“Do children have any rights?” is the question of the week, submitted by a 30-something reader.
Yes, children have rights. First and foremost, there is their right to be loved unconditionally by the adults who share primary responsibility for their upbringing. I trust we’re all on the same page so far.
Children have a right to be raised by adults who act like competent authority figures. Such parents secure their children’s obedience by correctly communicating unequivocal expectations rather than by manipulating reward and punishment. The research done by Diana Baumrind at the University of California-Berkeley is clear that obedient children are happier by far than children who oppose authority (or its inadequate facsimile) at every turn.
Children have a right to be confident that the significant adults in their lives will always and under all circumstances provide adequately for their needs and protect them from as much harm as possible.
Children have a right to parents who are examples of personal responsibility, compassion toward others, and humility.
Children have a right to parents and teachers who will tell them the truth about themselves – who will tell them when they have behaved badly, underperformed, or just downright failed. Along those same lines, children have a right to fail, the right to learn from their mistakes.
Children have a right to parents and teachers who will set the bar – whatever it might be measuring – high enough to require significant effort, but never so high as to guarantee failure.
Children have a right to be given the opportunity to understand that personal liberty and personal responsibility are in direct relationship. This simple but brilliant understanding sustains relationship, community, and culture. Along this same line, children have a right to not be hovered over, micromanaged, or protected from the consequences of their actions.
Children have a right to a good amount of discretionary time during which they are free to discover their own likes and dislikes, independent of what adults might want them to do with their free time.
They have a right to understand that legitimate authority figures are not required to justify the decisions they make and the instructions they dispense. In other words, children have a right on frequent occasion to hear their parents and other adults answer their challenges with “Because I said so” or its equally brief, matter-of-fact equivalent.
In the final analysis, it all boils down to a steady balance of love and leadership.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: www.johnrosemond.com; www.parentguru.com