Monday, August 25, 2008

Youth and Play

Like many of my posts of late, this one is inspired by a link found on boingboing. The boingboing post concerns the fact that "go out and play" has become something lost to the American middle class, and that we are robbing children of childhood while depriving them of the rights of adults. In that post, commentor Cristovir says:
An interesting observation: in the history of the world, only recently have we had the phenomenon of adolescence -- everything we think of as "teenagerdom," particularly moodiness, rebellion, and impulsiveness. Some psychologists, albeit a minority, believe that adolescence is an artifact of having the rights of a child while expected to have the responsibility of an adult, and that if anyone, no matter what their age, had that mismatch in lower control and higher expectations, they would act more adolescent. I wonder if we will see adolescence creep at its borders, slowly expanding as we exert more control and less freedoms on both young children and young adults?
In many of my posts, I advocate both greater youth empowerment to go along with greater responsibilities. This flies in the face of previous impressions of what children are capable of, and I know it. The assumption that childhood and adolescence is nothing more than a sea of incompetence out of which and adult meges is a flawed perception, and I think that youth are more than capable of responsibly shouldering many adult tasks (holding a job, being actively engaged in politics), and that they should be rewarded with adult rights (the right to vote, the right to drink). I've a high opinion of youth, and seeing the great requirements already placed upon them (tight schedules, opppressive homework regimens, multiple extracurriculars, and in many cases jobs as well), I think youth are ready to rise to the challenge of being active and engaged citizens.

But maybe I've been wrong. The reason youth rights sounds absurd to many is because they remember childhoods full of play and self-development and independence, and they remember how yotuh and children experimented with these things. Yeah, youth did stupid things and made mistakes, and yeah, occasionally badthings happened. That is what happens with risk taking. There is risk involved. But the value gained from that, the degree of self-sufficiency and the learning involved are both essential components of civilization.

I've linked previously to Free Range Kids, and I'm going to do it again. It's a nice complement to philosophies of youth empowerment, and it hits the problem from the other direction. I see the imposition of adult responsibility and life on youth as needing a counter in the form of recognizing youth as competent and worthy of adult rights. But the problems of adolescence, "that mismatch in lower control and higher expectations", can be fought at in other ways. We can secure childhood by given kids more control over there lives, and letting them have that control within the context of being kids.

(Sidenote: In September, I will have a pulpit editorial delivered in some form at the UU church in Albuquerque, and it hits upon these themes. If I can get the audio to work, I'll upload it to this post before then. Edit 8/28/2008: this is the link to listen to the 7+ minute long pulpit editorial.)

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