It’s Time to Address Why We Are So Shitty to Kids

Anti-youth sentiment is real, and it's informing some terrible political policies.
October 30, 2015, 3:45pm

Kids are people too! Photo via Flickr user Ian D. Keating

This post originally appeared on VICE Canada.

"I don't like children," I say for the umpteenth time after someone suggests I swap my black pen for a red one and take up teaching. "Well, except for my own. And those over 25."

These well-worn words roll so easily off of my tongue. I've been using them as an excuse for many years for many reasons: to avoid holding babies, to prevent people from interrogating me about whether I'm having another baby, and to get out of babysitting other people's kids. I so glibly and, I think, wittily write off an entire group of people as annoying, unintelligent, loud, and sticky.

Hating kids is easy enough. I mean, what better way to express your cool cynicism than by mocking those little people with endless streams of radioactive-looking snot running from their noses? People regularly and loudly call for kid-free flights and restaurants, and the avalanche of Mean Girls tweets when a group of children get on public transit is hilarious. But the claws and fangs really come out when some hapless politician dares offer tax breaks or any other assistance for families with children.

We've taken the 13th-century expression "children are to be seen and not heard" and updated it for the 2000s. Instead we say, "Children should be carted off to the 'burbs along with their breeders and annoying Hummer-sized strollers, only to be let out when they hit 20."

At the beginning of September, hordes of kids vacated the streets and public parks and began another year in state-sanctioned minimum-security kiddie prisons all over the country. We call them schools, but they serve multiple purposes: socialization, brainwashing, corralling, and un-sticky-ifying. We can't, after all, have the little buggers wandering the city, clogging the malls, and giggling outside after the streetlights go on.

While these small humans roll deep—they make up a third of the Canadian population—they represent a relatively powerless group. They can barely wipe their own asses and need help crossing the street, and we adults really take advantage of that. We completely disregard the unique voices, concerns, and needs of young people because, as a Facebook friend so eloquently explained it, we believe that authority resides within us for no other reason than our size and age. I get that kids don't have as much autonomy as adults, but they also shouldn't be treated like they are invisible, or worse, unwanted.

And I get it. Millennials are delaying parenthood or just deciding not to have kids, but we can't let our personal decisions influence how we view, treat, and mistreat a group of marginalized people, and most kids—the ones who aren't Tavi Gevinson and Willow Smith—are indeed marginalized.

Because most youth can't vote, politicians don't bother creating policy or platforms that would benefit them (Norm Kelly doesn't count). Most kid-friendly initiatives are planned and executed without ever once consulting young people, and the unwritten norm is "talk to the parents, not the kids."

This approach to running a country has adverse effects on children.

Housing discrimination for parents of young kids is a thing, one in ten Canadian children lives in poverty, and government support of families with children could be a lot better. Recently, former mayor Rob Ford recommended cutting funding to school breakfast programs for children despite the fact that 40 percent of children in Toronto go to school hungry. When a child's stomach is eating itself and poverty is rampant they are more likely to drop out of school, join gangs, and get caught up in the criminal justice system. Available, quality child-care spaces are rare and subsidized ones are even rarer—many parents apply for spots the moment they find out they are expecting.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne isn't much more progressive than Ford. Though earlier this year she announced a modest pay raise for early childhood education workers, Wynne currently has her horns locked with Ontario teachers as she aggressively attempts to balance the provincial budget by increasing class sizes, lengthening teachers' work days, and slashing education funding.

Anti-youth sentiments in Canada are real, and those sentiments translate into systemic discrimination of youth by politicians. By dismissing youth, we're closing ourselves off from a valuable resource with unique perspectives.

I was walking down the street with my eight-year-old kid recently. We were stopped by some people doing surveys about how our neighborhood could be improved. They humored my kid and asked him what our neighborhood could use more of.

"Parking spaces? Bike lanes?" they asked.

"Trees. I'd like to see more trees."

"Wow! We never thought of that," said the surveyors.

The view is a lot different, but no less valid and valuable, at ankle-biter level.

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