Our low opinion of kids' opinions

For all the rigamarole of people clamoring to “do what’s best for the children,” it seems like hardly anyone seems to care how “the children” actually feel about these activities designed to “do what’s best” for them.

To me, nowhere was this more evident than in the case of Elian Gonzales. Everybody in the country, it seemed, was screaming at the top of their lungs that “Elian should be with his father” or “Elian should be with his grandfather,” and every adult involved was interviewed to death as to what they thought was best, but not once did anyone even think to ask Elian himself whether he wanted to be here with his grandparents or in Cuba with his father. Not once.

So … for all the attention that has been focused on “children’s rights” over the last few decades, and all the powers given to “child protective services,” how come none of them take the child’s own wishes into account? I mean, I can understand a 3-year-old being a little too young to comprehend his or her situation, but 11-year-olds are another matter entirely. How come we still treat children like property instead of individuals? How come this seeming gag-rule over taking the child’s desires into account? Does the phrase “children’s rights” even have any meaning at all, when the child doesn’t get to make a choice?

By the way, I am not saying that little kids should be given Carte Blanche to do anything an adult can do. I’m saying that their opinions and desires should be taken into account, particularly on legal matters involving their future (e.g. custody battles). (Ye gads, even the word “custody” implies imprisonment! See what I mean?)

What’s best for a child often bears no resemblance to what the child wants.

Actually, they did. There was even a bit of controversy about it in the media. Elian stated that he preferred to stay with his family in America; the statement was broadcast on 20/20 or 48 hours or one of those newsmagazine shows. The controversy arose when it was pointed out that if he had said that he wanted to go back to Cuba, the network would probably have not broadcast his statement. I agree that a six year old’s statement about what he wants is hardly indicative of what’s best for him, especially considering what an artificial and pampered life he lived in the U.S., but we should at least get our facts straight.

Of course they get to make a choice. But agency only applies retroactively, after they’ve made a spectacularly bad choice, and we need to try them as adults to get our revenge.

ricepad wrote:

Ah, well, that settles it then. Ricepad has spoken.

Seriously, though, can you back this statement up with good evidence? This sounds like the same kind of blanket statement we used to make about “primitive tribespeople.”

Sure. My six-year-old daughter would like to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My eight-year-old son would prefer not to do his math homework or his reading, for that matter, because they would interfere with his cartoon-watching, of which he’d do a lot more if he were making the calls. My brother’s GF’s daughter (also six) would be clinging to her mom’s leg every minute of the day.

These are the kinds of decisions kids would make on their own.

Wait until you have kids, tracer. Then perhaps you’ll understand.

Opus1 wrote:

<Raises eyebrows> Huh. Well, I’ll be darned. I completely missed this. Thanks for pointing it out. (Someone once said the easiest, quickest way to get correct information is to post incorrect information to an Internet message board. I guess my brilliant plan worked – yeah, that’s it, that’s the ticket. :wink: )

If Elian Gonzales had been 20 years old instead of 6, and had still been blinded by being the center of all this attention and getting all this swell treatment, most people would have nevertheless given his desires a whole lot more credit. Not because they would have been arrived at more rationally, but simply because he would have been bigger and older.

But I’m glad somebody thought to ask Elian – although it would have been nicer had they agreed to broadcast Elian’s decision even if Elian did want to go back to Cuba.

If Elian Gonzales had been 20 years old, he would not have been turned into the political football that he was.

Is the OP really another rehash of this kid?

The older of the little flodnaks is just a few months younger than Elian. No, I would not let him make a decision about which country he was going to live in. In fact I consider it part of my job as a parent to see that he doesn’t have to make that decision until he’s old enough. This is a decision that would be hard for an adult to make, and six-year-olds are still developing their thinking skills.

On the other hand, while this was still front page news, I heard a number of protests against the suggestion that Elian be asked where he wanted to live, that were along the lines of: “I wouldn’t even let my six-year-old choose what to have for dinner!” Which only made me wonder, why the heck not? Not every night, of course, if for no other reason than because others deserve to have their say, too. But the assumption seems to be that the child would be incapable of making any choice other than hot dogs with a side of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. The kid might surprise you (when Older Son chooses, a lot of fish and tomato soup seem to turn up on the menu). And even if they do choose junk food, how much harm does it really do, every now and then? Why not let the kids practice making choices on simple things like what to have for supper or what to wear to school?

So I agree in part, that we as a society tend to hold children’s intelligence and decision-making ability in low regard. But there are some cases where a child isn’t ready to be allowed to choose. We need to protect our kids from having to make those kinds of decisions, and let them practice making decisions where the consequences are less overwhelming.

ricepad wrote:

The guy who lives in the trailer park at the outskirts of town would like to sit in front of the TV all day drinking beer. The panhandler at the intersection prefers to hold up a sign saying “Will work for food” in order to connive people into giving him money to buy liquor, rather than actually working or buying food. The insecure housewife down the street gets her husband to give her most of the things she asks for by whining all the time, and eats ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Nobody says these are good choices to make. But adults get to make them.

Actually, though, the multitude of childrens’ whimsical desires for little things like these wasn’t the point I was after. At least you’re listening to what they want before you say, “If you eat nothing but ice cream you’ll get Beri-Beri, and if you do nothing but watch cartoons all day you’ll be unable to compete pretty soon, so eat your macaroni and cheese and do your decimals.”

You miss my point. You asked why we don’t treat children as individuals. First, I do treat my children as individuals, and what they say is very important to me. OTOH, I’m not about to let them make decisions that I don’t think they’re ready to make. Sure, I’ll ask them for their opinions, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get their way.

In your OP, you talk about an 11y/o possibly having the ability to comprehend his/her situation, but you also cite Elian Gonzales, who was only, what…FIVE?? This is a kid who was basically spoiled rotten while he was in this country, and you expect him to be able to make an informed decision on where he wanted to live?

So what is the OP really about? Is it Elian all over again? Or do you want to try illustrating your point with another example?

Tracer, I think what Ricepad is trying to say (at least, this is what I get from his posts) is that as kids get older, their decision-making skills get better. They become smarter, they learn more, they get more experience, etc. Of course, not all people ever “perfect” the ability to make wise choices… but with children, especially younger children, their point of view seems to focus more on what’s fun than on what’s good.

Of course, that isn’t to say that NOBODY treats a child like an ignoramus for his entire life. My own parents refuse to accept the possibility that I may be right every now and then, and I’m nineteen. Indeed, not the epitome of wisdom, but it’s disconcerting to know that my parents have no regard and/or respect for whatever I may be thinking (my dad still has the audacity to call me a “child” to my face… insulting, at the very least, and hypocritical on his part, since he demands at the same time that I act like a perfect adult).

O, grow up.

The reason it is a bad idea to ask for a child’s imput on custody issues is that it puts an enourmous burden on the child. Can you imagene someone asking you at 11 “Who do you love more, you mother or your father?” And trust me, in the sort of nasty divorce that leads to a custody fight, that is what the question sounds like to parents and child (And grandparents nad aunts and siblings, for that matter), no matter how delicatly it might be framed. It is hard to sustain a relationship with a non-custodial parent under the best of circumstances; it has to be practically imposible when the fact that you choose against them is hovering over the relationship. I have a friend whose bitterly divorced parents made every choice to see the other parent an act of disloyalty. To this day she cant stand holidays–any holiday. In situations like this the only just thing to do is have a legal agreement decided by a judge that everyone has to follow TO THE LETTER. Else you are putting a child in a no-win situation and not doing them any favor.

In a broad sense, I would argue that one of the “rights” our society more-or-less agrees children ought to have is the right not to be responsible. When I was 11 I never worried that a decision I made was going to ruin my life. I knew quite clearly that my parents would never let me do such a thing.

tracer, children are immature by definition. Their desires are immediate and short-sighted. While it is a good idea to give them choices occasionally, those choices should be defined by the adults who care for them to ensure that they and others will not be harmed as a result of the immaturity of their choices.

I was going to post something very similar, only using the framework of something that’s going on locally. I did a quick search of our local TV news website, as well as one of our newspaper, but couldn’t find the story. I’ll try to remember it as best I can from the 5 minute blurb I saw on the 11:00 news, but I might not be perfectly accurate on the details.

A couple here (Columbus, OH) has just been forced to surrender custody of their six-year-old child to Children’s Services. Their son, from the time he was two years old, insisted that he was a girl. At five, he was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder by a psychiatrist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The parents considered all their options for courses of treatment, and after a great deal of soul-searching, decided to enroll their child in first grade as a girl, according to the child’s wishes. They refer to the child using feminine pronouns, and he wears dresses and jewelry. When Children’s Services got wind of it, they forced the parents to give up their child pending investigation.

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. For one, they were working with a respected doctor who had diagnosed their child as having a disorder. However, I’m not sure which is best for the child–subjecting him to the ridicule and ignorance of society, or stifling him into being something he’s not. Either way, I think that the decision cannot be made by a six-year-old, and it was ultimately up to the parents to determine which was better for the child. I’m not sure if what they did could be considered abuse, but I’m not sure if they did the right thing, either. Then I think of all the transsexuals who said they knew from their earliest memories that they were different…I just don’t know.

The parents are already battling this in court–they have two attorneys, one man, and one M-to-F transsexual. Should be interesting, to say the least. But could anyone possibly allow their child to make a decision that important at such a young age? The parents look at as acceptance. I’m thinking I look at it as the greater of two evils.

Wow Drain. Lots of folks like to take an idea here in GD and extend it to its farthest conclusions, but you actually found a real case that is farther out than most hypotheticals!

To your question, though. In our society, the kid is male, period. He may have Gender Identity Disorder (and you can bet there would be more than just one doctor before I would label a kid that way), but legally he is a he, and sending him to school dressed as a girl and expecting everyone else to go “Oh, ok then,” is unbelievably unrealistic, no matter what else the kid believes. At six years old, I don’t believe he had the foresight to make such a decision. His parents obviously didn’t either. My empathy is really being stretched to its limits here, because what these parents and this kid is going through is so utterly foreign to me. I don’t know if there is a “good” alternative in this situation, but I don’t think that “embracing our differences” carries much weight during childhood, particularly adolescence. He has a hard road ahead of him.

But Ptahlis, adults with Gender Identity Disorder have the option of legally changing their gender. [Transsexual terminology: “sex” is ones physical plumbing, while “gender” is which bathroom one uses and whether ones drivers’ license says “M” or “F”.] In fact, a transsexual must live as their “target gender” for at least one year before being allowed to undergo sex-reassignment surgery (a sex-change operation.)

“He” may not have had the foresight to make the decision to appear as a “she” to the world (and most adult transsexuals have no idea what a hard road they have ahead of them, either), but does that mean the decision reached by “him,” and “his” parents, and their doctor, fer cryin’ out loud, warrants ripping the child out of its family and placing it in a foster home?

Here’s a video of the local news story I saw last night. I still haven’t managed to find the story in print anywhere–I’ll keep looking.