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Children Can Make Important Decisions, Too

Children Can Make Important Decisions, Too

As a teacher, I have heard so many heartbreaking stories about custody arrangements. My students often describe the custody battles their parents and them have been through. Many tell me about how they wish they could have had some input in these cases, but, more often than not, the court decides their fate without any input from them.

When this article by Ruth Bettelheim came out in the New York Times a few weeks ago, I was immediately reminded of what several of my students had told me in class. Interestingly, Bettelheim is arguing here that children who are old enough to explain their arguments should be seen as old enough to advocate for their own best interests:

Although the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have a right to meaningful participation in decisions affecting them, adults, from some misguided notion of protection, often seek to keep children from making choices in custody matters. But accepting certain kinds of responsibility for their own lives and learning from the consequences of their decisions, even poor ones, is vital for the growth and well-being of all children.

Once children have reached the age of reason — generally agreed to be about 7 — they should be recognized as the ultimate experts on their own lives. We all resent it when others say that they know better than we do how we feel and what is good for us. Nevertheless, we subject children to this when we call in experts to evaluate their lives over a period of days or weeks, as part of the custody process, instead of just listening to them.

Bettelheim also argues that custody arrangements that benefit young children are probably not going to work for teenagers and, as such, should be frequently revisited. The problem there, though, is that, after a messy divorce and custody battle, parents rarely want to revisit anything having to do with the divorce. Kids, then, get stuck with the same old agreement, seeing one parent on the weekends when they’d rather be spending time with friends. I imagine this would be particularly difficult for arrangements where the child had to travel long distances to see the other parent over holidays and vacations.

As a teacher, I know first-hand that many students make poor decisions. The frontal cortex in their brain is still developing, and, especially when emotion enters the equation, they don’t always consider the consequences of their actions. However, I am a firm believer that, when stakes are high, students will rise to the occasion. In my experience, children and teenagers do in fact make good decisions when the situation is grave. If you trust young people, they will almost always do the right thing, and when these decisions concern their future, they won’t try to screw that up.

Believe it or not, children and teens appreciate structure and order, and they know what it takes to get where they want to go. When they’re in class, they want their teacher to show them the boundaries of how far they can go without causing trouble. Similarly, when they are at home, they want a parent who will impose boundaries and rules, and I believe they would make that choice if it came down to it. Children are constantly surprising in their ability to understand and take on the world around them.

I do not believe, however, that a child’s voice should be the only one heard in important decisions like custody arrangements. Just as the child should have the right to speak, so should the parents. Like any situation, it is important for all perspectives to be heard and weighed carefully.

What do you think? Should children’s voices be privileged in custody hearings, or in any other important decision?

 

Related Stories:

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23 comments

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10:47AM PDT on Aug 28, 2012

if kids get to choose, parents would pressure them and likely make the child even more miserable. Especially since the child would be forced to pick one parent over the other

1:29PM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

I think that the children's views need to be listened to and taken into account. They need to be listened to because at the end of the day they are the ones that have to live with the decisions that have been made

8:11AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

I would say that the children's voices should be privileged over the parents' voices. I am a child of divorce (divorced kid as I like to call it) so I'm biased, but when what I want in a custody schedule is different from what one of my parents wants, I think it is only fair that my wishes carry the day. After all, my parents made the choice to get divorced. Because I had no control over that choice, then I should have as much control as possible over future choices, so that I can deal with the divorce as best as possible for ME, not my parents. Or at least, that's what I would want.

8:03AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

I would say that the children's voices should be privaleged over the parents' voices. I am a child of divorce (divorced kid as I like to call it) so I'm biased, but when what I want in a custody schedule is different from what one of my parents wants, I think it is only fair that my wishes carry the day. After all, my parents made the choice to get divorced. Because I had no control over that choice, then I should have as much control as possible over future choices, so that I can deal with the divorce as best as possible for ME, not my parents. Or at least, that's what I would want.

1:30AM PDT on Jun 7, 2012

We should never underestimate kids. They understand more than you think

2:05PM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

I agree with this more than you can ever know the flawed logic is kids are stupid and adults know whats best period, the argument usually goes that kids are fully developed which is pure non-sense, wisdom comes with exp NOT age and this flawed logic is a root of alot of our probs, what most people call teenage rebelliousness I think is finding out most of what your parents said is shit so everything must be, wereas this is illogical in the sense this isnt true, I think teens & kids can make good decisions if let to, and it would stop this due to think trusting there parents & authority and not doing this causes distrust hence rebelling which is why this happens

12:16AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

continued...

(6) If getting drivers' licenses produced safe, focused, calm, and effective drivers, there wouldn't be so many of them getting injured, paralyzed, or killed in traffic accidents. It would be the same with parenting licenses.

12:16AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

continued...

(6) If getting drivers' licenses produced safe, focused, calm, and effective drivers, there wouldn't be so many of them getting injured, paralyzed, or killed in traffic accidents. It would be the same with parenting licenses.

12:12AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

RE: "Unstable people should not have kids. They just torture them. Potential parents should have to take a test just like a driving test. Parents should have a license."

The problems with these ideas are:

(1) Most people are unstable at one time or another; it is inevitable with all the stress and uncertainty in life. Our goal needs to be to help families live more effectively and happily, instead of focusing on blame and punishment.

(2) Unstable people do not necessarily torture their children, but unstable people do try to push drugs, toxins in the food supply, and harmful vaccinations on our children, as well as other atrocities.

(3) There are many definitions and degrees of "torture," abuse, and neglect; no parent is perfect, and most try to do their best with what they know. Very few actually torture.

(4) Who is going to determine who designs and administers the test, which would be FAR more complex than a driving test, and not just like it at all. It would become dictatorial in nature, as exemplified by the hostility of people making comments that say everything should be done the way THEY say, and any other way is stupid and wrong (it's really bad on yahoo and less so here, but you probably all know what I mean).

(5) The people in charge of such a license could be MORE than unstable -- self-righteous, rigid, authoritarian, punishing, and out of touch with children's real needs, like many CPS workers.

(6) If getting drivers' licenses produ

7:42PM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

Unstable people should not have kids. They just torture them. Potential parents should have to take a test just like a driving test. Parents should have a license.

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