Every day, it seems, we read of or hear journalists and politicians (of both major parties), and just plain people, referring to Donald Trump as “childish.” Here are a few of the many media headlines on this theme that you can find by Googling Trump is childish:
• The Little Boy President. Michael D’Antonio, CNN Opinion.
• When the World is Led by a Child. David Brooks, New York Times.
• Donald Trump Gave an Interview that Was Childish and Absurd Even for Him. Katherine Krueger, Splinter.
• Trump’s Blocking People on Twitter Is Childish, but It’s Hardly a 1st Amendment Violation. Editorial staff, Los Angeles Times.
So, think about it: Is Trump really like a child? Or, to put it the other way around, are children really like Trump? Here are a few points to consider:
• Children are, by nature, extraordinary curious. They are constantly exploring and learning about the world around them. Developmental psychologists regularly depict them as natural scientists. Trump, in contrast, has been described by those who know him as completely lacking in curiosity; by all accounts, he appears to be anti-science. He already knows everything, so why would he be interested in learning anything?
• The great majority of children are kind and forgiving. Trump is not.
• Most children are acutely aware of their own limitations and their dependence on others. Not so for Trump.
• Children on average may be more impulsive than most adults, but rarely are they as impulsive as Trump.
• Although some psychologists in the past have described children as “egocentric,” they did not mean that term in the sense that applies to Trump. They meant that very young children, before the age of about 4, have difficulty seeing things from another person’s vantage point, not that they are selfish or always demanding attention and praise. In fact, recent research has put into doubt the idea that “egocentric” applies generally, even by that original meaning of limited perspective, even for very young children.
But this post is not really about Trump. It’s about our quickness to use the word “childish,” or synonyms for it, in derogatory ways, as if all children have whatever the negative characteristic is that we are referring to. Our prejudiced view of children is what regularly allows us to treat children so atrociously. If we believe children are incompetent, then that justifies our condescension toward them, our failure to really listen to them or take them seriously, our failure to give them the respect that we give to adults, and, most astonishingly, our shutting them into institutions (schools) against their wills and treating them there like prisoners.
So, please, let’s stop using terms like “childish” or “juvenile” in derogatory ways! Yes, of course, children as a group do differ, on average, in some ways from adults. They are generally smaller, have less money, and have less political or social power than adults. And, although they know a lot more than most people give them credit for, they have not lived as long in this world as have adults, so, on average, they know less about the world than do adults. But our derogatory use of “childish” makes assumptions that go way beyond these differences and ignores the obvious fact that not all children are the same. In fact, children differ from one another every bit as much as do adults. I’ve known children who were much more responsible, much wiser, and much less impulsive than many adults.
We have, as a society, taken long strides toward moving beyond the negative stereotyping of many groups. We no longer condone the use of “woman,” “Jew,” “homo,” or the "N word" to cast aspersions on people. Let’s stop using “child” in that way, too. Yes, I know, there is a difference between children and these other groups: Children will not be children their whole lives. Yet, childhood occupies a big chunk of life, and treating that portion in a way implying deficiency may set a tone for deficiency and sense of shame throughout all of life.
If you are interested in thinking more about how our stereotyping of children abets our systematic societal abuse of children, I’ve read reviews indicating that Elizabeth Young-Bruehl’s book, Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, is a great source. I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to soon. You might also find meaning in this terrific essay on this topic, by Sara@Happiness.
And now, what to you think? Do you agree or disagree that our everyday language casts unfair aspersions on children and influences, negatively, the way we treat them? This blog is, among other things, a forum for discussion. As always, I prefer if you post your comments and questions here rather than send them to me by private email. By putting them here, you share with other readers, not just with me. I read all comments and try to respond to all serious questions if I think I have something worth saying.