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Free Youth Now: An Introduction to Youth Liberation

Friday, 23 April 2021

Social Media and Youth Rights

Youth are incredibly well-connected on social media. According to a 2018 Pew study, fully 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online almost constantly. This engagement is happening at younger and younger ages: In 2015, 24% of kids ages 8 – 12 had their own smartphone. That's up 41% from 2011, according to a recent study.

The phenomenon of social media use among youth has significant implications for youth rights and youth liberation

For example, youth are politically engaged online. According to one analysis: "70% of young people had gotten information about the 2020 election on social media and 36% reported posting political content in the week prior." 

This engagement has positive effects for those posting. The same survey found that "Over 60% of youth said that creating social media content helped them feel more informed, represented, and heard, although differences in these benefits exist across gender and race/ethnicity...Creating social media posts or online content about political/social issues that are important to them helps young people feel like their voices matter." 

Moreover, youth are creating content at unprecedented rates

(Unfortunately, I had difficulty finding good statistics on youth content creation. I would guess that lack is partly due to the fact that most of the attention on youth social media use is focused on the impacts of social media on youth. I would also guess that good statistics are out there somewhere, so if you find them please let me know.) 

One of the few studies I managed to find was from 2006 (ancient in internet terms). Still, that study found that 64% of online teens are considered "content creators" --  by creating a blog, webpage, or sharing original content they created or remixed online. 

Young people are constantly shaping culture and politics through social mediaA 2019 survey found that 49 percent of young people using social media were somewhat or very likely to share memes that they created, and 48% were somewhat or very likely to share their opinions on current affairs. This content shapes popular culture and it also affects political discourse. 

Further, the content that youth create produces billions of dollars of value for large tech companies, as well as the corporations that advertise on their platforms. But most of the people making that content aren't seeing those rewards. 

Of course, there are some exceptions. For example, this article shows how a group of young Black content creators and influencers is getting their due by living together in homes where they can collaborate, have control over their content output, and leverage their collective fame.

And it also seems that young people are beginning to demand, or at least wish for, more compensation for their content: 86% of Gen Z and millennials said in a survey that they would like to get paid to post social media content. One encouraging study showed that, in 2017, nearly 17 million Americans earned income posting their personal creations on nine platforms, an increase of more than 2.4 million U.S. creators, or 16.6 percent, in one year. 

But "earned income" doesn't mean fair or just compensation. For example, 97.5% of YouTubers don't make enough money to reach the U.S. poverty line ($12, 140). 

In other words, most of the monetary benefits from all that content don't reach the youth creating much of it

Finally, youth are simply consuming a massive amount of content. Teenagers in the U.S. use entertainment screens on average 7 hours per day. When you consider the number of views, likes, streams, and other engagements that come with that use, it's clear that young people exert significant influence on what media gets produced and shared; youth shape culture. 

So what does this mean for youth rights?  

First, it means youth should be treated with more respect. Youth are actively shaping culture and society; their decisions and their creations are directing the future. Youth should be recognized as the agentic actors they are. This would mean, for example, increased autonomy in all aspects of life, and at the very least in the privacy of social media use. 

Second, and similarly, it means being skeptical when people like the creators of the Social Dilemma engage in fear-mongering and make broad claims about how social media is harming youth, and therefore youth should have their access limited. Social media is one of the few meaningful political and social outlets for youth; the answer to our social problems isn't to restrict the access rights of young people. 

Third, it means that youth (and all content creators) should be compensated for the value they produce. 

Finally, I would suggest that instead of focusing so intensely on the ways in which social media impacts youth, more attention should be paid to the ways that youth impact social media. That project could lead to a better understanding of the ways that youth are actively contributing to and shaping society, and ideally would lead to more recognition of youth as capable humans with dignity and rights.  

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Liberation is More Than Equality

Liberation is more than equality. What I am concerned with is not simply equal rights, but youth liberation, and liberation for all people. 

Many people, including the well-known child rights advocate John Holt, have advocated for full equal rights for youth. Others have suggested that we do away with the legal presumption that children are incompetent and that age-based laws should be subject to strict scrutiny (which roughly means the law must be "narrowly tailored" to achieve a compelling government interest).  

These are important ideas, and the work of achieving equal rights is certainly valuable. But focusing only on equal rights doesn't go far enough. The question we ought to be concerned with is this: equal rights to what? (To be fair, in his book Escape From Childhood, Holt makes the point: that equal rights for children won't mean much in an unjust world). 

So what do we mean when we say "equal rights for youth?" In order to understand the depth of this question, we need to situate youth liberation within a broader context of a violent society.*

Youth are oppressed. But not all youth are oppressed simply based on age. Many youth are also oppressed based on race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, nationality, and other sources of identity. And despite their relative position of power to youth, adults still live within a broader system of violence -- a carceral, racial capitalist colonizer state. 

With this very brief framing in mind, we acknowledge that "equal rights" might be an inadequate measure of human dignity in a country that was founded on a social contract that excluded everyone but propertied white men and that continues to systematically enact violence against Black and brown people. 

So, let's turn back to the question: equal rights to what? 

Is it the right to vote in an electoral system that consistently marginalizes Black, Indigenous, and other people of color? 

Is it the right to participate in an exploitative capitalist economy and struggle to make a living under poor work conditions? 

Is it the right to a lawyer and trial by jury in a criminal system where Black and Indigenous people are far more likely to be incarcerated and experience state-sanctioned violence than white people? 

Is it the right to own property that was stolen from Indigenous people? 

Equal rights for youth must mean more than this. It must also become rights that are equal to a meaningful realization of human dignity. It must aim for youth liberation. I'll explore the concept of youth liberation more fully in a future post. But here are some initial thoughts: 

First, crucially, these questions need to be asked and answered by youth. As a legal adult who was raised under decidedly unfree conditions, I can hardly begin to imagine what a liberated young person's life could look like. In fact, I may never understand what a truly free childhood means. So it makes little sense for me and people like me to try and define a vision of youth liberation on our own. 

Second, ageism and age-based discrimination are thoroughly and deeply entrenched in the laws, social systems, institutions, relationships, and psyches of the U.S. and other colonizing, colonized, and settler-colonist states. Like structural racism, it's built into the foundations of society. It will take generations of effort to understand, deconstruct, heal, reimagine, and ultimately work toward a new future. 

That said, I (a white, adult member of a settler-colonist state) believe youth liberation means creating a more just and liberated world for all people. It means rethinking our assumptions about education, the economy, social structures and relationships, and the role of the State in our lives. It means achieving conditions of liberation in all aspects of life. 

This leads to an even more important question: What would it mean to be able to secure a dignified life? This is what I aim to continuously ask. This is a question that will lead toward liberation, not simply equality. And this is a question that can only be adequately answered collectively. 

Merely demanding "equal rights" for youth is incomplete. Even if equal rights were achieved, that framing allows those with power to dictate the terms of oppression while justifying the status quo because everyone is now "equal." That won't do. It won't lead to liberation. If youth have "equal rights" but are still stuck within broader oppressive structures, then we have failed. 

Like any other liberation work, it's an ambitious project. But without a broader goal of universal liberation, youth liberation risks being subsumed into the oppressive structures from which it seeks to escape. 

When we talk about youth rights, we need to talk about youth liberation -- and liberation for all people. 

*I wish to acknowledge and express my gratitude for a conversation with Latrel Powell, a friend and classmate at UCLA Law School, that inspired much of this post. 

Saturday, 26 December 2020

The Age of Consent Problem

I'll begin by noting that this is a difficult and emotional issue. It might bring up some strong emotions. I recognize that and try to discuss this issue in a humane and sensitive way. (Also, if I have overlooked any major aspects of this discussion, please feel free to leave a comment.)

The age of consent -- specifically, the age at which youth can consent to have sex -- is one of the most common objections to youth liberation. 

The objection usually goes something like this: "You say youth should be free and paternalism is bad. And that kids should make all of the same decisions that adults can (aka equal rights). Therefore, you think that kids should be allowed to have consensual sex with adults. If that happens, kids are going to be manipulated and sexually abused by older people. So, the whole youth rights argument isn't valid." 

The abuse and manipulation of youth are valid concerns. And I'm not saying that consensual sex between children and adults should be legal. As discussed below, there are reasons to think that it should remain illegal while still being consistent with a youth liberation position. 

What I am saying is that the common version of the consent argument against youth rights paints an incomplete picture of the situation. And it misses a bigger point: We live in a society that oppresses youth and has gross power imbalances; these power imbalances throughout society are what we should really be concerned about. These inequalities have serious implications that affect all of our social relations.

Moreover, we live in a society where sexual violence is rampant among people of all ages. But exploitation is wrong at any age. We should be focusing on making sure that all sex is consensual, and promoting healthy relationships generally. 

The main point is this: We need to challenge the existing normalization of power and control over children that leads to rampant abuse by family members and other people in positions of power. The oppression of youth exacerbates rape culture throughout society by disrespecting bodily autonomy and by normalizing coercion and power hierarchies from a young age

So, back to the common objection: "If all youth had equal rights, then young children would be legally allowed to have consensual sex with adults, which would be bad because kids are easily manipulated and would be abused and taken advantage of."

The first thing to do is to reframe the problem. Most people are rightly concerned about the idea of children being taken advantage of and sexually exploited by adults. But most people miss the broader issues at stake. 

For example, most people overlook the fact that children are already being taken advantage of and sexually exploited by adults at disturbingly high rates. The vast majority of this abuse is done by family members and/or in the home -- homes which children can't legally leave under most circumstances. And this abuse is often a direct result of the oppressive forces under which youth live

From an early age, most children are taught that their bodily and personal autonomy doesn't mean much. Most young people have to do what adults in positions of power say in almost every single aspect of their lives, usually without any explanation or reasons. And often youth are punished if they resist or disobey. 

Right now, children can legally be hit; they can be forced to stay in their rooms or sit at a desk all day; they can be fondled by their relatives against their will. They can't fight back; they can't leave. There are no real options for kids other than to submit. 

So, given these cultural norms, how would a child understand that it's not okay to be sexually touched? How is a child supposed to deny an adult, when the rest of their existence demands obedience? 

Another aspect of oppression is that kids are economically dependent on adults. This means that (a) kids couldn't practically leave an abusive situation even if they were legally allowed to, and (b) kids can more easily be coerced and manipulated (for example, the popularized narrative of strangers using candy to trick kids wouldn't be so forceful if kids could buy their own candy). 

The result of this dependence and conditioned, forced subservience is that children's oppression contributes to rape culture. Our society denies children any meaningful rights to consent or to stand up to people in power. The law demands children's obedience to adult authority. One of the first lessons many children learn is that might makes rightThis is a recipe for disaster. 

Children can't be expected to learn how to say "no" to sex if they aren't even allowed to say "no" in so many other aspects of their lives. So it's no wonder that issues of consent and sexual assault plague people of all ages. We are indoctrinated from infancy to believe that our will and preferences are inferior and must give way to the desires of people with relative power. How is a child supposed to know at what point touching crosses the line if the line never involves the child's consent? 

Of course, even if young people had more control over their bodies, there would still be huge power imbalances. Some of these imbalances are economic, some of these physical, and some of these come through experience and age. And these imbalances may very well mean that consensual sex between adults and children should remain illegal. But at this point, we can't even imagine what a society free from youth oppression would look like. 

Further, non-consensual sex (rape) is always illegal. And if young people had the right to sue, they could actually bring these cases in civil court. As it currently stands, youth rely on the state to prosecute sexual violence. 

For all of these reasons, we should be concerned with the existing power imbalance between adults and children. These power asymmetries mean that kids need protection and autonomy. Consent laws could legitimately protect youth from abuse and be consistent with youth liberation by recognizing young people's rights to control their bodies and other aspects of their lives. This position accepts that this is paternalistic, but would argue that it is justifiable. A strictly logical or philosophical approach might reject that conclusion. But the realities of the oppression of children demand a more nuanced approach. 

Additionally, it's impossible to say, at this point, how this conversation might proceed if youth were afforded more freedom and participation in our society. For example, if youth could vote, maybe they would support statutory rape and age of consent laws? Maybe they would push to make them even stricter? Maybe they would envision a completely different system for regulating sexual relations and promoting healthy relationships? Who knows? Not adults. And that's exactly the point. 

It's difficult to imagine what truly consensual social relations could even look like because we live in a society with such gross power imbalances and disrespect for bodily autonomy. And because we live in a society where the oppression of youth is normalized in so many aspects of life. 

Further entrenching this oppression and increasing the power of those adults is not a serious solution. In fact, it just makes the problem worse. At the same time, merely "protecting" youth by gradually denying more and more of their autonomy is not a solution either. 

The solution is recognizing children's bodily autonomy and self-determination rights. The solution is giving children respect and legal rights to refuse coercion and control. And the solution involves creating a society where enforced hierarchies of power are not normal. The solution is youth liberation. 

Friday, 25 December 2020

Youth Liberation in 85 words

Youth liberation is the process of young people realizing freedom from all forms of age-based oppression.

It is rethinking assumptions about the incompetence and inferiority of youth. 

It is questioning the laws, systems, and institutions that deprive youth of their liberty. 

It is providing youth with the support they need while ensuring the autonomy that all people are entitled to. 

It is confronting all forms of oppression. 

Youth liberation is creating a world where people of all ages can live healthy, fulfilling, and liberated lives. 

Monday, 21 December 2020

Movie Review: Shoplifters

A couple of days ago I watched Shoplifters (see the trailer here), a 2018 Japanese film that explores the question: "What is family?" 

It portrayed young people and social relations in nuanced, unique, and -- at times -- a liberatory way that invites attention and discussion. 

Spoiler Warning: If you are planning to watch the film, this post may contain spoilers. 

I'll keep this post fairly short. I just wanted to bring attention to some ways in which Shoplifters explores and challenges contemporary ideas about family and childhood. 

One theme is the blurring of the lines defining what family is or isn't. For example, one of the characters is referred to as "grandma," another one "mother," and others are "sister" and "brother." But as the film progresses, we learn that the relationships are not what they seem -- that almost none of the characters are biologically related. This isn't necessarily uncommon throughout the world, but it is relatively rare in "developed" societies where the isolated nuclear family is the dominant social structure. 

The effect of this blurring is to challenge and subvert conventional ideas of what makes a family. 

We begin to ask: How much legal and moral weight should biological relations be given? How does this change when kids are harmed by their blood relatives? Or when kids express a desire to live with another family? 

To further complicate these questions, the "family" that has come together in the movie seems to truly love each other (most of the time); they pay attention to each other, they listen, they look out for each other, they have fun together, and they support each other. 

This is contrasted with the biological family relations depicted in the movie, which feature abuse, coercion, neglect, and deception. 

One scene towards the end of the film finds Noboyu, the "mother" (who isn't the biological or legal mother of the children, Shota and Yuri) asking: 'What makes a mother? Does just giving birth make you a mother?' 

Legally, yes. But, why? 

Towards the end of the movie, we see Yuri's abusive biological mother try to coerce her into apologizing for nothing and then attempt to use the promise of buying her clothes to get her to obey. This is a classic example of how kids' forced economic dependence gives parents outsize power in controlling kids. And it left me with a sinking feeling, imagining the next decade of parental oppression Yuri would face. 

However, while the film questions society's romanticism of and attachment to the traditional nuclear family, it doesn't shy away from the problems and complexities of the alternatives. 

For example, we see that, despite the abuse, Yuri is essentially kidnapped. While we know that the kidnappers (Osamu and Nobuyo) saw that Yuri's parents were abusive, we also see that they know they are kidnapping someone. And, in the end, we learn that they had taken Shota from his parents many years before (and the details of that event are unclear). So, we are confronted with legal violations and moral ambiguity.  

Moreover, there is the theme of kids shoplifting throughout. It seems consensual for most of the movie, but towards the end, we see that, at times, pressure and coercion were involved (e.g. the adult Osamu pressures Shota to help him steal). Thus, the film exposes a potential dark side of kids choosing their families and unregulated adult/child relationships -- there may still be exploitation, and not all adults have pure motives. 

Moreover, some of the relations are -- at least in part -- financially motivated, leaving us to question how the financial incentives to enter into social relations affect our perceptions of the relationships. 

Nonetheless, despite the kidnapping and ambiguously exploitative relations, the kids seem happiest with their "chosen" family, rather than their biological or state-appointed living situations. 

This calls into question the legitimacy and the justice of forcing kids to stay in constrained family arrangements, even when it's against their wills. 

The film also provides a sharp critique of the state system and laws that operate to send kids back to abusive homes -- and that value parent's "rights" above nearly every other consideration. (Also, it's important to note that, at least in the U.S., when the state does take kids away from abusive homes, it usually does so (a) without the consent or input of the youth, and (b) often at rates that disproportionately affect and criminalize families of Color, and especially Black and Indigenous youth and mothers.)


What makes a family? Should kids be able to choose their own families? What does it mean that most adults are even comfortable asking that question? 

Also, any suggestions for other movies or books that address these issues?  

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

The Pandemic School-Opening Debate: Where are the Youth Voices?

If I see one more opinion, editorial, policy recommendation, or letter claiming that kids either should or should not be sent back to school, without any reference to the actual opinions or wishes of kids, I am going to lose my mind. 

I know, I know, we have laws saying that adults don't have to listen to kids and kids have to do whatever adults say.

But seriously. This is a pandemic. Lives are at stake. It's time to start listening to young people. 

The litany of articles around this debate I've seen is disturbing. And, so far, not a single one I've read is focused on the voices of young people. 

I should note that one benefit of all of this public debate is that some people are finally being honest about the purposes of school: it's not just about "education" -- it's largely about child care and economic productivity. And, some people are beginning to take note of how school before COVID-19 wasn't all that great for many students. 

Still, almost every single one of the articles in this debate relies exclusively on anecdotal evidence and isolated narratives to conclude that school closures are "bad" or "harmful" for kids. Many don't include any data or evidence, and just summarily conclude that school closures are bad for all kids. 

Of course, I'm not trying to say that school is all bad. Or that school closures don't do harm to some children and families (they do -- and they have a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities -- especially for families with parents who work outside the home, households lacking reliable internet or computers, and families with children with special needs). I also acknowledge that school (for better or worse) serves important functions like child-care, and for some children, it is a temporary safe space. 

Moreover, I don't want to gloss over the unequal access to education and learning resources that consistently leaves marginalized and poor youth with worse options (although studies have actually shown that the pandemic isn't making the achievement gap any worse so far, which is interesting). 

That said, it's time to confront the false narrative that school closures are bad for kids across the board. It's time to confront the other side of that narrative -- that opening schools back up would be good for kids. And it's time to recognize that by ignoring youth voices, and assuming what is "good" or "bad" for kids as a group, this debate about school re-openings continues to marginalize and oppress youth. 

For those who have actually gathered or looked at real data, the results indicate that school closures may actually be improving the wellbeing of youth (as reported by youth). 

One survey about the mental health and social effects of school closures shows that school closures have actually been a good thing according to most youth and families; psychological wellbeing has improved without the stress of school

Another report found that "teens’ mental health did not collectively suffer during the pandemic when...compared [to pre-pandemic surveys]. The percentage of teens who were depressed or lonely was actually lower than in 2018." And this positive mental health occurred despite all of the trauma and challenges of the pandemic! 

Some youth are thriving in remote learning. And teens are finally getting enough sleep. The bottom line is that young people are largely reporting they are doing well without school

Moreover, recent data has shown that, on average, students are improving at reading at the same rate they did pre-pandemic. In other words, kids are learning to read even without in-person school. 

The point is that the common narratives in the media about school closures being terrible for students are just not true. Across the board, these narratives paint an oversimplified picture of schooling that serves adult -- not youth -- interests. Worse yet, these narratives ignore youth voices. 

Instead, we need to listen to and include youth in decision-making processes. And respect youth autonomy. 

Just the fact that someone even needs to point that out -- that not listening to youth about how they live their lives is somehow a legitimate option in our society -- is disturbing. 

Another point is that to "listen to youth" doesn't mean to tokenize one or two youth narratives. Just like it would be with any other marginalized group, it's inaccurate and harmful to assume that all kids have the same opinions and needs. That's just classic ignorant paternalism. 

So, here's the takeaway: adults can debate about whether to open or close public schools during the pandemic all they want -- but at the very least, listen to the people who are most affected by that choice: the youth. 

Monday, 9 November 2020

Youth Liberation in Action: Youth Labor Unions

I recently realized that this blog has heavily been skewed towards critical analysis of youth liberation issues. While this is important, and will hopefully help raise awareness, I have been missing out on some of the more positive aspects of youth liberation. 

The youth rights movement isn't all gloom and doom. It's not all oppression-this and ageism-that. 

There are young people all around the world who are currently working towards liberation, exercising their agency, working together, and making their voices heard. 

So, in "Youth Liberation in Action," we'll begin to explore some of these stories. 

The first story of youth liberation in action we'll discuss is that of youth labor unions in South and Central America. 

One example is the Bolivian Union of Child and Adolescent Workers (Unatsbo), a youth-led organization that represents thousands of under-18-year-old workers. Unatsbo's main focus is defending the rights of child workers -- campaigns such as raising the minimum wage for children selling newspapers. 

And this isn't just a Bolivian phenomenon; there are similar chapters in Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, and Colombia. 

But, wait a minute... child labor is BAD, right? Like, across the board? 

Not necessarily. 

Let's be clear. Exploitation is bad. Forced labor is bad. Unsafe working conditions are bad. 

But these things are true for workers of all ages -- not just children. 

If one adopts the view that what is "good" is all children going to school all the time and studying what they are told, then, yes, child labor is bad. But this narrow view of childhood can also be pretty Euro-centric and paternalistic

Instead, if one adopts the view that what is "good" is that which people decide is best for themselves and their communities, and that which leads to healthy individuals and communities, then child labor could certainly be good in some situations, for some children. 

Again, I'll stress the point that exploiting child workers is bad. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's automatically bad for young people to engage in voluntary, safe work. 

Perhaps instead of trying to end the possibilities for young people to work, the goal should be to end exploitation by creating protections and better opportunities for youth who do want to work. 

As one of the youth leaders of Unatsbo said"Why should there be a minimum age if the work is voluntary?... The work of a child or adolescent is not bad – it helps society, it helps a family, and it helps us grow as people."

Moreover, young people engaged with organizing efforts gain more than just worker's rights. The organization is involved in communities -- holding meetings, debates, and events to raise awareness. And members -- who are often from poor families -- also gain support from peers, visibility in their communities, and leadership and organizing skills. 

In sum, engaging in safe and well-paid work, and the organizing efforts around it, can be an empowering experience for young people, and especially those from marginalized communities.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Solving the Problem of Youth Suicide: Toward a World Worth Living In

Youth mental health is a public health crisis. Reports have found that teen suicides are increasing at an alarming pace, outstripping all other age groups. Suicide death rates among young people have increased rapidly in the past decade – becoming the second-most common cause of death among young people, outpaced only by accidents.


For example, in Alaska, the rates of suicide and depression in Alaskan teens have increased significantly in recent years. In 2019, 1 in 5 teens attempted suicide.


1 in 5. I’ll let that sink in. 1 in 5!


How is our society tolerating this? How is it that 1 of every 5 teens believed life is not worth living – and were suffering enough to take the affirmative step to end their lives?


There has been much speculation as to the causes of this national surge in youth suicide – from the prevalence of social media to increased access to firearms.


But this is only part of the story. Mainstream analyses of the causes of the youth suicide problem stubbornly ignore the oppression of youth and the intolerable conditions of being a young person.


Modern society strips young people of their dignity and autonomy, and subjects them to arbitrary and meaningless routines. There is no real sense of agency; almost no freedom to explore passions and find what makes life worth living. It seems obvious that this would create an experience where many young people believe that life is meaningless. Combined with the stress and suffering that many young people experience in schools and at home, and one can imagine why some youth see no other options. 


Certainly, the oppression of youth is not the only cause of youth suicide. Traumatic incidents and the adverse experiences faced by many young people are a significant factor in mental health. Also, race and ethnicity play a factor in suicide rates. For example, Alaska Native youth experience disproportionate suicide rates – roughly seven times the national average. Additionally, nationwide population-based surveys of American youth have consistently found rates of suicide attempts reported by LGBTQ+ youth 2-7 times higher than average. This shows that, as always, the liberation of all subordinated groups – not just youth – is needed.


Yet suicide still affects all youth. And dominant institutions may play a major causal role. One disturbing collection of studies has found significant correlations between suicide attempts and the school year. In other words, there is a sharp decline in psychiatric emergencies and suicide in youth during summer and other school vacations; youth suicide rates are highest when youth are in school. Moreover, studies have revealed that teenagers are the most stressed, anxious group of people in America and that 83% of them cite school as a major cause of their stress.


Another seemingly obvious factor in increasing youth suicide – and one that is rarely discussed – is the fact that the future doesn’t appear hopeful. A 2017 Gallup survey found that only 15% of working adults worldwide are engaged in their jobs. Other surveys have found that over 70% of Americans hate their jobs or are completely disengaged. This is a depressing situation. If young people are told their purpose is to become adults – and they look to adults to see how their future will be – it’s understandable that they might despair. And of course, watching adults commit environmental destruction doesn’t help the matter.


There have certainly been attempts to address the problem of youth suicide. These usually take the form of suicide prevention projects. While these are well-meaning efforts that undoubtedly provide much-needed support for some youth, they are focused on treating symptoms. They still completely fail to address the underlying problem of youth suicide: youth are oppressed and therefore many find life meaningless. Any real solutions to the problem need to focus on improving the living conditions of youth.


There is hope and a path forward. Recognizing youth control and autonomy in their lives is a start. Ending violence against youth is another important project.


If we can imagine a world where we work together in partnership with young people; if we could imagine a society where the lives of all people are recognized as valuable, then we would be that much closer to a world worth living in for all.


Monday, 26 October 2020

Is Forced School Unconstitutional?

Most of us usually take it for granted that kids have to go to school. And that they can be forced to under the authority of the law. But should we accept that? 

In fact, might it be unconstitutional to force kids to go to school? 

My totally unofficial* non-legal legal analysis is that theoretically, in some situations, compulsory school might be unconstitutional. 

First, what is "compulsory school?" 

I'm referring to forced schooling, aka mandatory school attendance, which is enforced by police, usually under the authority of truancy laws. 

Here's my explanation of one legal argument: 

It's a basic principle of our constitution and society that people have liberty -- that generally, the government can't force people to do things they don't want to do. And that the government can't just randomly lock people up for no reason. 


Sometimes the government does lock people up (prison), and sometimes people have to do things they might not want to do (wear seatbelts, go to school, etc.). 


Because, according to the Supreme Court, when the government's "interests" or reasons for doing something outweigh the individual person's interest in liberty, it is valid under the Constitution. 

So, for example, courts usually agree that the government's reasons for putting a serial killer in prison outweigh the serial killer's interest in being free. 

This is called a "balancing test." The equation looks kind of like this: 

government interests > deprivation of liberty = constitutional 


government interests < deprivation of liberty = unconstitutional 

One of the big things that courts consider is whether there is another, less restrictive way to achieve the government's interest. 

So, for example, say that in order to ban hate speech, the government makes a law that says no one can talk or write about other groups of people. That's clearly way too restrictive. You could just say "no hate speech." That's a less restrictive alternative. 

So, what does this all have to do with school? 

Well, let's look at the balancing test again: 

government interests vs. deprivation of liberty = ? 

The government has lots of reasons for wanting kids to be in school (preparing them to be citizens, preparation for the workforce, social equality, babysitting, etc.). 

But the deprivation of liberty -- spending 15,000 hours over 13 years doing mostly mindless work in constraining environments -- is pretty big. Add to that the fact that many students suffer serious emotional and psychological harm from schooling. And the fact that many students -- especially in poor school districts -- don't even learn to read after 13 years of school. And the fact that education can be accomplished in other, less restrictive ways (homeschooling, unschooling, democratic schools, etc.). 

Considering all these factors, it starts to look like the deprivation of liberty might be greater than the government's interests. 

If a court agreed, they could find that it would be a violation of a youth's constitutional rights to force them to attend a restrictive school. 

And, btw, I didn't make this all up. A federal court laid out the argument in this case about public schools in Detroit, although they didn't decide the issue of compulsory schooling then (although they did find a fundamental right to education, which is a big deal). 

So, tl;dr, compulsory school might be unconstitutional in some situations. 

*Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. Please speak with a lawyer before you take any sort of legal action or refuse to go to school. 

Saturday, 24 October 2020

To end violence against children, let’s start by making it illegal

Currently, parents in all 50 states and school staff in 19 states,[1] are legally allowed to inflict violence on children as a form of discipline, also known as “corporal punishment.”

At home, millions of children each year experience corporal punishment, and most American adults think that it is an appropriate form of discipline.[2]

At school, more than 106,000 children were physically punished at public schools during the 2013-14 school year.[3] And black students, boys, and disabled students are physically punished at a greater rate than their classmates.[4]

This needs to change.

This is not a protectionist argument. It is not based on paternalistic notions of children as "vulnerable" or "innocent" or being "our greatest resource" or "society's future." 

We must end state-privileged violence against children because children are people with human rights. People of all ages have the right to be free from violence. 

While this practice is commonly known as “corporal punishment,” to even accept this phrasing is problematic. If this was done to another adult, it would simply be assault and battery and/or domestic violence. As the legal scholar Samantha Godwin puts it:

This phrasing… “normalizes violence against children that would not be tolerated were it directed against adults. Referring to violence against children as “punishment” implies that the violent act is committed as a potentially legitimately deserved sanction for the child’s behavior. The phrase itself is an expression that implies victim blaming; it presumes the potential or actual lawfulness of the perpetrator. To speak of violence against children as “corporal punishment” begs the question of whether such violence is legitimate by presuming that some private violence is legitimate punishment.”[5]

What is commonly known as “corporal punishment” is a state-privileged battery against young people, and we should recognize this injustice. So-called “corporal punishment” advances no compelling state interest and only serves to oppress children.[6]

While I am not aware of constitutional challenges to corporal punishment in the home, corporal punishment in schools has been upheld under federal law. In 1977, in the infamous case Ingraham v. Wright, the US Supreme Court found that the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, did not apply to school students, and that teachers could punish children without parental permission.[7] Many scholars agree that this was a travesty of a decision that needs to be overturned.[8]

Eliminating state-privileged violence against children would be a huge step forward in recognizing the rights of children to bodily autonomy and safety. It would also help to prevent child abuse and change the attitudes of parents towards their children. In 2018, the majority of perpetrators of child abuse and neglect (77.5 percent) in the U.S. were parents of their victims.[9] Continuing to give parents the legal privilege to batter their children only worsens this problem.

Moreover, the U.S. lags behind many other countries on this issue. Sweden banned all forms of violence against children in 1979. Currently, there are 60 countries that have banned corporal punishment in the home, and 132 countries that have banned it in schools.[10]

There is conclusive evidence that corporal punishment is harmful to children and provides no real benefits.[11] The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized over 200 studies which associate corporal punishment with a wide range of negative health, developmental and behavioral outcomes for children that can follow them into adulthood.[12] These include, but are not limited to, death and serious physical injury, mental and indirect physical harm, impaired cognitive development, increased aggression, violent and antisocial behavior and severely damaged parent-child relationships.[13]

And eliminating corporal punishment has proven benefits on a societal scale. One study looked at 88 different countries and found that instituting a national “prohibition of corporal punishment is associated with less youth violence.”[14]

However, such evidence is not needed in order to know that the practice of corporal punishment must be ended. It is violence against children, and it violates children’s rights to human dignity and bodily integrity. It is also incompatible with liberal notions of equal protection under the law.

Many parents object to eliminating corporal punishment on the grounds that it would lead to the dissolution of the family or inability to “control” children. But the end of husbands’ legal privilege to beat and rape their wives didn’t result in the destruction of the family; there is no reason why ending state privileged parental battery of children would lead to a different outcome. Moreover, the number of parents and teachers that discipline children without using physical violence show how misguided these objections are.

Of course, challenges will remain even after corporal punishment is formally made illegal. There must also be meaningful enforcement and a change in cultural attitudes surrounding violence against children. However, formally eliminating state-privileged battery of children is an important starting point. To this end, many organizations have been working to end legally privileged violence against children, including dozens of groups in the U.S.[15] Still, the laws remain on the books and millions of children continue to experience battery as a form of punishment. There is much work to be done.

To take action, you can check to see if your local school board has a ban on corporal punishment. If not, advocate for one. You can also contact local elected officials and ask them to support a ban on corporal punishment in public schools in your state and ask them to support a ban on corporal punishment by parents. If you are a parent, you can commit to nonviolent parenting strategies and learn more about the alternatives. And finally, we can all engage in conversations to build awareness around the issue of state-privileged violence against children.

If you have other ideas, comments, or questions, please leave them below! 

[1] Gershoff, E. T., & Font, S. A. (2016). Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy. Social policy report30, 1.; See also https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/us/corporal-punishment-school-tennessee.html

[2] http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/wp-content/uploads/country-reports/USA.pdf (citing: Ipsos Poll Conducted for Reuters: Corporal Punishment Topline (2014)).

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/us/corporal-punishment-school-tennessee.html

(Citing the latest data available from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights).

[4] https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/690828.pdf

[5] Godwin, S. (2011). Children's oppression, rights, and liberation. Nw. Interdisc. L. Rev.4, 247, 289.

[6] Godwin, S. (2011). Children's oppression, rights, and liberation. Nw. Interdisc. L. Rev.4, 247.

[7] Ingraham v Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977)

[8] See, e.g., Woodhouse, B. B. (2010). Hidden in plain sight: The tragedy of children's rights from Ben Franklin to Lionel Tate (Vol. 8). Princeton University Press.

[9] Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2020). Child maltreatment 2018: Summary of key findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau. Available at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/canstats.pdf.

[10] https://endcorporalpunishment.org/countdown/

[11] See Gershoff, E. T., & Bitensky, S. H. (2007). The case against corporal punishment of children: Converging evidence from social science research and international human rights law and implications for US public policy. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law13(4), 231. See also Godsoe, C. (2017). Redefining parental rights: The case of corporal punishment. Const. Comment.32, 281.

[12] https://www.who.int/topics/violence/Global-Initiative-to-End-All-Corporal-Punishment-of-Children-GAP2-violence.pdf (citing Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (2015), Corporal punishment of children: review of research on its impact and associations, Working paper, London: Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children).

[13] Id.

[14] Elgar FJ, Donnelly PD, Michaelson V, et al. Corporal punishment bans and physical fighting in adolescents: an ecological study of 88 countries. BMJ Open 2018.

[15] For a list of these groups, see: https://www.endhitting.org/partnering-organizations