Sunday, February 5, 2012

Consent Post Number 3 (family)

Continuing on my theme of consent is: consent in regard to parents and children.  I mainly want to talk about consent for children who are self-aware (hence old enough) to reject being touched or to reject a decision made for them (either verbally or in body language).

Something I have never understood is why parents force their children to do something trivial.  "No, you have to take piano lessons, not violin lessons" or "no you have to focus on science, even though you hate it".  It just doesn't make sense.  Why is piano better than violin?  Why is biology better than creative writing?  Especially when your child tells you that they don't like biology and don't have the aptitude.  Teaching your child to eat balanced meals is important, but if they're going to refuse, then that is their choice.

Good parenting does not consist of forcing a child to do something for their own good.  That is just not good parenting, regardless of what society seems to think.  If a child doesn't do their homework then they get bad grades.  The bad action has unfortunate consequences.  But a bad grade isn't much of a consequence you say?  Well, for some people that's probably true, but if that bad grade is accompanied by a lack of freedom at home (no going out with friends, no tv, etc) then why is it a problem?  I'm oversimplifying by a lot and I know I was a relatively good (if not "obedient") child, so I had the drive to do well in school and eat my vegetables not to please my parents because it pleased me (the school work did anyway, and vegetables never tasted bad to me, so eating them wasn't a problem).

Lana is a vegetarian and her parents kept trying her to get eat meat as a child and she just never wanted to.  And being a vegetarian is such a valid choice, why force the poor kid to eat meat? It just seems ridiculous to me.  Not eating meat doesn't hurt anyone, yet parents object because it doesn't conform with their expectations.  Focusing on acting as opposed to football isn't actually hurting anyone.  Yes, maybe acting doesn't pay as well (in the long run) and it's less socially accepted, but that is the kid's choice.  Saying: "Well, you will be so much better off if you're an accountant than an actor" is financially true, but absolutely not necessarily true in any other way.  Wanting your child to be well off financially is valid, but forcing/coercing/pressuring them into doing something they don't want to do is just wrong.

Saying, "Well it's in their best interest, even if they don't want it" is a) totally subjective b) coercive and c) taking another person's autonomy away.  It's like fucking saying to your partner: "Well, you'll actually like sex once we start."  Here's the thing if you let your kid make their own decisions, even/especially if they're stupid ones, while they're still under your roof it means you can intervene/help when/if something goes horribly wrong.  You're their safety net.  If you wait until they're out in the real world for them to make their own decisions and they've never been allowed to do so before, it's far more likely they'll spend all their money on alcohol, get into a financial situation that's above their head, get involved with an abusive partner, etc.  And by that point they're legally adults and you can't do a damned thing to help unless they ask.

So many bad decisions have naturally bad consequences.  If you get your ears pierced and you don't clean out your ears then they'll get infected.  I'm not saying that you should stand back while your child gets gangrene.  But when my ears got infected, I can tell you the very first thing I did was start using my antiseptic as often as I was supposed to.  And I kept on doing so until my ears were fully healed.  I learned from my stupid decision and fixed it.

When I was 17 (right before going into college) I talked to my parents and said: "How am I paying for college?"  Their answer was student loans.  Well, here's the thing, even with the depression, I had enough money in my college account (which I hadn't even known existed until a few months before college) to cover my entire time at college.  And I argued with my parents and said: "Why can't I just use the money in my account?  If I take on loans then I have to pay interest?  Why do that when I can just pay for everything here and now?"  Well, they completely ignored me and said: "You'll need that money for the future in case things get really bad."  They made that decision for me since I was a minor and I couldn't have sole custodianship

Well here I am now and my student loan payments are starting and I'm not in a position where I have a lot of  money to cover them.  Through a fairly horrible series of money events (involving my parents) I still don't have access to my college fund account and still don't have a part-time job (and yes, I do swear to God, this is entirely my dad's fault (really long story)) and I'm just so mad at my parents.  I had a 4.0 GPA in high school, had a job, played two select sports for nine years, I even had a 3.8 GPA in college.  In short, I feel like I had completely proved myself worthy of making decisions about my own money, but my parents overruled me because I was a minor and they thought it was best for me.  What does turning 18 have anything to do with maturity other than being a kinda sorta maybe benchmark (this is something for an entirely separate post)?

So, this is a personal issue for me.  But no, my parents really didn't have my consent, even remotely, to do what they did and they did it anyway and they don't see anything wrong with that.  I might have been a minor but I was still a person, one who had more than proven herself capable of making mature, well thought-out decisions.  Why did they feel they had the right to take the decision out of my hands?  A decision that has had an extreme impact on my life and none on theirs?  The fact that they are my parents doesn't give them that right.

I've wandered so far off my original point, for which I have to apologize.  But parents often don't even ask their child about decisions.  And parents who do ask, frequently do so in a cursory manner and ignore their child's answer.  They have no say at all in their own lives.  Adults pick them up/hug them/pull them by the hand without asking.  They say "You're going to do Boy Scouts, it'll be fun".  And that is just not behavior that would ever be acceptable with adults, ever.  What is the harm in asking a child whether they want a hug?  And if they say no, why not just accept that answer?

This post was thoroughly a cluster fuck because I have really strong views on parenting that are difficult to articulate and that don't seem to match up with the rest of the populations.  I didn't even get to talking about half of what I meant to, but my bottom line is that children are people and if they say: "No" to something (especially trivial things) that should be respected (if not 100% always followed).


  1. I think the problem for most parents is that if they don't step in and make the decisions for their child, they feel like they're being a Bad Parent. They don't want to let their kid suffer when they think they have the power to stop it, regardless of whether or not they're right.

    Specifically with regard to nutrition, if your kid doesn't want to eat vegetables, maybe buy them vitamins (like the gummi kind, which they will probably enjoy eating) or something, but give them a choice. Sit them down and say "vegetables are good for you, and I would like you to eat them. If you really do not want to eat them, then you need to take a vitamin to make up for it," and let them pick out a suitable vitamin at the store. I guess this can sort of be extended to most situations- the parent should be supervising enough to be a Good Parent, but they should do so in a way that means that instead of forcing their kids to do things they don't want to, they should lay out a number of choices which will all productively handle the issue and let the kid decide which one they want.

    Some children might need more guidance than others, and I think there are definitely some who would have trouble making this kind of decision, but I don't think that's any reason not to give the kid any say in the matter when you could take a slightly different path to get a happy ending for both parties.

    1. Thank you for phrasing what I was trying to get at in a more articulate manner.