Children are not political pawns
By Janis McMath, Contributor
A few days ago, I had the misfortune of encountering a young kid wearing a shirt that read #FEMINIST. As a feminist myself, a child wearing that shirt bothers me.
Let’s start with the fact that no child can truly understand politics. Comprehending politics requires a lot of history and context about society, culture, economics, and people. At an age where they are still only developing the fundamental skills, there is no way a kid could know enough to take an educated stance.
For crying out loud, children are still learning empathy when they’re young! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that children just start developing the capacity for empathy at the age of three and it takes many years to perfect it. How could a child possibly begin to understand feminism if they’re struggling with a concept as simple and fundamental as empathy?
Secondly, forcing your children to propagate your political messages is exploitation. Using a child who cannot understand basic math to further your agenda and benefit your message is unfair to them. For example, often at pro-life rallies children will be made by their parents to wear pro-life messages. In Canada, it is more likely that a child will be pro-choice, considering the Ipsos poll measured 77 percent of Canadians being in favour of abortion in 2017. The same principle applies to the child’s feminism shirt—it’s unfair to force a kid to preach any ideology if they can’t understand it and may be against it eventually.
There are no revolutionary activists that were “told” to be activists. It is a cliché recited time and time again in education, but it really is vital to teach kids “how to think rather than what to think.” If you want your child to be a great critical thinker, you’ll encourage them to come to their own conclusions rather than telling them to follow your conclusions. Critical thinkers need to be encouraged to argue, to be controversial, and to be wrong. I know that one of the reasons my own feminism is strong now is because I remember all the embarrassingly wrong misogynistic “facts” I used to state with confidence—and how stupid I feel for doing that.
There is a lot of value in making your own mistakes. Critical thinkers also need to know that if their ideas are contrary to yours, you’ll still support them. If a child feels like your love is conditional and depends on their political ideologies, they probably won’t bother questioning anything.
Consider the message that is coming across when you tell your child what to think: You are telling them that their obedience is more important than their agency. It is so cruel to value your child’s independent mind so little and your political ideology so much.