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“What About the Children?” Youth Rights Before Parental Police States

“What about the children?!” Some haggard disembodied voice wails from my flickering TV set, jerking me awake from the Ambien-grade slumber that any more than 15 minutes of C-Span inevitably delivers. It’s happened a thousand times before. The voice almost always belongs to some sobbing middle-aged white woman, overdressed like June Cleaver for some senate hearing on the dangers of one victimless crime or another, online prostitution or E-cigarettes or satanic Portuguese techno, always something new, always something to be terrified of. Part of me feels for the woman, I really do. She’s usually lost a child to something or other. She’s clearly in pain. But another disgraceful part of me wants to tell her to shut the fuck up and take some goddamn responsibility for your own life. Because, beneath the theatrics, 9 times out of 10, this pearl-clutching stock character is really saying “I couldn’t find the time to parent my dead child, so now the police state has to pick up the slack!” And the Wall Street whores of Washington take their cue and start passing more pointless legislation.

I know, I know, I’m a cunt. In today’s era of 24/7 stage 4 late capitalism, many parents are too busy working 80 shifts for peanuts to so much as even check in on their kids. But the wailing woman on C-Span is rarely a blue collar casualty. She and her ilk, who fill the ranks of an endless barrage of parental guilt trip lobbies like MADD are almost always well connected, upper middle class, office drones, who’s kids dropped dead while they were busy paying off the Beamer or banging the European tennis instructor. And now they’re busy boycotting Juul or Marilyn Manson or whatever suburbia’s chosen monster of the week happens to be, while the rest of their brood are at home with some over medicated nanny, experimenting with dryer sheets or some such nonsense. This army of rambling soccer moms call themselves children’s rights advocates and “What about the children?!” is the manic war cry they shout just before decapitating your, as well as their own damn children’s rights.

I have long considered myself to be an advocate of youth rights, the bra-less lesbian sister of the children’s rights movement. I don’t have any kids, nor do I really want them, but I identify very strongly with kids because, in a sense, I still am one. Most queer people, especially trans people like me, never really leave their teens emotionally. That’s where the trauma of having a biological determination that seems to belong to every adult in your life, from your parents to your teachers to your doctors, begins. And in a odd sense, all kids are queer in that they still haven’t done enough experimenting to figure out who or what the fuck they really are yet. And that’s the divide between children’s rights and youth rights. Youth rights acknowledges the basic fact that kids have a right to experiment, they have a right to fuck up, and they’re going to do it with or without the approval of the adults in the children’s right’s nanny state.

Who were you when you were 14? It’s a simple question that the C-Span barkers never seem to find the time to contemplate. What did you do with your misbegotten youth? If you were lucky, you had the time of your life doing stupid shit, smoking and drinking stupid things and crashing your parents car afterwords. Getting knocked up by some twenty-something parking lot urchin and then selling your old bike to pay for the Plan B. You fucked up. You did thoughtless moronic crap just to see if you could and you survived. And every once in a while somebody didn’t, and it was tragic, but it was also inevitable. Not every hatchling tortoise survives the gulls. What makes humans so goddamn special. Trial and error is how all animals evolve. Remove that imperative and you cripple a generation or worse.

But the children’s rights set doesn’t see it this way. That’s because what they really advocate has nothing to do with their children’s rights. It’s all about parent’s rights. They infantilize their own children and reduce them to the voiceless property of the state, to be molded and guided by a managerial class of tenured teachers, overworked bureaucrats and professional adults. And this is where kids really get hurt. When you deny someone’s basic rights to individual autonomy, you make abuse by those who police it inevitable. Just ask anyone lucky enough to survive the foster care system. They’ll tell you they would have been safer on the streets. Equality matters in this country for blacks, queers and disabled folk. Why not for children? You really care about the fucking children? Then treat them a little more like people and a little less like pets.

So what is the answer then? How do we keep kids away from vaping and “assault style” weaponry? The hard answer is you don’t. If you really want democracy, it almost always comes with a side of danger. But I do have two suggestions on what we could do, and you’re probably not going to like either of them. The first is lower the age for everything to 14, voting, drinking, sex, driving, smoking. I know, blasphemy right? I’m not saying that we should do this to encourage such behavior (especially voting.) I’m saying we do this to acknowledge the very simple fact that we can’t prevent young adults from engaging in consensual behavior, even stupid consensual behavior. They’re going to find a way to do it anyways. We all did. Let’s at least take it out of the shadows and leave these kid’s decisions up to them and their families to figure out, rather than the cold probe of the faceless federal government.

My second suggestion is much easier but no less provocative. Turn off the TV, put down the picket sign, shut the fuck up and listen to your kids. You might be surprised to find out that they’re human beings too. Give them the respect they deserve by allowing them to speak for themselves and maybe they’ll return the favor with an honest relationship. Crazy hippie shit from the tranny anarchist, I know. But give it a shot, at least before you end up on C-Span wailing “What about the children?!” Your kids will thank you by pissing you off six feet above sea level.

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Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.

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