Why is it that, when society talks about things that actually matter, or about things that impact a myriad of lives, children are often pushed out of view? People act as dictators, silencing children or taking control over them. Society usually presumes an adult’s position is greater than a child’s. Some parents usually fear hurting their children, stressing them out or worrying them — they fear emotional consequences over education, knowledge or skills.
Age is the determining factor for many things; when someone can drive, open a bank account, live alone, etc. But the two things that age doesn’t determine are when people can learn and when people can or cannot speak up. Adults must start including children in discussions to better prepare them for future life experiences.
Some might argue that preparing children for their adult lives requires them to do chores or basic household tasks. Although these might be significant, they represent things that have no substantial effect on the child. Others would say that children should be included in society so they are ready to face the challenges of the 21st century world. Sooner or later it will have to be done, and it might as well be sooner.
The best tool we have to get children ready for the world is words. Words are powerful, so why aren’t we using them? When talking to a child, people announce things regarding what’s happening around the house, school or family, while adults talk about work, politics or personal lives. In order for children to grasp the power of words, adults must talk to them with respect, interest and the right attitude. Instead we seem to demonstrate a habit of refusing to tell the children the truth, preferring to tell them things to try and comfort them.
Conversations — the simple act of talking to someone and getting a reply — are where most things happen. They are where ideas get shared the most, where you talk about your day at work over the dinner table, where you laugh, where you fight, etc. The biggest takeaway from this is simple: Include children in conversations, and make these conservations have value and significance. Use them as an opportunity to teach your children and treat them as adults. As the saying goes, treat others the way you want to be treated.
Every time a child is not allowed to speak, you are essentially telling them they don’t have a right to talk, that they don’t matter. In real-life situations, that lesson will find them nothing but danger. Even if the child has nothing of value to say, recognize it, reply to them, don’t talk while they are talking, and give them the same attention and respect they give you. That will live on with them and they will learn that, no matter a person’s age, gender or role, everyone is equal. And no matter what, if you respect someone, they will respect you back.
By not properly informing children about the world, you are achieving two things. Firstly, children will merely believe and only perceive what you tell them; the longer you shy away from talking to them about issues, the less informed they are. Secondly, you are preparing them for failure by not talking to them about the world and its social issues.
Some children think that, once you have graduated, that’s all you need to know about the world — that they are ready to face all its challenges — but unfortunately that is not the case. If they continue thinking that’s all there is, then they and we have failed. In reality, the act of preparing for the world, for children and adults, never stops.
Society has drawn an invisible line when it comes to what we tell our children. One side of the line states that everything we tell our children should be happy, jolly and stress and worry-free. The other side says we are required to scare our children and cause them to feel as if the world is haunting them. But we have to stand on the line and realize that, the more we comfort, the more we set children up for failure in the future; and the more we share with them the reality of the world, the more prepared they are to face it.
In conclusion, raising a child is the most honorable and demanding job in the world — the amount of respect I have for parents is beyond words. The world is scary, and children need to be protected, but you can witness a war from the window and know it is happening. It’s more important to know the war is happening than to live in a cloistered world.
• Sami Fathi is a high school student in Jeddah. He is a public speaker who participated in several platforms, including the UN in New York in 2015 and 2014 where he spoke about children’s right to education among other issues like famine and food wastage. Twitter: @sami_lf