  If he does not live up to these demands, he’s failing himself. 

One more thing.  The child should be straight-forward about his interests.  Lying or pretending to be interested in a subject that the child is not interested in leads parents and others down a pointless road.  Any parent knows that it costs money and time to help a child pursue some skill or interest.  If the child really doesn’t care much for the subject or activity, he really owes it to his parents to let them know that.  In this way resources can be marshaled for those activities the child truly is interested in.

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Not to be exposed or trained into prejudice

Every child has the right to refuse to be exposed to forms of bigotry, prejudice, or hate of others by family, through education, or by any other means.

You have the responsibility to walk away whenever anyone tries to “sell” bigotry or hatred of others to you. You have the responsibility to have your own ideas and opinions about others. You have the responsibility to treat each person you meet with respect and as “an equal”, unless that person gives you reasons to not trust, respect or like them.

This is a hard one.  We often are unaware of our own biases, as such.  When we teach our children, we often believe we are in some way “saving them” from “others” when we instill dislike, or even an active hatred of those who are “different”.  We may even believe that we are serving our religion, our nation, or a racial group.

But this is patent and destructive nonsense.

It’s a big world filled with diversity.  No amount of indoctrination or sheltering will prevent a child from eventually meeting “others”.  It’s going to happen.  A bigot will use this fact to support the “need” to instill hatred.  In doing so, that bigot will be seriously damaging the future of his or her child.  Opportunities in life come from wherever they come from.  No one knows what the future of a child holds, and anyone who claims to is deluded or lying.  The more people that a child can work with and at least tolerate, the more likely it is that he will survive and do well.  The fewer the people he can tolerate, the less likely it is that he will do well in life.  It’s a simple numbers-game kind of look at life, and it is true.

World War II was a disaster for Germany, a country that institutionalized hatred.  The German people had been poverty-stricken since the end of WWI, and were desperate when Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power.  Hitler channelled their desperation and hatred, largely toward Jews.  But in Germany at that time, Jews represented as a group amongst the most accomplished in the nation.  An example; the National Orchestra in Berlin, prior to Hitler, had well over one hundred expert musicians in it.  After the Jews were removed, they were down to under twenty.

Would Germany have won that war if, instead of letting loose a tidal wave of destructive hatred that murdered a huge selected group of their best and brightest, they had embraced the assistance of Jewish people in Germany?  Who can say – but their odds of success would certainly have improved.  And of course, they would have been a very different Germany from  the one that earned the response they did – the hatred of the world and near annihilation.

Though it’s difficult to imagine, a child really should never buy into any “lesson” from parents or others that in any way lowers his interest in the world around him.  That interest should embrace humanity.  That is the best path to survival.  Bigotry is its own reward, and it results in a lower standard of life for the bigot and for his targets.  Bigotry can only result in a lose-lose.  A child who refuses to play that game should be commended, not punished.

More to follow!

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