How can we treat children morally? Part 2

How can we treat children morally? Part 2


In this episode, we talk some more about how we can treat children better. Specifically — what it means to "take children seriously", why we should take children more seriously, and how we can take children more seriously.

Table of contents

In this episode, we talk some more about how we can treat children better. Specifically — what it means to "take children seriously", why we should take children more seriously, and how we can take children more seriously.

Here, you can find a Part One of our conversation.

Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:

We can make the mistake of conflating the idea of taking someone seriously with letting them do whatever they like. If a child says I don’t want to go to school today, then there are ways in which you can respond to that where you take the child seriously but the end result will still be that the child goes to school.

The debate on this issue does, to a certain extent, come down to where you stand on the spectrum of individualism vs collectivism. If you’re more individualistic, you’re likely to be more directed towards letting your child do what they want – to make their own choices and stand out. If you are more collectivist you might think more closely about the norms and expectations of the community.

One of the key arguments of this paper is that children suffer disproportionately in our society from epistemic injustice. The main point of the argument is to suggest that children receive less epistemic credibility than they deserve – partly as a result of the fact that we have stereotypes about children being irrational and suggestible. We consistently give children less credibility than they deserve in specific contexts – one notable example is the legal context and a child’s testimony during a court case.

One of the significant problems that a child has is the lack of capacity to communicate as effectively as an adult can. Given their lack of experience, children are fundamentally less adept at communicating effectively but Taimur argues that communication has to be a two-way process. We need to be more cognisant of our own communication style in order to communicate effectively with a young child.

Despite these argument, the other side of the coin is that, fundamentally, children are lacking in experience of the world compared to an adult. Although there are many ways in which there is a false stereotype about a child’s deficiencies such as their ability to make a decision, we can all think back to experiences or decisions that we have taken in our younger years and reflected on how we would have behaved differently ‘if we had known x or y’.

There are also some palpable reasons why a kid should have less autonomy than those who are older than them. If a kid wants to play near a window on a high apartment building floor then you wouldn’t give them the autonomy to do that. Equally, we must acknowledge that parents often think that their way is the right way even when there isn’t a right / wrong way of doing something; for instance, in telling a child what to wear. In such instances, parents might not be limiting the child’s autonomy but rather wanting to make sure that their child’s appearance reflects their own principles and standards and does not harm other people's perception of them as a parent.

1. Epistemic Injustice and the Child — the philosophy paper that we discuss during the episode (PDF)

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What is this? Not Overthinking is a podcast about happiness, creativity, and the human condition. We talk about things to help us think, do, and be better. Things like social interaction, lifestyle design, mental models...things that are hard to examine, but important to explore. And hopefully, things that make for a fun and interesting chat every week.

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Ali is a junior doctor and YouTuber working in Cambridge, UK. He makes videos about medicine, technology, productivity and lifestyle design. His links: YouTube, Blog, Newsletter, Instagram

Taimur is a data scientist and writer, working on his own startup Causal. He writes on his blog and as a columnist for Medium. His links: Blog, Twitter, Medium, Instagram

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