Thursday, July 17, 2008

Should Children Have Rights?

Back in June I wrote a post entitled, "Another Court Takes Law Into Its Own Hands." The post was a discussion of a Canadian judge who had overruled a father's logical consequence to his 12yo daughter, deeming it "excessive." A regular blog reader and commenter, after reading the original article on which my post was based, responded, in part, with this paragraph:

I notice . . . the reference to Senator Clinton and legislation that sees children as "child citizens" and permitting them some rights against their parents. I do not find this so awful as there are instances when parents are not acting in the best interest of their children... we see it all to often in the media. However, I would think that such legislation (passed or pending) needs to be very clear and not open to simply granting child rights simple for not getting a child's way.

I personally don't like the whole approach of spelling out certain rights of children, primarily because the results depend on our capricious court system. I recently discovered that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, states that one of the child's rights is to have their parents make decisions in their best interest. The problem with that is that parents sometimes have to make decisions that are NOT in the child's best interests, but ARE in the best interests of the family as a whole.

Here's one example: My younger daughter is having difficulty learning to read. I have tried everything I can think of, and have been doing that for about 5 years, and she's still struggling (and is now approximately 2 years behind grade level in reading - fortunately since we homeschool I can read aloud to her and she can continue to progress in other subjects!). So yesterday, after having her evaluated by a friend who is a reading specialist, I came to the conclusion that she needed to attend our local homeschool enrichment program on Mondays, when my friend will be teaching a reading class, rather than on Fridays as we always have. My older daughter was devastated - "All my friends are going to be in the Friday school!" It is not in my older daughter's best interests to move to Mondays; however, my younger daughter's need to learn to read supercedes my older daughter's need to be with her friends. And our family's budget does not allow us to drive the half hour each way on two different days.

But what would a court say if my older daughter chose to hire a lawyer and sue, and our country had agreed to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? How could I then make the best decision for our family? I definitely DO consider my daughters' best interests; but sometimes decisions need to be made that on the surface seem contradictory to a given child's best interests in order to account for the whole picture of the family.

And who is responsible for determining the best interests of my child anyway? I may believe it is also in my older daughter's best interests to make this change, too, because in the long run she will learn that certain needs are more significant than others, and that sometimes we must sacrifice what we want for the sake of someone else. But can I convince the court of that? I don't know. The judge may put more value on my daughter's socialization than on her character development - does that mean the judge has the right to decide?

As a parent yourself, I'm sure you could also give examples when you've had to make this kind of decision. And this is only one example of how spelling out legal rights for kids can have unintended - and maybe disastrous - consequences for families (and even for the kids themselves).

By very definition, children are immature, and thus are not able to make wise decisions, considering all the factors. While I realize some parents are negligent in their responsibilities toward their children, I don't think giving children legal rights is really going to solve that problem. I DO think it may cause serious problems to families who are doing their best to raise their children wisely and well. Ultimately, we have to give parents, not judges, the right to decide what is best for children - within certain limits, which obviously include NOT allowing child abuse. Granting children the right to sue their parents in court does not benefit children or their families.

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