Taking Children Seriously

Life in a box

Posted by Kristen McCord
on the TCS List on Thu Oct 31, 2002, at 7:04:38 pm

A poster asked:

When parents and children reach different decisions, it is your contention that the parent should give in to the child's point of view, no matter what?

The described scenario is one in which the child does not wish to wear a seatbelt. Traditional parenting advocates bribing or otherwise coercing child into wearing the seatbelt.

That position results from the idea that children are to be kept in boxes. That is, they are allowed “absolute freedom” when they stay within certain boundaries, and are hurt (coerced) when “necessary” to keep them inside these boundaries, for their own good. Most parenting ideas differ only in where they think the boundaries ought to be, and the methods of enforcement. All mainstream theory holds that clear, well-defined, consistently enforced boundaries are good*, since children parented this way are usually much less neurotic than children subjected to constantly changing, sporadically enforced boundaries. Mainstream theory is oblivious to the non sequitor: clear boundaries may be better than unclear ones, but what about having none? Unfortunately, there are very, very few boundary-free (truly TCS) children in the world. The ones that come closest (have the biggest, least consistent boxes) are those who are Abandonment Parented. Abandonment Parenting is the most painful parenting practice in existence short of wilful molestation and abuse. The big, moving box employed in Abandonment Parenting is seen by mainstream theory as the source of this pain; so Good, Loving Parents, we are told, have Reasonably Sized, unmoving boxes.

The truth is that a child suffering under an Abandonment Parent is hurting from inconsistency, lack of attention, and lack of affection. And a “permissively” raised child is hurting from a moving box and from perceived lack of affection (after all, Good, Loving Parents have Reasonably Sized boxes!).

A child without boundaries who is secure in his parents' love and desired involvement does not hurt from his lack of a box.

But back to seat belts. Common preferences are to be found in areas that actually involve the person or property of two parties. For example if child wants to sell the family car, or if parent wants family to move to a new house. Common preferences are NOT to be found in other situations. If you feel coerced by the child's soda consumption, it is your own goddam problem to change your theories and quit feeling coerced. Same with child wanting to maintain his own safety. It is none of your business whether child wears a seatbelt or not. You are responsible to give the child any theories the child wants, and since child wants to be safe, it is extremely important to share seatbelt safety theories with your child. Also to find comfy carseats and other pleasant things because child wants them. This is not common preference finding. It is none of your business whether child wears a seatbelt or not. The fact that the car is your property does not change this. You have a responsibility to the child to use your property to help him. Seatbelt laws also do not change this, because the law is not the reason you want to coerce the child. You want to coerce the child because you want to make the child safe. Which is none of your business.

TCS does not say a common preference is to be found in all circumstances, only when a parent's interest is legitimately involved. The “friend test” is useful for determining whether you ought to be common preference finding. If it is something a friend would consider none of your business (let's find a common preference about your hairstyle...) then it is not a common preference finding area with child either, and you should butt out. By the way, TCS also does say that the parent should sacrifice whenever there is a failure at finding a common preference in a legitimate common preference finding area. This is because it is not the child's fault a common preference could not be found, and to demonstrate to the child that no box exists. Children reacting to a perceived box are not in a position to find a common preference, so it is in the interest of future common preferences as well as not hurting the child at present that the parent defers. Always.

The child-running-into-the-path-of-a-truck scenario is one scenario in which a TCS parent might coerce. The coercion in that case is not unavoidable but is preferable to the child to the inevitable circumstance that will otherwise result prior to any other possible intervention. The parent's coercion in this instance is still harmful to the child and the whole scenario results from a parental failure. Seatbelts are not trucks; schools are not trucks; hairstyles are not trucks; allergies are not trucks; unbrushed teeth are not trucks. These are arenas for theory-sharing and butting out.


Mainstream theories do differ as to why they hold boundaries to be good. Some hold only that the things outside the box are harmful to the child. Others make the further claim that the box itself is beneficial, that boundaries cause character traits like self-discipline to develop. Those who hold the latter theory would, for example, refuse to buy a TV set for the child, even if they think TV is beneficial, because they think child “should learn that she won't always get what she wants.” <gag>

[article index]

Copyright © 2002 Taking Children Seriously

Top | Home | FAQ | Articles | Journal | Events | List | Discuss | Books | Glossary | Links | Search