Monday, July 23, 2012

Parenting Is Not a Qualification for Talking About Youth Rights Issues, It is a Conflict of Interests

   Since becoming involved with youth liberation, I have encountered an attitude from a number of parents that has consistently left me baffled. They have expressed this attitude in a variety of ways that probably sounded like fine rhetoric to the person making the statements but which has consistently struck me as either disingenuous or betraying a deep lack of understanding of what youth liberation is really about. Here is a sampling of the sort of statements to which I refer: "As a parent I am on the frontlines of advocating for children while you are dealing with theory." (This might be less disingenuous coming from someone that attempts to put some sort of youth autonomy-centered philosophy at the core of their parenting, but alas this person was not such a parent.) "As a parent, I can speak to my child's need for boundaries and discipline." "You'll feel differently when you are a parent." These statements are not only a prime example of the authoritarian impulses of the people making them, they are also patently absurd upon reflection. This is because parenting is not a qualification for discussing the rights of youth, it is a conflict of interest.

   One is often seen as bolstering his case when he takes a stand despite having interests to the contrary. This is why the millionaire that supports higher income tax rates, the poor person that doesn't believe in government assistance for people like himself, the white person speaking out in favor of affirmative action programs for racial minorities, and the person of color who opposes affirmative action programs tend to be seen as either a.) lacking a true appreciation of their own self-interests or b.) acting from a higher and more noble set of values than immediate self-interest but never as c.) deeply corrupted by their own interests.

   There are also individuals who come to make a judgment about a situation as a more or less neutral party with nothing that she personally stands to gain or lose depending on the outcome of the situation. We think of the ideal judge and jury in a court case as having interests of this type. Their very neutrality can bolster their claims about a situation.

   Parents advocating for their "right" to arbitrarily punish their children and control their lives are not taking either type of stand. They are not taking a stand that goes against their self-interests and they are not coming to a decision about their values from a place of neutrality. Guardianship and minority give parents power at the expense of their children. There is therefore nothing especially noble or wise about parents arguing for the maintenance of these institutions in their current form - it is simply one example among many of powerful people attempting to protect their interests at the expense of those they have power over. Saying "As a parent I know what is best for my child" is no more noble than saying "As a slave owner I know that emancipation doesn't suit the Negro" or "As a logging executive I know that we don't need environmental regulation." Even if the statements were valid, we would be right to be highly suspect about the motives of the person making the claim.

   When we hear someone speaking of his or her role as a parent as a justification for beliefs about youth that many youth themselves would likely find oppressive or even abusive we should never accept that as good enough and we should never defer to their judgment on those grounds alone. If anything, that person's status as a parent should make us more suspect about his or her motives for supporting youth oppression. When discussing youth liberation, parenting is not a qualification. It is a conflict of interest. It is important that no one ever trick us into thinking of the position of a parent as necessarily pro-youth or even neutral. We cannot be bullied into silence by those whose class position vis a vis youth betrays their true motives for advocating for their continued oppression.


  1. Thank you. You have given me the words to express this thought more articulately.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I hope you continue to keep reading the blog!