James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Children Have Rights, Too

Two of the top stories in the Foundation for Economic Education's "In Brief" today are about young people. First, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU call for state and federal bans on corporal punishment. Then, as you may have already heard, there is a call by college presidents to open the debate about the drinking age.

It is said that children can't be as free as adults because "with freedom comes responsibility," and children are not responsible. But this line of thinking discriminates against children who would take, or do take, responsibility for themselves, for others, and for property. It is true that most children are not property owners and therefore usually have to play by the rules property owners set for them: "My property, my rules." But this does not justify any person, privately or on behalf of the State, to violate their rights. That is, no one has the right to initiate force against a child. Not parents, not teachers, and not police who catch one drinking.

But what if a child violates the rules?

Let's put it this way: if a private business firm provided a list of employee rules against being late, smoking, etc. and for which paddling would be the punishment, many people would be outraged and would seek to ban the punishment - even though all prospective employees would be competent adults and no one is coerced into working there.

How, then, can the State force kids to go to public school, and then commit violence against them for misbehaving? Especially for actions that are not themselves violent or destructive to property? Isn't this many times more outrageous than a corporal punishment policy for adults who, after all, are free to quit the job before facing the punishment?

There are means of disciplining a misbehaving but non-violent child without violence, such as withholding privileges and shunning. Schools that have the discretion to use corporal punishment for non-violent behavior are more likely to twist the minds of young children rather than to educate them.

(Of course, there are greater problems with the whole system of schooling in the United States. That's why I'm a proponent of the Separation of School and State.)

As to drinking, instead of imposing restrictions and prohibitions on young people, we should instead inform them that they will be responsible for their actions. We can tell them what alcohol does to brains at their age, and that if they choose to drink and then cause damage of some sort, neither their youth nor their intoxicated condition will absolve them of responsibility. We can then let them decide for themselves what to do. This would be a lot easier if there were no age restrictions. Young people are drawn to alcohol, cigarettes, etc. partly because they want to seem older than they are; they want the privileges of adulthood. So let's take away the taboos, but then emphasize personal responsibility. The drinking age shouldn't be lowered to 18, the drinking age should be repealed. The law should not be concerned with what people do to themselves, only what they do to other people.

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