tatjna (tatjna) wrote,

On life as a half-kid, half-adult

After yesterday's discussion of the "It Gets Better" campaign, I went home and had a conversation with The Kid. Apparently his school has implemented a policy whereby if someone's late to class by more than 5 minutes, they get sent to the admin office and go on some register. And if the reason isn't considered good enough, they call the parents on the spot. So yesterday, The Kid's train was late and he had to do this. The queue to go and explain yourself to the admin staff was 25 minutes long!

Spot the unintended consequences of policy, right there.

Anyway, him relating this led to a discussion of the agency of teenagers. The process, for those who care, went like this:

Him: If they make school suck too much, people won't go. It's not as if they are getting paid, what's the incentive?
Me: Well, the law says you have to, and I'm responsible for making you. Thus, avoiding beatings is the incentive.
Him: I hate that I'm expected to act like an adult but I'm a child under the law. I have no rights.

I mean, children do have rights, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (known in my Social Policy dept as UNCROC). NZ is party to the convention and our legal age of majority is 18. Here's a summary of those rights:

The right to non-discrimination based on all the same things adults have the right to non-discrimination for.
The right for decisions made on their behalf to consider their best interests.
The right for their rights to be protected by the State.
The right to parental guidance (from what I gather, this means 'over that of the State').
The right to life, survival and development (ie education and access to healthcare).
The right to a name and a nationality, along with the right to know their parents.
The right to an identity recognised by the State.
The right to live with their parents (unless it is bad for them).
The right to family reunification in the case of separation through moving countries.
The right to State protection against being illegally removed from their country.
The right to respect for their views in decisions made on their behalf. This right has clauses about taking into account maturity and also ensuring the ultimate authority is with adults.
The right to freedom of expression.
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The right to freedom of association.
The right to privacy.
The right to access to information.
The right to protection from all forms of violence.
The right to know their rights.

There are actually 54 articles in UNCROC, but the others mostly cover more specific details of the things covered in the ones listed above.

What children don't have the right to is agency - all of the rights they have under the Convention assume that other people will be making decisions on their behalf. When children are very young this is fair enough. But as they get older they become more invested in the outcome of decisions made on their behalf, but are often frustrated in their attempts to direct their own lives.

As a teenager, The Kid is in the middle of this - he has these rights but no agency. He doesn't get to vote in elections that bring about the Government that makes decisions about his welfare - yet, he learns all about these decisions in school. He must attend school even though he's perfectly aware of the institutional indoctrination he's receiving and often questions its validity. Part of attending school means being subject to arbitrary rules such as the instance from yesterday with the trains - and has zero say in how these rules are developed. At 15, he has only just reached the age where he can work for money, and in order to get the kind of job people give to 15 year olds, he must subject himself to a criminal background check and answer personal questions about whether or not he's ever been the subject of a Family Group Conference. And if he gets the job, he's not entitled to the minimum wage until he's 16. So he has little agency with money or privacy either.

Meanwhile, he has to produce ID to prove he's at school when buying child fares because he's tall and the default assumption among ticket sellers is "Teenager - he's lying to me". To which I go "Why the hell would any teenage boy be on a train into town at 7:30am on a weekday if he weren't going to school, huh?" He gets arbitrarily moved on from places he's hanging out, people feel free to make comment on how he's dressed, his haircut, what he should be doing, where he should be and who he should hang out with, because he's young. Yes, even strangers. And I've written before about some of the discrimination he experiences due to being young.


As he puts it, "I am not a full citizen, am I?"

And I have to say to him "No son, you're not."

So anyway, he got to thinking about this in terms of some of the stuff we talk about in relation to feminism, and he has a question for you all - what are your thoughts on the similarities and differences between the lack of agency of teenagers and the lack of agency experienced historically by women? Enquiring young minds want to know.

And after that conversation, he showed me this. From the guy that brought us "Bagders Badgers", I bring you "Narwhals":

Because we're that mature.

And from the 'some folks are just too flexible' file:

Tags: questions from the kid, secret agency, teenage wasteland
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