The word ‘child’ has many different meanings, in many different contexts. In legal terms, it refers to a person under the age of 18, although from your parents’ point of view, you’re a child forever no matter your age. However it can also be used as a synonym for someone acting in a foolish way, I know this because my friends often refer to my behavior as childish. A child however can also be used to refer to someone who has ‘little or no experience within an area’. While it may be true that children don’t have as much understanding of how the world works, the question as to why this is the case needs to be raised, instead of just writing children off.
When you were a baby, or a toddler, your parents might have placed you in a playpen, to enable you to play safely by being in a small enclosure. As you got older, that playpen may have been put into storage for the next child, or sold on eBay or been freecycled, but while it may have been removed from you physically, I do not believe it gets removed from you mentally.
Adults place a gate around our knowledge of the world. The more we learn, the further those gates are pushed back, but by how much is carefully controlled by our teachers, our parents and our mentors.
When I was in primary school, my teachers pushed the gates back by a centimeter by telling me to turn the lights off when I leave a room and to not leave the tap running while I brush my teeth, but they did not tell me this was to help battle global warming, they did not tell me that fossil fuel emissions need to decrease dramatically, or about the plastic pollution plaguing the world and so I always asked for a straw with my apple juice. My teachers carefully controlled what knowledge I learnt, and they showed me little answers to climate change, but they did not expose me to the true threat it posed and so I always asked to be driven somewhere I could have walked, and when I chewed on my straw so much it became unusable, I asked for another one.
The idea of a playpen is to keep the child safe, the enclosure minimizes the amount of risks. The bigger the playpen, the more space available to run into danger. I mentioned earlier that to a parent you’re a child no matter your age and a parent will always strive to keep their child safe, and maybe that is why growing up we were protected from the hazards global warming holds for our future but surely it is better to stand in the light and make active changes rather than sit in the dark and contribute to the issue unknowingly.
My family are active environmentalists and expose me and my cousins to the climate change crisis. My cousins, as young as 8, are taking part in school strikes and rallying for the government to start changing things. They walk wherever they can and favor reusable straws, and I would argue that they are safer now that their playpen is bigger rather than when it was smaller because they have knowledge to change their ways which will contribute to extending their future and increasing ecological security.
This idea can be applied to many other situations for example gangs, crime and sexual exploitation of children, an unpopular topic but unfortunately a relevant one. In an attempt to keep children as innocent as possible, many adults deliberately choose to not inform them of such horrors but I believe this to be a mistake. Francis Bacon said ‘knowledge is power’ and I believe in such a situation this is key. For example, we are always told to not submit to peer pressure, a very general statement which could apply to many scenarios but we are not told that if someone asks you to shoplift, it’s not because they’re ‘cool’ or because ‘everyone else is doing it’ but rather they are trying to entice you into criminal behaviour in order to exploit you further. Had more parents sat their children down and explained this, as my mum did to me, perhaps when asked to attack that pensioner ‘for a laugh’, they would have been able to see this for the initiation process that it is and stay away, and perhaps the youth crime rate wouldn’t be the issue it is today.
There’s a reason society used the word ‘child’ so often to describe someone inexperienced that it became part of the Oxford dictionary, and that reason is not down to the fault of children, it’s the adults who often only tell us the simple introductory facts and answers to the massive issues that afflict our lives, and they won’t give us the experience, the opportunity for us to show what we’re made off.
One example of this is the Brexit issue. 16 year old’s did not have a right to vote in this matter despite the fact that it would be them, who leaving the EU, whom it would matter most to. Who did have a right to vote however were old age pensioners who by the time the repercussions of Brexit would hit the UK, they would not be around to witness it. There’s a theory that if we were to have another referendum right now, the vote would swing the other way purely because all the 16 year old’s from three years ago now have a right to vote and most of the old age pensioners are now sadly deceased. Sitting in schools now, we’re told about the threat to the economy, but the majority of us sitting in those schools never wished for this to happen and yet we had no say in something that would control the majority of our lives and still we have to sit there, voiceless as we listen to the risks Brexit poses to our future opportunities and prosperity.
Roger Lewin said ‘too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve’, and I agree but I cannot blame adults wholeheartedly for keeping us in the playpen for their aim is too keep us as innocent as possible but there is a point where naivety becomes dangerous and therefore it is important to include us more in the situations happening around the world, so I implore you to think about what is more important to you; keeping the children in your life as innocent as possible, or empowering them by providing the knowledge about the issues relevant to our current society.