Thursday, March 3, 2011

Childish Opinions

In the interest of keeping this post in line with the last, I thought I'd comment on a viral video that was making the rounds last week, depicting a five year-old girl insisting that she will not marry until she first has a job.

While some of the first comments to appear in response lamented the child's evident "brainwashing," the vast majority of those that followed took umbrage with that kind of commentary, with many emphasizing that the alternative is a role into which young girls are constantly brainwashed by toys, media, and the like. I can't argue with that, but I can argue that it seems a little misguided to defend the girl's parent by saying that her indoctrination is no different from society's indoctrination. For most people on either side of the argument, the decision to criticize or laud the instillation of an ideology in a child just comes down to whether they find the ideology to be agreeable. I think that misses the point by a seriously wide margin.

I happen to think that marriage is an antiquated institution, so I'm in favor of what the little girl has to say. In fact, I don't think she goes far enough, in that she still seems to take it for granted that she will marry eventually. That's not to say that I want her to enhance her views in another video. Actually, I want her to say nothing whatsoever on the topic, because, you know, she a fucking five year old child. The problem, in my mind, is not the kind of ideas we instill in our children, but the fact that we think it's okay to instill ideas in children.

Perhaps this commentary belies my respect for youth, and my belief that even children are capable of independent reasoning, because when it comes to things like this video, I find it impossible to believe that I'm witnessing anything other than repetition of something an adult has said. Five is awfully young, but I would be so bold as to say that by something like age nine, a child may well have the mental development and range of experience to make a decision about their own beliefs. Still, I don't think that they would tend to actually do so, because they'd probably be too busy being children. Marriage and careers aren't something we need to be thinking about at five, or even at nine. We should be teaching our children the skills and information that they will need to live full lives and have successful careers and personal relationships, but it's not necessary to have then planning out how they're going to utilize those skills before they can do long division. In fact, I would say that if we're raising out children right, it's for precisely that reason that we shouldn't be filling them with our ideas: we're giving them the tools to arrive at the right decision on their own.

Honestly, what bothers me about this video is not the sentiment. It's not even the mere sense that the girl's been told what to say. What bothers me is the aggressive intensity with which this five year-old girl speaks. A child that age should not be capable of such condescension. That's what makes it brainwashing: that the views a parent has instilled in her child come with their own safeguards, and those safeguards are not reason and logical analysis, but rather anger and rehearsal. When you fill a child with ideas rather than with the means of arriving at their own ideas, you tend to provide them with an undue sense of certitude, which makes every alternative appear not as a reasonable challenge, but as an attack on an ingrained part of their belief system. I don't think you can put an idea into the mind of a child without also giving them increased resistance to new ideas.

Is my view on this really so out of the ordinary? I can't seem to find much discussion that looks past the question of whether what a seemingly opinionated child is saying is right or wrong. I'd like to see a breaking point in this discourse, whereby we stop arguing over the content, and start analyzing the source of the content. And more than that, is there a way to reach a breaking point that makes us collectively realize that it's not our job, our right, or our responsibility to tell children what to think? Or will the breaking point only come when we have an over-arching structure of education that finally makes our children smart enough, early enough that they can resist any efforts of indoctrination by their parents, whether those ideas are good or ill?

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