Not far from my house is a shop with a familiar sign: No more than two children allowed at any one time. I remember seeing a similar sign when I was a child myself and they were around in one form or another for a long time before that.

You see there’s something in the UK called the Equalities Act which lists Protected Characteristics – those things that cant be used to discriminate against people. Amongst the features are race, religion, sexuality, parental status and… age.

Now, consider what would happen if you took the sign in the shop and replaced the word children with the word South Africans, or Jews, or mothers. Imagine if it was still OK to refuse service to someone because there were others of your “kind” already in the building. That’s a pretty grim imagining, so why is it OK to discriminate against children?

If you attribute the features of a stereotype to any individual that identifies in that group, then you are being discriminatory and breaking the law.

But, you might object, children can shoplift, cause trouble, make a mess… true but so can I, so can a disabled, black, Muslim with a degree and a professional job, so can a gypsy, a Hindu, a parent, a diabetic but IT DOESN’T MEAN THEY WILL. The rule is really simple: if you attribute the features of a stereotype to any individual that identifies in that group, then you are being discriminatory and breaking the law. And you’re an asshole. You’re no better than people that cross the street to avoid people of colour or bizarrely get nervous about a man in a turban boarding a plane.

Just because it’s fashionable to demonise a group, it doesn’t make it right. When I was a child, the general attitude in society was that anyone vaguely associated with the Indian subcontinent was a “Paki” and anyone that was gay had AIDS. After 9/11 it was widely popular cite Muslims as the cause of every ill ever conceived by humanity. Clearly ridiculous but no less real for those that had to suffer abuse. It’s not a direct comparison to say children suffer in anywhere near the same way and it’s equally untrue to say that children are perfect little angels that should all be treated like the sun shines out of them, but there’s a happy medium where we don’t think all children are the same and use that as an excuse for our prejudices.

Rules are important, the teaching of resilience is important and proper socialisation is important, but we’re all the teachers of those things, not the preemptive jailers. We’ll get good behaviour by modelling good behaviour not by arbitrary discrimination and expecting the worst of this fascinatingly varied group.


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