Rewriting history: On children, neoliberalism and adult fears

I am not a parent. I do not claim to understand the heights of beauty and joy or the depths of struggle and complexity that parenting brings. I am not writing this as a parent or indeed an expert of any kind. I am simply someone who loves children, has many great friendships with them, and follows with interest the commentary within our society about children, values and history.

To just head you off at the pass there I am not someone seeking pity about not having children. I have chosen, and re-chosen not to have children, for many reasons, one of which is I really think playing a role as adult friend in a child’s life is a useful role. It’s certainly not an easy one as we have such a westernised culture to child raising.  So many parents I see are simply trained into perceiving their kids to be a burden to another person (especially someone without kids) and never ask for help, even if they need it. Many also feel like they should be able to do it all themselves. We may say “it takes a village” but most people will not actually let a village help, even if they had one. In my experience you basically have to convince your adult friends repeatedly that being there for their kids is a joy, and even then I’m not sure they really believe me!


So with my innate interest in and rapport with children I am really fascinated by the amount of discourse I hear about “young people these days” So many things have “ruined” our kids apparently, such as of course the BIG topic, lack of discipline i.e not being able to hit a child for punishment.  I am not going to go into this in-depth for its well traversed territory and I can only imagine how trying being a parent can sometimes be and how smacking must seem at time like the only solution.

However  want I really want to ask those ideologically positioned to think hitting children is a good thing is where is that invisible line?  If you think its OK to hit a child to correct their behavior, do you also think its OK to hit a colleague? your partner? No? Then where is the line? Voting age? Drinking Age? High school? Menstruation? Shaving? Where is the invisible barrier between acceptable violence and unacceptable violence? For however necessary you think of it or whether or not you think it did you any harm, its violence. Its something that would not be acceptable in any other context. It also says I am bigger than you, I can hurt you, therefore I am right. Not a real great translatable message once you get to adulthood. Unless you want to be a mafia boss maybe.

As for the erosion of moral and standards that have apparently occurred within our young people, partly as a result of this terrible lefty trend of not hitting children. Well. There are two key responses I have to this. I think every generation says the next one is stuffed up. Its kind of weird evolutionary defense mechanism to make ourselves feel better about getting older and seeing society be pushed by the next generation. It’s also a way for us to conveniently rewrite our own history with the lens of the how perfect everything used to be; the “endless summer days” argument.  In reality however in “my day” when I was a kid it was still legal to rape your wife, homosexuality was criminalised and Domestic violence was considered a personal, private issue. Yeah. Not so perfect. Kids were mean to each other, kids rebelled, smoked, drank, pushed boundaries and all the rest. Like every generation. Like this one. Like the next.

Things however are also different. That much is true. They are different for each generation. Anyone who knows kids will know that they mimic a lot, that’s how they do a lot of their learning; firstly from their copying their families, then from their peers. And where do families and peers get their ideas from? From the broader culture and society they live in. What does ours look like?

Since the 1980’s a massive shift in ideology has swept through our country and taken up (what feels like) permanent lecherous residence. Neoliberalism. This has filtered down through every aspect of our society. Inequality has skyrocketed, citizens have become consumers, individualism is encouraged and corporations have more power than most governments. Has this impacted on how young people think? Of course, its impacted on my generation as well and I can no longer be called young in anyone’s terms. I have seen rights based social security eroded and transformed into stigmatised and highly monitored welfare. I have seen wages stagnate and unemployment become a fact of life. Subsequent generations are seeing a legacy of unaffordable housing , climate change, mass extinction, huge inequality and reduced opportunities. Yes they are probably pissed about this. They should be. I am. Or maybe they take for granted the message they have been taught throughout their life; the individual is almighty, wealth is what life is all about and the collective good is for commies and weirdos. So they make choices and take action based on that.

Meanwhile we  blame the lack of ability to hit. We blame poor discipline, and the erosion of “family values” (whatever they are). Seems like we need to step the hell up and take responsibility for the ideological legacy we are leaving to children everywhere. Take responsibility for the fact they have to deal with the mess we are leaving them. To coin a cliché, be the change you want to see. Model it for our precious tamariki.


One thought on “Rewriting history: On children, neoliberalism and adult fears

  1. This was a great read thanks Amy.
    I am a classic “my kid is a burdon on you” parent. I know this. And its hard to trust when people say they aren’t. We apologise for everything. I know I’m expected to not be a parent at work, like somehow when I walk through to the door I’m to switch to worker rather than mother and god forbid if my kids mean I cant work or *gasp* I have to bring them in for a period of time! Society conditions us to truly believe that our kids are a burdon on others and we believe it.
    Thank you for being different. I will actively try to ignore the “oh shes just being nice” voice in my head and remember that you genuinely love there company. They sure do love yours!


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