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A Child’s Perspective

Part of being a child is having a deeply limited perspective. That’s not to say that our adult perspectives aren’t limited in many ways as well, of course, but for a child, with so very little experience of the world, these limitations are pronounced.

The further problem is that children most often don’t recognize how narrow their experience and perspective really is. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve (hopefully) developed a sense of humility about the many things we don’t know, but children generally haven’t yet arrived at that point. They don’t know much, but they think they know everything.

You’ve seen this, of course – in everything from a toddler refusing to put on boots to go out in the snow, to a preteen refusing advice with a friendship – kids often think they know best, despite clear indications to the contrary. They seem stubbornly unwilling to recognize that parents and teachers and coaches have had more experience with these things and might be able to offer some valuable assistance or advice

Now, you might expect this dynamic to decrease with age, as kids begin to realize just how much they don’t yet know, and just how helpful it can be to have the input of others, but the reverse is usually true – at least for a time. As children widen their perspectives with age, and as they strive to form distinct perspectives in relation to those of their parents and other influential adults, they often double down on the certainty that they know better than anyone else. The little bit of experience that they gain seems simply to reinforce the idea that they were right all along.

And so we get the classic teenager – the one who knows everything about love because he stumbled into a first relationship, who knows everything about work because she has a part-time job flipping burgers, who knows everything about politics because he joined the socialist club at school, and who knows everything about art because she reads instagram-poetry.

We all recognize this phase (probably because we lived it), and we can even recognize the reasons for it, but it’s hard to negotiate as parents. It feels like there’s nothing you can say that your kids will take seriously (because there isn’t), no advice or assistance that they’ll accept (because there isn’t), and no way to make them see how illogical their positions are (again, because there isn’t). It’s tempting just to throw up our hands and let natural consequences take their course.

And, to be fair, sometimes those natural consequences are required to get us through that phase to a point where we can start listening to other people again, start taking advice and accepting help. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a role for parents as their kids are struggling through this time of too little experience and too little humility.

It may seem as though they’re not listening, and you may not see them taking your advice, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is getting through to them. The counsel you give them now will be there to fall back on when they finally have to confront their own limitations. And even if it’s too late by then, at the very least, they’ll know that you cared enough to stick with them, to offer what you could for them, to keep loving them.

So, even when they think they know everything about everything, keep talking. Don’t end the conversation just because they don’t seem to be listening very closely. Keep showing them that you care about them and the decisions they’re making and the passions they’re pursuing. Keep reminding them that you’ll be there to back them up if things go wrong.

Eventually they’ll realize, like the rest of us, just how little they know. And they’ll appreciate then all the work that they’re too smart to appreciate now.
Luke Hill has been the parent of birth kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, and just-need-a-place-to-stay kids for fourteen years. He’s had experience with kids in homeschool, public schools, and alternative schools. He’s been a teacher, a camp counsellor, and a coach. He’s also taught parenting courses for Children’s Aid for almost a decade. When he isn’t working with kids, he’s a writer, a publisher, and the director of a non-profit organization that supports book culture.

Luke Hill has been the parent of birth kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, and just-need-a-place-to-stay kids for fourteen years. He’s had experience with kids in homeschool, public schools, and alternative schools. He’s been a teacher, a camp counsellor, and a coach. He’s also taught parenting courses for Children’s Aid for almost a decade. When he isn’t working with kids, he’s a writer, a publisher, and the director of a non-profit organization that supports book culture.