I was a very “formal” child. He was silent and introverted. Rather than running around and bellowing around, sowing childish chaos, he used to remain self-absorbed, more attentive to my things than to what was happening around him, and he was not fond of messing with other children. At banquets and celebrations I liked to stay by my mother’s side, with the older ones. While they talked about things I didn’t understand, I played with toothpicks, creating intricate structures. The older ones ruffled my hair and said:
– This Sergio, how formal he is.
And that Sergio was proud.
I don’t know why it was so formal. I guess having a troubled alcoholic father made me anxiously attached and always wanting to be attached to mom. That’s why I didn’t want to go to other children’s birthdays, or play with them, that’s why I always wanted to be by mom’s side, with the older ones. If then being formal seemed a source of pride, seen from now on it seems to me a dysfunction. Later, in adolescence, I already became a bandarra, as appropriate, and I took it with pleasure.
I was reminded of this when the other day, in these pages, I published an article about the childphobia and the privatization of childhood. In it he tried to reflect, with great difficulty, on the fit that children have in space and public life, on how markets or restaurants are designed, on whether cities are dedicated to production or reproduction (spoilers: for the first, practically excluding the second).
Many people reacted to the text, and many of them emphasized a widespread argument: that it is okay for children to live with adults, but parents should have them well educated. This argument, which is well-intentioned because it exempts the child from responsibility (it is also used with dogs, by the way), did not convince me, because I do not know in each case what behavior seems desirable and tolerable to the person who emits it. It is an argument that remains incomplete if I do not know what each one expects of the children (and of the parents who shape them).
I fully understand that a child should not exercise that terrorism that some blame them: it is wrong for them to kick strangers, spit in the face of others, systematically breaking everything, beating other children. Such a child must be educated, or treated (some suffer disorders typical of those times). But I suspect that many of the people who say that children need to be well-behaved go even further: they resent it when children are loud, run around, or eventually cause havoc. That is to say, they consider that the good child, the well-educated child, is the “formal” child that I was and that I described at the beginning.
I believe that a good coexistence between adults and children does not consist in having completely domesticated children, who are silent, sitting very upright, playing with toothpicks while the adults talk about their incomprehensible things. The correct coexistence between children and adults happens when adults do not behave like children: that is, when adults understand that children behave like children.
Some of the violence or abuse, physical or verbal, conscious or unconscious, minor or severe, committed against children is likely to be committed by adults who do not have the temperance, maturity or stamina to understand that children they are as they are, and that this is how they should be. Adults can adapt, they just have to work a little, but children have a hard time resisting their nature, and they must surrender to it within the reasonable limits that we set for them.
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