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Too young to have rights? - The LAMP

Too young to have rights?

By April 17, 2009 News No Comments

It’s been over twenty years since DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince wrote their award-winning song “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” but you’d be hard-pressed to find a kid that it doesn’t resonate with. Arguing with your parents isn’t just a common experience for youth — it’s practically a rite of passage.

Granted I’m only a few years out of adolescence, and about five times as many from having my own kids, but I’ve always sympathized with teens. Before you turn eighteen, you have very little agency over your own life. Whether it’s your parents or your teachers, adults are pretty much always telling you what to do, from what you wear to school in the morning to what you eat for dinner to how much time you spend with your friends. And while most parents have their children’s best interests at heart, some don’t. Or they do, but their good intentions aren’t enough to mitigate their misguided attempts to do what they think is right.

Legally speaking, parents and schools still retain many rights over their children and students. But, if ratified, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child might change that. According to Politico, this treaty “sets international standards for government obligations to children in areas that range from protection from abuse and exploitation to ensuring a child’s right to free expression.”

Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not everyone thinks so. Like Somalia, the only other country besides the US that hasn’t ratified the treaty. And Michael Farris, president of ParentalRights.org, who worries that

Parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children. … A child’s “right to be heard” would allow him (or her) to seek governmental review of every parental decision with which the child disagreed, … and children would have the ability to choose their own religion while parents would only have the authority to give their children advice about religion.

Also, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who recently introduced a bill in the House — sponsored by 70 members of the House — that would cement a place for parents’ rights in our Constitution.

Don’t get me wrong — Although I am in support of the treaty, I am a little wary of any piece of legislation that might expand the reach of the government at the expense of citizens’ rights. I am certainly not suggesting we hand over our children to the government to rear — but neither is this treaty. It’s an interesting dichotomy that adults in our society will do so much to protect the safety and welfare of their children, but then dismiss and trivialize their personal concerns, interests, and ideas. In my opinion, any treaty that aims to protect — and therefore legitimize — youth expression deserves, at the very least, a closer look. And if nearly 200 countries manage to ratify this treaty without blood running in the streets, then I think we can handle it.

Unfortunately, chances are that this issue will languish in bureaucratic limbo for years to come. In the meantime, it’s my hope that all the teens out there can find solace in the wise words of DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince:

You know parents are the same / No matter time nor place / They don’t understand that us kids / Are going to make mistakes / So to you, all the kids all across the land / There’s no need to argue / Parents just don’t understand