November 30, 2004

Stealing Childhood?

John Vennochi waxes indignant:
"The crime: stealing childhood, and in this instance stealing it in painful, ugly, public fashion.

"The little girl, around 2 years old, kicked, squirmed, and shrieked in her mother's arms. The mother, old enough to know better, held on tightly, determined to go through with her plan: getting her daughter's ears pierced.

"Piercing screams did not prevent this mom from accomplishing her ear-piercing mission. She carried the girl triumphantly back into the mall, adorned with two tiny gold button earrings -- all the better to show off her wispy blonde curls, red velvet dress, and tiny, teary face."

Two-year olds will scream over a broken crayon or a doll's dress they can't quite manage to get on the doll, or over an inoculation.

So is Vennochi overwrought, waxing indignant over this incident?

One of our daughters got her ears pierced at nine, because she wanted to. The other, older, has no interest in going near the piercing machine.

This event, though, seems to be an imposition by an adult on a child for the sake of the adult's vanity. Sure, we all get pleasure from our kids' finger-paintings, home runs, and even SAT scores.

But we don't own our offspring. In this culture, we no longer force our sons and daughters to marry for our convenience, or to go into the family business if they choose not to. Aside from the fact that we can't easily impose these choices, we see children as free, autonomous beings, whom we protect and discipline, but only partly make in our own image. Ultimately, they are free, and if we're both wise and lucky, we prepare them with enough discipline, and high enough standards, that they can use their freedom well.

Not owning our children, but having them on loan, isn't an easy condition to manage. That said, forcing a frightened two-year-old to get her ears pierced seems unjust to me.

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