Lots of people have discussed the debacle that was Kyle and Jackie O's interrogation of a 14yr old last week. If you have been living under a rock (or you know, just in another country), Lauredhel gave a good early analysis of it, and Hexy gave a good round up of it today. However, there's been something niggling at me about the coverage of the whole thing. This girl is 14 and people keep calling her a "child".
Clearly she is a minor, and therefore I agree without hesitation with all the condemnation of every single adult involved in the whole sordid event, including, as Hexy points out, any audience member who ever tuned into this show intentionally.
However, every time she is called a child I cringe. Teenagers are not children, nor are they adults. The increasing tendency to infantilise teens may even have contributed to this situation - the fact that anyone (including the mother) felt that the mother had the right to over-ride her daughter's wishes shows that we don't afford teenagers sufficient respect. We also don't expect nearly enough of them.
There is plenty of reason not to regard teenagers as adults - it seems pretty clear that their brains are busy being rewired, and that the rewiring doesn't happen in the best possible order for ensuring good judgement and sensible behaviour. For this reason, I strongly object to trying teens as adults before the law - they've not yet graduated to adult privilege or responsibility. (I actually think we handle crime committed by minors very badly in almost every respect, but if I get into that this post will never end.)
However, they are no longer children either - they don't think like children and they don't feel like children. They are adults-in-training, and should be treated as such. Just like any traineeship, a lot of guidance is required in the beginning, slowly handing over more responsibility and higher expectations. Or actually, given the way things seem to be at the moment, not so slowly. So little is expected of teenagers, they often aren't even expected to manage their own homework.
It seems that we only have two settings, child or adult. And we oscillate randomly between the two in the way that we treat teens. Child when we want to protect them, excuse them or control them. Adult when we want to judge them or condemn them. It's hardly a surprise that many don't behave as responsibly or acceptably as society would like - or even as would be good for them.
I like Stephen Biddulph's portrayal of teens as apprentices, and I particularly like his suggestion that teens need adult mentors that are not their parents. I don't see why he thinks it applies primarily to boys, or that sports coaches seem to be the only candidates that regularly get mentioned in this context, but that's no reason to let a good idea go. I'm hoping my kids will find themselves adults they can trust and relate to when they hit that age. Aunts, uncles, family friends, bosses, co-workers, people involved in other social stuff (maybe I can get Elissa into belly dancing!), whatever. I want to enable such a relationship, but not engineer it - it's for them and should be at their instigation. One of the reasons I am a fan of this plan is that I am not entirely convinced I will be able to follow my own advice if I am their primary confidant. So if you know my kids, and you ever find yourself in this role, please don't tell me what they get up to, I won't want to know.
I won't be calling that 14yr old a child, she is a minor and deserves appropriate protection, but also appropriate respect and expectations. The last of those has no relevance to this incident, but who knows what part it played in her relationship with her mother?