I saw a man reprimanding a young girl today, she must have been about 9 or 10. He said "I am the authority and you had better respect me." and proceeded to lecture her on how she had to respect adults, not give attitude, and about how lucky she was to be attending his program for free because otherwise she would have nothing to do this summer. He then told her that she could not come back to class. She sat on a chair outside the door for the next 4 hours. What had this girl done? She had refused to eat a piece of celery. This consequence does not seem just. At points in the lecture when the girl had tried to state her case, he told her that it is disrespectful to speak to adults if they had not given permission to speak. He also told her that at this program she had better eat everything she is given whether she likes it or not and that children do not have a choice - that they must obey the orders of adults.

Now if you read my post from July 13 Children and Choices you know how I feel about letting children have control over the decisions in their lives and eating celery would be one of these choices. I came very close to saying something today, but I knew if I did it would only make the wrath focused on this girl worse and then there would also be rage focused on me. I wanted to say to this man that if he wants the young people in his program to respect him, then he should respect them. He did not allow this girl to say anything, then when she started crying he made it out like it was a weakness on her part that she was crying. Had I been in her position, I would have been angry and upset as well. Just being a bystander I was angry and upset. I wonder how people that don't like children or have patience for them end up working with them. Young people are amazing, they are creative and joyous, and yes sometimes fickle and picky and emotional, and don't always make good decision, but who does all the time? As adults we have the advantage because we live in a society that privileges us and often we do hold power over children. If we try to use this power so that young people are forced to do what we want, then we are crushing the beauty and joy within them. Being helpless and feeling powerless is not going to help a young person act better, it may make them withdraw, be quiet, harbor resentment, it may also put them in a position where they want to make someone else feel bad in order to make themselves feel better.

This kind of thing makes me mad. We need to honor our children. Respect them so that they can respect us. Don't reprimand a young person for their attitude when you are doing it with an attitude of your own. Children are mirrors, they will reflect what the adults in their lives put into the world. If disrespected they will act disrespectful. If given attitude, they will give it right back. I saw this today and I wonder if there was anything I could have said in the moment that would not have openly challenged the instructor's authority, but could have illustrated a different interaction these two could have had.