Children’s rights in adults’ world: An interdisciplinary approach

Fernando del Maestro
Enfoque Derecho

It is curious to analyze how legal systems regulate the rights of children.  They recognize the right to integrity, to dignity, to liberty of consciousness, to education, to free development of personality, to identity, among others.  All of these rights are theoretical and legal constructs that, despite being important, fail to focus clearly and directly in elements that, according to psychoanalysis and psychology, children need to be happy, such as: self-awareness, developed creativity, self-esteem, free expression of ideas and feelings, experiences of freedom and understanding of limits.

A child can be born in a home in which he or she is required to follow orders (either implicit or explicit) and where his opinion regarding important matters will be requested only rarely. In this environment, where children are not stimulated to understand their emotions or express what they feel, they must repress doubt, fear and anger because they do not have the conditions to manage them otherwise. Few children are able to express and elaborate what they feel.  An outburst of anger is interpreted as an expression of misbehavior and mischievousness and not as what it probably is: the necessity to express an internal problem such as fear, jealousy or the need for attention among others. What do adults do? They either punish or ignore and, thus, do not give their children the opportunity to discover what is really happening by allowing them express what they feel. Therefore, outbursts of anger will continue because their cause is unknown and subtle.

The same rule applies to the household matters, which are hidden from children or embellished to the point of denaturalization. We think children do not have the capacity to understand. We are also extremely afraid of harming them with our information. However, Jung and Dolto demonstrate, quite clearly, that we are wrong since the failure of parents to communicate is more acute than the failure of their children to understand. Hiding all events that generate preoccupation at home (and often directly concern the life of children) only generates anxiety and lack of self-esteem in a child that, despite not receiving information, is perfectly able to perceive that something is wrong. Regretfully, repressing doubts and uncertainty or fantasying explanations is not an appropriate answer because, if this happens, the child may end up thinking that the reason why information is being withheld is because he or she is the cause of the problem.

Each day, adults are decreasing the positive impact fairy tales have in children´s lives by reading other silly stories in which everything is nice and everyone is good. As Bettelheim demonstrates, when a child listens to one of his parents reading a fairy tale to him, he can unconsciously understand his own problems and is able to elaborate the ways in which he can confront and solve them. He can sense that emotions can be manage, that success is a consequence of effort, that it is normal to have weaknesses, that people can change, that we have ambivalent feeling towards people of our family, that creativity and sense of humor can help us overcame difficulties.

A child feels identified with the hero, who has weaknesses, and has troubles and temptations to overcome in order to succeed. He can understand that evil is bad, not because of the sanctions that are imposed to villains but because they always lose. Likewise, the stories are about universal and significant topics such as: anger, rivalry, lost, loneliness, pleasure, love, which fascinate children. They unconsciously accomplish to work on their inner world just by listening to the original versions of this type of art. Why? Because fairy tales are not moral or rational explanations of adult’s reality, they are magic created to connect with the world of children. Moreover, tales are not explicit. They don’t talk about adults but maybe about giants, they don´t talk about home but about a place “far, far away”. By doing so, fairy tales refer to the children inner world, fantasies and unconscious without the risk of scaring them. At the same time, they allow children to return to reality because the hero always return to his common life after finishing his adventure. Therefore, they help connecting children’s outside world with their inner world. As well, they open an unusual opportunity to communicate with children by exchanging opinions about the stories, which could not happened if the topics where explicit. Finally, they all have a happy ending, giving safety to children that everything is going to be ok.

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