Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The cost of "innocence"

So many things are done for the supposed good of our children. Some that are actually beneficial, and some things that are ultimately destructive--not only for children, but for the human race. Just as our children's benefit inspires us to end wars, it also inspires us to start them on their behalf. What makes the situation worse is that children are no more innocent in their own minds than we are in ours. Of course violence begets violence, but destruction is part of human nature, whether you are eight or eighty.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Children and adults exist in the same world. This was the basis for Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory of development and it remains critical to the understanding the effects of context on a child's everyday life. This is important because ultimately we derive our ageist prejudices about children from observing their development as if it were happening on another plane of existence separate from the adult world. Nothing could be more inaccurate.

Collectively involved in the child's "chronosystem" as it is called (Bronfenbrenner, 1977), is the child's biological predeterminations and psychological assemblies, based on individual genetics, and how that is affected by the child's family, school, peers, neighborhood, daycare center...etc. Furthermore it describes how all these variables are effected by the interactions between them and the exterior environment, such as the mass media, social welfare services, inter-familial relationships, legal relationships...etc. On top of that, it also includes how those effects are themselves subject to broader cultural ideologies, historical time periods, class position...etc. All this seems very intuitive from a theoretical basis.

However, to say that children and adult's exist in the same "cognitive world' as well doesn't seem so intuitive. As I've made reference to before, a child's ability to reason about any of these outside stimuli are subject to their cognitive capacity. Whether it is the case that they reason differently because of their developing cognition or that their cognition is different from adults because of how they reason, it still remains that children understand things they see in the world differently than adults. I've hypothesized before, in my post on Corruptibility, that children and adults who see the same damaging stimulus are going to be affected by it in similar ways, but how it affects them should be determined by their ability to reason about it.

Thus a theoretical design for this concept would be as follows:

Damaging stimulus for an adult on an adult subject = adult corruptibility
Damaging stimulus for an adult on an child subject = child corruptibility

Damaging stimulus for an child on an adult subject = no corruptibility
Damaging stimulus for an child on an child subject = child corruptibility

Obviously, as I pointed out in earlier posts, it isn't this cut and dry. Many factors can play into whether or not a damaging stimulus from an outside agitator is going to have an affect, and more particularly, will determine the size of the effect. This is simply a sketch of the possible conclusions for the purposes of clarity.

As can be seen, there are differences between children and adults cognitively even though in this very general hypothetical model; an adult when exposed to a stimulus that would otherwise have a corruptive influence on a child would show little to no corruptive effect, whereas in the opposite, a child when exposed to a stimulus that would have a corruptive effect on an adult is bound to also have an effect of some kind on a child. The difference, presumably, is because an adult does not have to assimilate very much "new" information when they are viewing a stimulus that could be damaging to a child, and vice versa for children.

The world "assimilation" should be understood similar to Piaget's catalytic mechanism being utilized to progress a developing cognitive structure in children. The definition of "damage" should be understood to be the same as "corruptive influence" in this case, because a corruptive influence doesn't unnecessarily have to be a negative thing.

This all works out in theoretical terms, but in everyday life it doesn't seem as obvious. If a child and a parent are walking in the park and they pass a billboard with a scantily clad figure in it, who's to determine who that figure is going to have a corruptive influence on, if anyone? And by what degree? Most likely the adult is going to see it and attempt to direct their child's attention against it or not pay it any heed (therefore signifying the only affect it is having on them is they are concerned what affect it is having on their child), and a child, if they notice it, is only going to think about it in the terms that they are able to reason about it, which may or may not be any more "damaging" or "corruptive" for them than anything else they might observe in the park.

The bottom line is, if a child is constantly confronting new situations that are having "corruptive" or altering influence on their cognitive capacities and perceptions, then one particular stimulus that is culturally considered to be negatively "corrupting the youth" isn't going to be any different in that child's mind than another stimulus that society deems acceptable for children--all things being equal. Therefore, because it is inconceivable that a child's "innocence" can be taken every time they encounter new corruptive influences, either that innocence was never there, or the innocence itself is part of the process of this transformation, and in fact not the part that was "lost" in the acquisition. Innocence is maintained.

This is just a simple example though. More urgent examples surface when parents make the assertion that because children can't distinguish the difference between reality and the violence or sexual content that they observe in the media, it has a far greater negative corruptive influence on them than anything else they're probably getting exposed to on a day to day basis as exemplified above. In this way, it's not that their inability to reason completely about a stimulus that shields them from being corrupted by it on an adult level of complexity, it's that the inability actually enhances the level of corruptive influence the stimulus has on them.

In those cases though, it is not the act of killing or sex stimulation alone that is exerting such a powerful influence, it is the quantity and level of complexity to which it is being displayed to them (as mentioned in earlier posts). An incidence of someone getting shot in a video game or television shouldn't have any more negative corruptive influence when it is framed in a context conceivable to a child's representation of the world, and with parental assurance, the exposure's strength of influence should be all but neutralized. An incidence of a higher magnitude, with more gore, carnal destruction, or perversity, without parental assurance, should have a far greater influence on a child. There are differing ideologies as to how to deal with these incidents.

Ageists continue to argue against exposing a child to violence and sex at any level of complexity. However, all this achieves is the effective weakening the child's tolerance, therefore strengthening the effects of the very corruptive influence they were attempting to minimize. Age Egalitarians are equally atrocious, as they will subject a child to any sort of material and assume the child's ability to reason about it, and therefore their level of tolerance, is on the level with their own in some kind of adult-centric mindset, certainly breaking the child's resistance to such medias but also potentially skewing their perceptions of reality.

An Age Relativist would argue that a child ought to have exposure to sex and violence that is consistent with their ability to reason about such things in their own context. This is possible to a degree, but not entirely so, because as stated in the opening of this post, children and adults live in the same world and get exposure to the same types of outside agitators. There is no way a child can be kept sheltered from corruptive levels of sex and violence that they don't have the ability to conceive of at their stage of development.

This is why, ageists, egalitarians, and relativists as well, all seem to advocate the indelible presence of an adult figure in a child's cognitive life, they simply disagree as to the extent that figure should be involved. Ageists tend to believe that an adult should exercise all manners necessary to keep children under specific ages to have any access or exposure to all materials deemed to be outside agitators, but only end up multiplying the effects of which many fold.

Egalitarians seem to believe that an adult shouldn't exercise any intervention over a child's access to these materials, any more than one wouldn't control any other individual's access. While attempting to make the child seen as the "individual" they are, they neglect to see that that part of what makes a child an individual, like anyone else, is his or her cognitive capacities to reason about this stimulus. So ultimately, they end up potentially skewing that child's outlook by subjecting them to materials and acts they aren't ready to observe or participate in at the same level as an adult. This continues to be the faulty argument of the Childlove movement.

A Relativist would argue that and adult should exercise a moderate but consistent level of intervention over a child's access to these materials, but more importantly, assist the child when they view or participate in, activities that might require them to expand their cognitive capacities. This is best described operationally similar to Vygotsky's "scaffolding" approach, whereby the adult provides temporary aid to assist the child in learning how to solve a problem or complete a task. However, in this context, the adult aid would be assisting the child in coming to terms with or internalizing materials that are of significant corruptive influence. Otherwise exposure to these materials and acts (like sex and violence) is generally considered to be a good thing, so long as the materials being presented on a level that the child is capable of coming to terms with on their own. Only when the material is so strong that they can't do this, should an adult be necessitated to assist in the scaffolding approach.

So ultimately, children should be allowed a degree of exposure consistent with their ability to comprehend for ideal social effects, and minimal negative corruptive influence. Sadly, this can not always be the case though, and our society is far more often so ageist that when children are corrupted by these outside agitators it is seen as parental neglect, or a "sign of the times," and not the practice of ageism itself that only compounds the issue and necessitates itself in a vicious cycle.