Trusting Young People

Not long ago, there was a story on the news about parents being investigated after their children, 10 and 6, were found walking to the park on their own.

A few weeks after that, someone told me how folks in their neighborhood complained about teens “hanging out” downtown. A complaint I’ve heard more than a few times in my own communities.

Those teens were probably up to no good, older neighbors seemed to think. With their loud talking and lack of important business.

These stories seem some how connected.

I do not nor have I ever had children, so I certainly don’t intend to tell people how to raise their own. Besides, each child has their own quirks and personalities, and I rather suspect there’s not a single style of parenting that works for them all.

But I often wonder if we – collectively, as society – ought to put more trust in our young people.

I have no children, but I’ve had the pleasure of learning from many young people. And I humbly hope they have learned something from me.

It may not be my responsibility to raise them, but it is our collective responsibility to welcome them, to engage them, to support them.

But apparently, teens hanging out can’t be trusted because they act like teens. Perhaps the kids going to the park can be trusted, but the world around them is so dangerous that we should fear letting them in it.

We’re so accustomed to thinking of kids as lesser beings that such a protective instinct seems natural. And perhaps it is, to some degree – I imagine if I did have children I would feel quite strongly that children need to be protected from some things.

But I’d never stand for a law saying that adult women couldn’t go out alone after dark – even if it was for their own protection. Such paternalism – inappropriate in most situations – is still appropriate in the situation from which it gets its name: pater, after all, is the Latin word for father.

And, again, perhaps paternalism of children is appropriate. I don’t imagine we’d want to simply unleash the world upon our kids – or worse yet, to unleash our kids upon the world. But the dangers of paternalism in other situations is enough to give me pause.

I suppose what I ask is this – that we collectively try to trust young people more, or at the very least, we look deeply at the roots of our concern.


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