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What is the objectivist position on "freedom" for children, specifically as they make choices about whether to study/work hard, whether to excel etc.? What is "freedom" as applied to a child?

Do objectivists believe that one just "models" good behavior or is there some sense of "coercing" the child to make rational choices when the child may want to be irrational (eg: please study for that math quiz vs goof off)? I use the word "coercing" in double quotes because I really don't think that term really applies here but I think it makes the point.

In some sense I am asking the objectivists out there where they fall on the continuum between the Amy Chua type "tiger moms" who essentially see their kids as plastic clay to be molded (roughly if needed...) into their private definition of perfection and the other extreme: laid back, "hippie" types who see their kids as essentially full adults by age 5 who just happen to live in the same house.

My thinking is that one should raise kids for independence and their own happiness but that involves many complex processes including learning skills, working hard, being productive and having real, achievement-based self-esteem. It is these complex processes that my question hinges on: how do you "explain" to a 14 year old that goofing off all year will probably impact his/her own happiness detrimentally and that they need to buckle down? Is this "coercion" ? If not, what is it ?

asked May 10 '11 at 21:49

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image


edited May 11 '11 at 09:38

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Just like they need practice and experience in reading, getting along with other people (in our house, that's the Trader Principle), and swimming, I think kids need practice in making decisions and dealing with the (good and bad) consequences of the decisions. Giving them freedom to make decisions, and to make mistakes, is important.

There are certainly times when I need to make them do something they don't want to--sit in their car seat, stop damaging property, get off their sister's head. Sometimes I need to physically remove them and prevent them from doing what they want to do if it involves violation of the rights of others or harm to themselves and they are unable to exercise self-control. Part of my job is to protect them and others from the harsh or even irreparable consequences of their choices.

But usually, nobody's life or limb is at stake, nobody's property rights are being violated. In those cases, I will step back and let the child make a poor choice and help them cope with the consequences. Many times, I'm pleasantly surprised that what I thought was a poor decision turned out to be an okay one (which helps both of us learn something about the virtue of independence, I think).

Sometimes the choice really is a bad one and the child is sad or remorseful or angry about what happened, and amends need to be made. In those instances, I empathize and listen to the child express his feelings, help him find ways to cope with overwhelming emotions, and come up with a plan for repairing the damage (fixing something that was damaged, apologizing, etc).

My kids aren't in school, and I don't yet have a 14 year old (oldest is 9), so I haven't dealt with the specific situation you described. Maybe explaining the consequences of not doing homework isn't going to have an impact. Maybe letting the consequences happen will have a bigger impact. I don't really know. I think keeping open communication with the child is crucial, so that no matter what happens he knows his parent will help him find a solution to his problem (not provide the solution, but rather walk him through the steps to solving his own problem). Even when I'm letting them make their own (poor) choices, I offer my opinion and advice and experience about what I think might happen as a result. I offer my support in helping them fix it. They generally know where I stand on the subject and I know where they stand. We've had many great conversations that came out of something that went wrong and have come up with plans for improving in the future.

I've written about parenting principles and the premises that they rest upon on my blog, and how I think they tie into Objectivism, if you're interested in reading more. I also wrote a response to the Amy Chua article when it came out in January 2011.

answered May 11 '11 at 08:52

rationaljenn's gravatar image

rationaljenn ♦

Thanks Jenn. Nicely said. Helping develop the ability to make decisions is really what I am after and I think you captured it well. In a sense that is what parents need to be: the academy ;-) where rational decision-making is inculcated and learned. Once it is learned, I have zero issues with letting kids make their own individual minds up.

(May 11 '11 at 09:02) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I dont know if there is any specific "Objectivist" position on freedom of child but I think that children should be given complete freedom in exercising their choices. This doesnt mean that parents shouldnt teach their children about good thinks and assisting them, but it means that the parents should inform the child of all his potential and interests but the final choice should be with the children. I think that is a good way of giving "freedom" to your child.

answered May 11 '11 at 03:19

Harsha's gravatar image

Harsha ♦

Harsha- kids can be so amazingly ill-developed in their rationality that, as a reasonable parent, I would find it very difficult to totally adopt what you suggest with any child under 14 years of age (just roughly). Kids in my experience can't even reason correctly at age 5 so how would you expect them to judge, weigh and make an informed choice? That said, as RationalJenn says below, it's probably a good idea to help them develop deicison-making capabilities and to be able to make mistakes that don't hurt them too badly.

(May 11 '11 at 08:59) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

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Asked: May 10 '11 at 21:49

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Last updated: May 11 '11 at 09:38