The Rights of Children

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In the past parents and teachers have too often taken the attitude toward children that because they have the power to command them they therefore have the right, and we are quite apt to yield to the temptation of telling a child to do one thing or not to do another under the impression that we are thus developing or aiding the child. But liberty is the great bedrock of progress, and children, like adults, learn mainly from experience. It is therefore not kind in us to shield our children constantly, thus preventing them from learning in early years what they must surely learn some time; and if we are in earnest in this matter we will sooner or later realize the wisdom of letting the child experience a little fall from the single step so that he may learn that which will prevent him from experiencing the more serious fall down the whole flight of steps.

- Who gives us the right to say to a child, "Thou shalt not," or "Don't do that?" We really have no more right to compel [...] pline is really tyranny. Discipline, the learning how to control one's self, comes in the main through our realizing, by means of suffering incurred through a lack of self-control, that one must be master of himself. When we prohibit children either by physical or mental force from doing various acts, we teach them a bad lesson—that of dependence on another's judgment; and much of the wrong-doing of each generation may be traced to this false idea of morality. This it is that prevents progress and keeps the present bound in the fetters of the past.

Heretofore much of our effort in regard to our children has been along the line of repression rather than expression, and we have often checked them in their exuberance of spirits because their noise disturbed us rather than because it did them any harm to make a noise. As a matter of fact, a child has just as much right to make a noise as an adult has, or to tell the grown folks to stop talking if he wants to be heard. But it would be difficult to make the average parent see the matter in this light.

After all, love is the only authority; and true love never compels. But we may do much in the way of influencing our children (by our own development in matters of self-control and self-expression), and we can guide or guard in the sense of advising them, always leaving them free, if they please, to learn the wisdom of our advice through their own unpleasant experiences.

We cheat our children out of their rights if we prevent them from learning in this way; and indeed we cannot really prevent them, for we only postpone the inevitable by so doing. The time always comes when a soul must meet each issue in its own strength.

If, then, we regard our children in the right light—that of our equals—we will not fail to treat them with the deference [...] allow ourselves to feel that we are personally aggrieved when they do not listen to us.

The fact that a child is smaller and more feeble than we are is no reason why we should impose our way upon him. Indeed, how do we know that our way is best? We ourselves often make mistakes; yet we attempt to lay down the law for another—and that other being one whom at best we only partially understand. Government is a matter in which we are as yet in our A B C's; and parental government is not very far ahead of our standards of political government, the chief characteristic of which is the domination of the stronger over the weaker ones.

I do not believe in the maxim, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Just think of what the assault-and-battery plan of education means! After all, we come to see that we cannot be both a governor and a friend. Would that the nations would learn this lesson! When you make a child afraid of you, he does not fear the consequences of his own acts, but he does fear your vengeance; so that where you rule over your child by fear you have defeated your own ends, for what you truly desire is that your child may learn to know the law of cause and effect.

We must all undergo natural consequences; and, though for a time we may seem to learn much by another's experience, in the last analysis each step upward is gained by the exercise of our own power in our own way.

Aside from our privilege in advising children, we can do little for the world in the matter of lifting it to higher planes of achievement except by a faithful exercise of our own powers, thus inspiring others to do the same. If a child believed all that we told him he would be a fool, and that one who per [...] humanity but the one condition of progress, and some day we will become unselfish enough to leave all men free to work out their salvation in their own way.

Now, I am well aware of the fact that all that I have been saying is thoroughly impractical, and that an ideal education is possible only when we have ideal conditions. Whenever I speak on this wise to a mixed multitude, my brothers who earn their living by the sweat of their brows say: "That is all very well on paper or in a palace, but we cannot let our children learn how to use a hammer by pounding the floor, for if we did the family beneath us would complain and our landlord would interfere. And we cannot let our babies cry till they find out the folly of crying, for we live in a world where we are not free to bring our children up according to our own convictions. They are brought up for us by all of our neighbors, you see."

This is perfectly true. You cannot get far on any question without being brought face to face with the question of landlordism, and when we once realize vividly that liberty is the first requisite for development we soon take the next step and acknowledge that the first requisite for liberty is the free use of the earth on which and by which we live. If, then, you would do something toward the realization of the rights of children, you will join the ranks of those who are trying in one way or another to establish an occupying ownership instead of an exclusive ownership of land.