I saw a commercial yesterday on t.v. advertising Subway sandwiches. It started out with a girl about eleven or twelve years old sitting and staring blankly at the camera. In a depressed voice, she says, "Everything is decided for me." Scene of her looking at her clothing: "What to wear." Scene of her sitting with a math book open: "What to read." Scene of her lying in bed with a parent turning out the light: "And of course... when to go to bed." Switch scene to the girl, now smiling, cheerfully contemplating the selection of veggies, cheeses, and meats available at said restaurant: "But when I go to Subway, I have the power to choose." She goes on to select so many toppings that her sandwich is ridiculously huge, but she bites into it with obvious relish.
Maybe it's just me, but this commercial was a disheartening reminder that so many children have basically no say in the many decisions affecting their day-to-day lives. The vast majority of children I know are told (just like the girl in the commercial) what to do for every aspect of their existence: get up, wear this, go to school, study this, write this. I don't agree with the philosophy that says children should be allowed to make all their own decisions (followed by unschoolers), and I do agree that parents and adults have the responsibility to look out for the well-being and continued education of children, but what is so difficult about letting children have input?
There are certain times when a child does need to be taught what is appropriate, or necessary for safety. However, inviting children to be involved in what goes on with themselves and their family, seems like a good idea. So what if a little girl likes wearing two different colored shoes or her hair in three pigtails? Let her figure out her own style. So a teen wants to stay up until midnight or one in the morning reading? Okay, but the next morning they're going to be groggy and muddle-headed when school time rolls around. There are boundaries adults can and should set for children, yet at the same time children also need to find out the hard way occasionally that there will be consequences to their actions.
I saw an episode of Super Nanny the other night, which added more confirmation to my belief that discipline is an important part of any child's life. Without structure and some rules, children cannot grow or function properly. However, if children are never given the option to direct their own choices, good or bad, then their ability to reason, think for themselves, exercise creativity, and learn from experience will not develop.