Stop With The Kids

The save-our-children argument works well in politics. Often it has nothing to do with saving children in the first place.

We’ve had quite a discussion with my English students today. They read this article on suggestions to legalize drugs in America to make drug use less criminal and more open to non-repressive methods of dealing with it. I asked them about their opinion and quite naturally received a negative answer – drugs cannot and should not be legalized in Russia. The reason? Kids will then try drugs for sure and become addicts. This kids-argument and save-our-children stance has become ridiculously predictable and even destructive to the point of harming those whom it is supposed to protect.

I asked my students why they thought that the legalization of drugs would lead to more children becoming drug addicts. The replies were also predictable – legal drugs mean easy access, besides, children don’t listen to parents and teachers who would say that drugs are bad for them.

Though I agree that kids tend to sometimes act opposite to what their parents tell them, I cannot simply let this argument fly. If we did then most of the parental education turned essentially useless. What is the point of telling kids what is bad and what is good if we believe that they will always and definitely do it their own way? What is the point of wasting time and effort if parents knew that this is all really wasted?

The thing is, it isn’t wasted and there is a good point in telling children right from wrong. They won’t always do it your way, they might disagree with certain things, be stubborn and require extra time and words, but talking and setting example works, or we’d all be addicts and criminals of some sort by now.

Good parents will set a good example. Even better parents will talk to their children and listen to them too. If a child knows that they can always come to their parents and discuss things if a child sees a positive image in their day-to-day life I see no reason why this child should definitely go the wrong way. Well, things happen and nobody guarantees anything, but it is better to try and talk, then try again and again.

Instead, adults prefer to spend their time in a more pleasant way than dealing with their kids’ millions of questions and those millions of options – some good, some bad – that children face in their early life. Unsurprisingly, many children stumble, listen to their friends, and even follow their parents’ bad example. Who else could they listen to if their parents are always busy or unfriendly? Why not try things that their parents do themselves?

My students reasoned that if drugs were legalized then it would be easier to get them. Is finding drugs impossible for people who want to get them now, I fired back as if I were one of the Democratic candidates we’ve read about. I was told that a few years ago chemical salts were sold freely everywhere in Russia. My answer, those salts were mostly bought by adults (otherwise we’d have known as this is such a TV topic). Adults are not children and can make their own decisions. So why stop adults who know well about the disastrous effects of such salts and still go buy them? Should we protect idiots in their right minds? And where does your save-our-children argument fit in now?

Yet it fits pretty well in all kinds of situations in Russian public and political discourse. The tricky thing is that in most of these cases nobody is really trying to protect children but rather use children as a soft spot in the public mind.

Another example was with the ban on the so-called gay propaganda. Obviously, only Russian politicians know what that is and are afraid that they might fall victim. But they are adults and still feel that it would be awkward to use grown-ups in fighting sexual diversity. Here comes the protect-kids-case and it becomes illegal to draw homosexuality (let alone transgenderism) in any bright colors just because some even hypothetical children might hear it and apparently (in politicians’ view) become gay. The fact that some of these children can actually be gay is not an acceptable reason as this would be used against you in terms of “you’ve just turned them gay with your words”.

One of the extreme cases of counter-productive policy (or, should I say, politics) of literally killing children under the umbrella of the so-called protection is when Russian authorities stopped sanctioning foreign adoptions of Russian children (specifically those with rare medical conditions) in the midst of rhetorical hostilities with the West. Television was used to prepare the public by showing reports about several former Russian children mistreated, murdered, or accidentally killed in American families.

So now orphans and children whose parents left them after birth because they couldn’t support those kids or because such kids had medical conditions or disabilities stay in Russian asylums without any hope of being adopted by willing foreign families. Some children die, some don’t get enough qualified medical help, some grow up as orphans. At the same time, many more kids who grow up with both or at least one parent suffer from child abuse, mistreatment, beating, negligence and, you’ve guessed it, bad example of parents who smoke, chain drink, and possibly use drugs. The number of children who die in Russian families because of mistreatment of some sort is surely much higher than the number of such deaths among Russians adopted by foreign families. Yet the save-our-children argument worked well and only in one direction.

So, when you hear this argument next time try and think who’s trying to protect whom? It might turn out that when somebody speaks about the urgent need to protect our children from some evil, what they really want is to either ban something or protect themselves (i.e., adults) from being adults and making sensible choices for themselves. It just so happens that cowards prefer to use children as a way to hide their own weaknesses or some evil political agenda. And no, I am against legalizing drugs in Russia but I can try not using children as a reason.

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